If this were the early twentieth century, we might be sitting in a Parisian Left-Bank café. If this were the late twentieth century, we might be sitting in Caffè Puccini in San Francisco’s North Beach District—as many still are. But the early twenty-first century has swept us up, and we’re finding new places to meet and talk and share ideas. And dream.
Which is exactly what happened in the OPAL (Online Programming for All Libraries) Auditorium yesterday when Tom Peters interviewed Michelle Boule, a librarian, blogger (writing under the name “Jane” in “A Wandering Eyre”), Infopeople instructor, and mother-to-be. The session, part of OPAL’s “Casual Conversations” series, was not so much the sort of session to be taped and played back later (although the session soon will join the archived interviews on OPAL’s site) as it was a chance for 22 of us from all over the country to gather in a virtual setting.
We listened to Peters and Boule discuss a variety of topics ranging from temporarily replacing work with motherhood to why trainers (and others) leave large library systems and other organizations to seek more rewarding challenges. And we joined the conversation by typing electronic notes back and forth with colleagues like fellow “CE Buzz” author Peter Bromberg—sort of like passing slips of paper in an elementary school classroom, but this time the teachers were included. That meant that if we weren’t listening to what was being said and reading what was being written, neither part would have made sense since the aural and written conversations were completely intertwined.
Boule was explicit in talking about what has prompted her decision to leave her University of Houston position; she wants to spend time with the child who is about to be born, and she plans to seek more rewarding work doing what she loves to do: “teaching people about technology and teaching people about stuff.” The day-to-day responsibilities of trying to do multiple disparate jobs, she noted, wore her down and kept her from accomplishing what she knew she was capable of doing—not a foreign concept to many of us who have tried to effectively run library training programs while also being expected to handle numerous other unrelated tasks. So Boule is joining those of us who have recently decided we can be more effective in providing first-rate training experiences for library employees by working in a larger venue rather than staying with one library system.
Wouldn’t it be better for everyone, Boule asked, if libraries became better at sharing resources, including trainers? Perhaps establishing groups of traveling trainers who served everyone much more effectively?
“The Northeast Kansas Library System has people who do things like that,” one participant in the conversation offered.
Infopeople does the same thing throughout California, I noted, and I’ve heard from colleagues in other states that similar programs would be highly in demand if someone were to offer them.
“Might we not be looking at informal connections (like this discussion group) to help spread and advocate for what so many people obviously want to see?” I asked.
“That sounds like a job for the Library Society of the World,” Joshua Neff responded, and it was only after the session ended that I had a chance to do a quick online search and discover that he wasn’t joking, that he actually has, from Kansas, started that group to further the role of librarians, archivists, information professionals, and information educators through communication and collaboration.
So here’s to thinking outside the physical and virtual walls of large organizations, classrooms, and cafes while remaining actively involved with them. We have role models in the form of the Northeast Kansas Library System and Infopeople, and we have resources such as the ALA Continuing Library Education Network and Exchange (CLENE) Round Table itself. Perhaps one of the best roles we can play as trainers is to train ourselves in how to better use the resources at our fingertips to help our colleagues gain what they need to thrive in twenty-first-century libraries.