25 Greatest Takeaways from ALA 2013

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The American Library Association’s Annual Conference took place between June 27 and July 2. Each summer, tens of thousands of library people take over a host city for days of committee meetings, continuing education sessions, and exhibits. They fill lots of hotels. They descend upon the bars and restaurants. They discuss the latest technologies. They bestow awards. They install their new ALA president. They learn hard and they party hard.

This year, Chicago hosted 15,918 attendees and 6,125 exhibitors. These folks fought (or joined) the crowds of Chicago Blackhawks fans that flocked downtown to celebrate the latest Stanley Cup victory on Friday. They blended in with Jimmy Buffett fans on Saturday. They made pilgrimages to the Harold Washington Library Center on State Street. They came, they saw, they conquered, then they went back to work.

I brought home 25 quotes, tidbits, and ideas so I could share the experience with you:

  1. Brilliance is being able to see the obvious thing that no one else sees. ~ Steven D. Levitt, author of Freakonomics, opening keynote speaker
  2. You need to have statistics and data to inform and convince others of libraries’ value. Warm, fuzzy anecdotes don’t cut it anymore.
  3. Striking up conversations with complete strangers can lead to amazing things, even job offers.
  4. Use studies and advice from the ICMA (International City/County Management Association) when talking to public library stakeholders.
  5. No convention center could possibly have enough bandwidth to support Wi-Fi for thousands of technology-addicted librarians.
  6. You must use social media well and learn to evaluate your followers’ engagement. If your patrons use it, and your library doesn’t, you risk being irrelevant to them.
  7. “Pew is a family name, not an adjective.” ~ Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, RUSA President’s Program speaker
  8. Mothers of minor children are the biggest users of public libraries.
  9. You need to tell your library’s story: What it does, why it matters, what it returns for the community’s investment, how it serves as a foundation of democratic society. Laymen need to understand these truths in order to continue using, supporting, and funding public libraries.
  10. The old scarcity was information. In the Internet Age, the new scarcity is time.
  11. Plenty of librarians have wild-colored hair and tattoos.
  12. Three things are changing the publishing paradigm: Print-on-demand technology, ebooks / tablet readers, and self-publishing. These combine to make the “Big 6″ publishers (Random House, HarperCollins, Penguin, Hachette, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster, which have been giving libraries a very hard time over ebooks) “terrified about their future.” ~ David Vinjamuri, brand expert & Forbes contributor, PR Forum speaker
  13. Librarians’ “rugged individualism” does not help them take collective action.
  14. Most librarians are behind the curve when it comes to marketing, partly because very few library schools teach marketing, even though it’s now vital for survival.
  15. Clearly, nobody who’s designed or planned a convention center building has ever done usability testing.
  16. ” ‘Doing good’ is not the same thing as ‘making a difference’.” Public librarians need to find out where they can make the most difference and concentrate on those areas instead of trying to be everything to everyone. ~ Diane Knoepke,  consultant, Chicago Public Library: Impact Measurement speaker
  17. See Bill Gates discuss the importance of measuring societal impact and read his annual letter.
  18. If you don’t measure change, you don’t know how to make more of it.
  19. Measure your online social influence with tools such as Klout and SocialMention.
  20. On Facebook, your Edgerank affects how many of your fans actually see your posts in their newsfeeds.
  21. Librarians will sell their soles (yes, those “soles”) to get free books, posters, bags, t-shirts, swag, and chocolate in the giant exhibit hall.
  22. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
  23. “Output” is how much you’re doing; “Outcome” is what’s changed as a result of your actions. These terms are often confused.
  24. Kids who read just 20 minutes a day can avoid the “summer slide” (where they lose some of their reading ability while school is out).
  25. ALA brings in some mighty big speakers: Cory Doctorow, Khaled Hosseini, Temple Grandin,  Giada De Laurentiis, Oliver Stone, Alice Walker, Octavia Spencer, Congressman John Lewis, Jonathan Maberry, and many more.

Hungry for more? There’s a conference wrap-up from ALA here. You can also search social media for the hashtag #ALA2013.

About Kathy

Kathy Dempsey

Kathy Dempsey is a consultant and trainer through her business, Libraries Are Essential, and is the author of The Accidental Library Marketer (Information Today, Inc., 2009). Her work is dedicated to helping librarians and information professionals promote their value and expertise in order to gain respect and funding. Kathy has been the Editor of the Marketing Library Services newsletter for 19 years and was formerly Editor-in-Chief of Computers in Libraries magazine. She also blogs at The 'M' Word. Kathy is a member of the New Jersey Library Association and outgoing chair of its Newsletter Editorial Board.

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