ALA Virtual Midwinter 2021

Rapidly Changing Libraries for the Better

As a first time attendee to any ALA meeting, I’m pretty sure that Midwinter 2021 will spoil me for future in-person events. Sitting in my apartment in front of my laptop, wrapped up in blankets with my nice warm mug of coffee as I magically click from panel to panel is not how I expected my first library conference to go, so I’m definitely enjoying the coziness of it all while I can!

Last year, all of us as library professionals found ourselves having to adapt in unexpected ways, and this is exactly what the panel entitled Rising to the 2020 Challenge discussed. Many of the panels this year are focused on the issues that libraries have faced and continue to face surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, racial injustice, and the socioeconomic divide throughout the country and our communities. Rising to the 2020 Challenge was no different. The moderator, Lisa Rosenblum, as well as speakers Michael Lambert, Kent Oliver, Donna Walker, and Mark Asberg discussed how their library systems from across the US and Canada have learned to adapt in the past year and how these changes will affect the future of their organizations.

All panelists noted how last year accelerated changes and programming that were already being contemplated. In many ways, this is a good thing! While we’ve had to work more quickly than we usually would, seeing what our library systems are capable of in crisis has been a really positive thing to experience for workers and patrons. Traditional outreach methods are being rethought, as are rigid strategic planning methods. Being more flexible now and continuing this flexibility and fast thinking into the future will absolutely only make our libraries into better, more inclusive rays of light in our neighborhoods.

One specific thought from this panel that I find important to note was when Lisa mentioned how working from home has made participation more accessible to entry-level employees. Being able to attend planning meetings that they would not normally be able to attend because they are needed in the branch can change the way the library runs for the better. I experienced this first hand. As a part-time employee, I would not normally volunteer for any type of committee due to the time commitment involved in addition to my responsibilities in the branch. However, as I worked from home for months last year, I found myself involved in one of our library’s virtual programming committees focused on crafts. It gave me the opportunity to get to know librarians and assistants from other branches, improve on and learn new skills (specifically video filming and editing), and share something that I enjoy with a larger audience. I hope that library managers and administrators will take this particular change into the future. While entry-level and part-time workers are needed for day-to-day tasks, they should also be invited into larger planning whenever possible. Fresh voices and different skill sets can only make libraries even better places for all. 

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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