Outcome 1c

Participate in professional activities and associations, such as professional conferences and meetings, internships and practicums, and professional email discussions and social media.

As a way of fulfilling this goal, and to get some insight into the professional librarian world, I attended — virtually, of course — the 2021 Illinois Library Association Annual Conference.

The 2021 ILA Annual Conference was held via Pheedloop, an online webinar service.

I was impressed with the quality and usability of the software, it replicates the experience of a conference fairly well, with a focus on group sessions, but also providing the ability to “roam the floor” and visit “vendor booths” that let you see a short presentation and chat with whoever is on duty at the time.

An event session in progress
The virtual Exhibit Hall. Hello, Dominican University!

The conference was held for three days, from October 12th to the 14th, with four event sessions per day. I only had time to attend three of the sessions each day; here are my brief notes about each session and what I learned from it.

Link to the 2021 ILA Conference on Pheedloop (Login required)

October 12th

TBS Opening General Session featuring Clint Smith

Smith is an author and journalist who writes for the Atlantic, among other publications. His latest book, How the Word Is Passed, is about the intersection of history, particularly the history of slavery in America, and the landscale of the present. He talked briefly about the book, but much of his presentation was a freewheeling talk about his love of libraries and their historic role as an institution of democracy and empowerment.

 Little Library, Big Dreams: Elevating a Local Project to a Global Platform

This presentation by employees of the Marshall Public Library was about a project the library undertook to digitize a large collection of recorded interviews and photographs chronicling local history and creating an online resource to make them available to the general public. Having studied these sorts of projects in both Digital Libraries and Digital Humanities, it was interesting to see the sort of challenges that are involved in their creation at a very “on the ground” level.

 Bridging the Justice Gap: Connecting Public Library Patrons to Legal information and Services

A representative of Illinois Legal Aid Online and the Evanston Public library spoke about the partnership between ILAO and local libraries. ILAO is a nonprofit that provides legal assistance to low-income individuals involved with the court system; their partnership with local libraries reflects how public libraries are increasingly becoming community service hubs, particularly in areas like the law where public service and the need for information assistance overlap strongly. 

October 13th

 The Expansion of Intellectual Freedom through a Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

This panel of academic and public librarians, and a member of the nonprofit social advocacy group Braver Angels, discussed an issue that I am very personally interested in, the tension between the principles of neutrality and democracy, and between intellectual freedom and social responsibility, that have come to the forefront of our public discourse in the “age of fake news”. The level of partisanship in contemporary American political life has made the role of “information arbiter:” held by librarians a much more challenging one. An hour was barely enough time to scratch the surface of this complex issue, but the panel discussed how the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion need to be prioritized as foundational to any civic discourse. Neutrality does not mean passivity.  

Silver Linings: Innovations from the Pandemic

Jeanne Holba Puacz of the University of Illinois gave this presentation on the changes that libraries of all sorts have made because of the pandemic, and takes a look at which of these new models of service has value for the post-pandemic world that we someday inhabit. There is a strong connection here to the principles of Universal Design, particularly how UD starts from the premise that the process of creating accessibility, and making things possible for some people, can and should have results that make that same thing better and easier for everyone. Curbside pickup of books, fully online library card services, and book bundling services are some of the pandemic accommodations that she looks at as positive innovations for the future of libraries. Never let a good crisis go to waste, as Rahm Emmaneul used to say. 

Advocacy Tips & Tricks from Legislators

This was a panel discussion with three Illinois state legislators discussing the best way for citizens to interact with them and with state government in general. This was my favorite presentation of the conference; I learned a great deal about the nuances of state government and the daily job of a state representative, and much of what the representatives shared was new information to me. I was surprised, for instance, to hear all three reps agree that email was the best way to get in touch with them about an issue that a constituent wanted to raise – I had always heard that you should contact politicians by phone for maximum impact, but at the state level a carefully written and researched presentation of facts, shared with the representative’s office, can have a powerful impact. State government is so often beneath the radar of public perception, but many of the laws that affect us on a daily basis get made there, and it was good to have this reminder of how the mechanics of democracy are available to everyone. 

October 14th

Ebooks as an Equity Strategy

A discussion on how librarians for Chicago Public Schools has tried to help deal with remote learning and the disruption it caused. Kara Thorstesopn of CPS talked about lessons they learned about how to best use their limited resources to make the greatest impact for all of their students. My major takeaway from her presentation was the importance of listening to your constituents  before investing time and money.

Taking the Reference Desk Virtual

A panel of public librarians discussing the challenges of providing reference service during a pandemic. Most of the same issues discussed by earlier panels came up here; the importance of finding out what patrons need directly from your patrons, the challenges of distributing limited resources, adapting old practices to new technology. Both of the panelists found that some of their efforts to adapt to the pandemic resulted in innovations like online chat reference service that will continue to have value going forward.

 Chronicling Your Community: Beginning Your Local History Collection

This was very similar to the presentation on the 12th about creating an online local history collection, although this was presented more in a how-to format than as an examination of an existing project. A pretty nuts-and-bolts approach that talked about specific software packages that are useful for this kind of project, how to establish a reasonable scope for the project, things to buy and where to find funding, and potential copyright issues for the collection.

Jason Grey, MLIS