Libraries, the universe and everything

June 20, 2018, 15:06
Filed under: CPD | Tags: , , , , ,

It’s not often I find myself struggling for words, but I’m really not sure what to write about this year’s SLA conference, which is odd because I had an excellent time. Baltimore was my fifth consecutive attendance, so I have a lot of friends to catch up with, I’ve learned to enjoy chatting with our exhibitors about their products, and being on SLA’s board of directors adds an extra dimension to it all. I’ve even got a bit better at self-care, at long last – I managed to eat a hot meal every day, and even took a little time out to get some much-needed sunshine and fresh air (you have no idea how much of an achievement this is for me…!).

I’m probably not supposed to admit this, but I was actually kind of grumpy about going to conference this year. I’ve had far too many plates in the air all spring, a general feeling of stretching myself too far, other things in my life demanding more attention than I needed them to, and I was super-anxious about presenting at the cabinet meetings. (All of which to say, this feeling was hardly to do with SLA, but rather my transference of a pile of preexisting negativity.) However, from the moment I saw my first #SLAer in the Baltimore hotel lobby I knew I was home, and so very happy to be there.

This is why we need conferences, I think. Of course the opportunities for in-person learning, quality networking, inspiring keynotes, conversations with vendors, etc. are important, and SLA this year had all of these in spades, but the sheer uplifting energy of being surrounded by people who get you and what you do is just tremendous. Discipline-specific conferences are undeniably worthwhile, but interdisciplinarity is definitely where SLA has the edge – the “inspiration and cross-pollination” that becomes possible when we all get together.

Other than the general sessions, I only managed to get to two educational programs this time. On the face of it this seems like it should be a pity, but actually the meetings and conversations which took up most of my time were equally valuable so I don’t regret it for a moment. It also helps that the two sessions I attended were excellent. John DiGilio and Barbara Hirsch provided an engaging and lively exploration of “Best practices to foster leadership within your organization”, then Michele Villagran guided us through an interactive exploration of some unconscious biases, and how to change micro-aggressions into micro-affirmations in her presentation on “Bringing culture back: managing unconscious bias to strengthen your corporate culture”.

Unusually I didn’t make notes in either session, although I did spend a little time Tweeting some of my main impressions. The following from John and Barbara:


Nothing earth-shatteringly new or unexpected, but sound advice which bears repeating, not to mention putting into practice.

The takeaways from Michele’s session are somewhat harder to summarise, but key points for me included the definitions of micro-aggressions (subtle slights or snubs, often unconscious, that devalue people) and micro-affirmations (small intentional acts that occur when you want others to succeed). Micro-affirmations can include greeting people sincerely, connecting person-to-person, and being genuinely present in conversation (all of which came up in a different context in Barbara and John’s session) – again nothing dramatic but so very important to be aware of. The thing about unconscious bias is that, as Michele put it, if you have a brain then you have bias, with the challenge being to recognise your own set of biases and work to change them. We also touched on a little of the neuroscience research behind all this, particularly the SEEDS model, and for a wonderful demonstration of bias in action I strongly suggest you watch this video

On the subject of Tweets, I was proud and amused that one of mine was selected for CCC’s article 18 Inspiring Tweets from #SLA2018. I should perhaps clarify that I was paraphrasing a comment made by our second keynote, Sayeed Choudhury, although in truth I stand by it for myself too!

And oh, those keynotes! Sayeed was the filling in an epic sandwich (his analogy), with the Librarian of Congress and Wes Moore on either side. For various reasons I missed most of Carla Haydn’s speech, although naturally she got rave reviews, but I was 100% present for Wes Moore and so very glad to be there. I have never heard someone speak with such tremendous presence, or experienced a talk which brought the audience from gales of laughter to actual tears (myself included – and this from someone who would usually rather chew their own arm off than cry in public) and then back again. Just incredible.

This being my year on the board as Chapter Cabinet Chair, the unit leader training session and cabinet meetings had been looming large in my pre-conference preparations, and frankly I wasn’t looking forward to any of it much. However, to my great surprise, it was a genuinely enjoyable afternoon (for me, anyway) and everything seemed to go well. Despite ripping up my speech the day before and opting to speak from a set of minimal bullet points, I covered everything I was supposed to say in the chapter cabinet meeting, there were some good discussions among our unit leaders, and the items of business were conducted smoothly.

Just before the cabinet session, I found myself speaking on the first-timers and new members orientation panel. When I agreed to do this I hadn’t actually realised it was going to be a panel, but actually it was tremendous fun, and meant that I had something else to focus on other than making myself nervous. Admittedly, my preparations were somewhat on the light side, but that played well with the informal format, and the fact that I knew all the other people involved also helped a lot.

So, what did I actually learn this year? That I should have more confidence in my own presentation skills, perhaps; that saying yes to things usually has a positive outcome, however I may feel about it at the time; and that supporting SLA members in whatever ways I can is something I’m even more deeply committed to than I previously suspected. Not bad for five days, really.

2 Comments so far
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Thanks for your remarks at the first timer event! They were helpful.


Comment by lyndamk

Thanks Lynda, I’m glad to have helped!


Comment by Emma Davidson

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