This week we present Stephanie Frey's reflections on her ALA Midwinter attendance as part of the Libraries / Ready to Code Phase III Cohort.
ALA Midwinter was overwhelming. I’d never been out to the midwest or a library convention and was unsure of what to expect besides massive amounts of people. After much consideration, I found that each of these elements led to me having a fantastic time at ALA Midwinter, helped me deal with how huge and overwhelming an experience it can be, and enabled me to get the most out of the experience.
Sit in the Front
I cannot stress this enough, sit up front in panels you attend.
Normally I tend to sit in the back at events. ALA Midwinter already had me so far out of my comfort zone that I decided to give sitting up front a shot and I got so much more out of it.
Sitting upfront put me in contact with the most excited and energized people; their energy and sheer glee was contagious. Everyone had so many ideas and was eager to get right into solving whatever problem was thrown our way. At the beginning of each session we were handed sticky notes to keep track of our ideas, and everytime it was the groups in the front rows who had forty or more sticky notes crammed full of ideas. With so many ideas flowing, I had so many different epiphanies on my own programming.
Each panel I found the same and some new eager faces sitting up front ready take away everything they could learn from the experience. It was so much easier to make friends, get to know my cohorts, and get so many ideas going.
ALA Midwinter puts you in the proximity of other librarians, so many other librarians. Not only were these people eager to present ideas, they were extremely friendly too. It made it so easy for me to share my own ideas, experiences, challenges, and contribute to theirs.
The strength and best benefit of being around other librarians is how the format encouraged everyone to share how they handled a variety of problems common to all library branches; such as pulling older teens into coding activities, attracting students to return, and finding online resources for the right age groups. Finding that everyone else was facing the same challenges and finding their own ways of powering through them was empowering. Discovering that some of them used grant money as paid internships to incentivize teens to run their own programs, parent involvement to get students to return, or Google’s Applied Digital Skills courses and a wealth of other resources.
The convention environment was very welcoming to just throwing ideas out there. We bounced so many unpolished ideas at each other which made it the perfect place to collaborate. I had run into one librarian in every panel I attended and by the end we determined we needed to do a collaborative project together using Google Docs.
ALA Midwinter is huge; there are hundreds of people to see and the list of panels go on for pages. The RtC Cohort was kind enough to supply a list of panel recommendations and it helped immensely. Using their suggestions as a guide I was able to plan out my weekend by those panel times which gave a lot of direction to my time at ALA Midwinter. I was also able to glean plenty of fantastic information, and even more fantastic contacts, by interacting with other librarians interested in the same kinds of programming. I discovered things like Citizen Science Projects, HOMAGO (Hang Out Mess Around Geek Out), and a much simpler way of getting data by having patrons mark a single statement that they feel most applies to them. Having my schedule pre planned ahead of time made it that much easier to focus on collecting data instead of focusing on where to get the data.
The Exhibitor Hall was a completely different challenge. On arriving I skimmed the entire convention book that detailed all the stuff going on and found the ALAR Maze happening inside the Exhibitor Hall. The ALAR Maze gamified the whole experience for me and made it much easier for me to peruse all the vendors and exhibits while looking for hidden displays strewn throughout the hall. It even gave me a second wind when I thought I could walk no more.
Through interacting with technology easily put to practical use for our own programming that also gave me extra incentive to check every nook and cranny of the Exhibit Hall the whole experience became more approachable and by the end I managed to win a copy of Ready Player One out of it. I also discovered Vuforia, software, which would work well with resources we already have.
ALA Midwinter is an amazing event. Seeing what people are doing in their own libraries and sharing ideas with others was such an empowering experience. I came back to my own library eager to share everything I learned with my fellow staff and ready to leap into action.
Article by Stephanie Frey
Stephanie Frey can be found roaming Twitter. She can also be found selling goodies on Society6.
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The ideas expressed by libraries included in the podcast are not expressly endorsed by the Ready to Code project or the Georgetown County Library System.