ALA Virtual Midwinter 2021

Singing Along to the Song of Change in Our Libraries at #alamw21

In the fourth day of ALA Midwinter, the themes of flexibility and planning continued with the panel, The Road Ahead: Libraries in an Uncertain Future. Speaker Zoe Dunning began her presentation by saying, “You can’t predict the future, but you can plan for it.” What a way to summarize the past year and many of the ideas of this conference! Throughout every panel that I attended in the past few days, there is an undercurrent of change happening. 2020 certainly gave us all new perspectives about how libraries can work. While sometimes we found ourselves drained thinking of how to best serve our communities, there were also pockets of light when new ideas came into focus and practice.  

I truly hope that this conference has re-energized many of you as it did for me. As we move forward, I know that I, personally, will be taking Zoe’s main talking points with me. A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Zoe discussed the idea of Mission/Team/Self and instead proposed Mission/Self/Team. Our plans should focus on the mission of the library first, then ourselves and then our team. We can’t expect to lead and guide our peers until we have a clear vision in our own heads. Additionally, it is far more difficult to care for others (patrons and co-workers) if we are unable to care for ourselves, meeting and understanding our own needs.  

Following this, Zoe went over the concept of less is more. We’ve probably all heard it a thousand times before, but what does it mean when it comes to library work? As we continue to re-work the way we engage with our communities, it’s important to not just add on sparkly new things. Much like when we weed our collections, we need to be constantly re-assessing what already exists and get rid of what’s not working as well as adding to it. While it can be hard to let go of “just the way we’ve always done it” it’s absolutely necessary for the library’s growth and development.  

Finally, Zoe ended with “agility trumps resilience”. It is better to be flexible and willing to change what doesn’t work than it is to just not fail. We need to be willing to try new things and be okay with knowing that some of them may just not work out. On the flip side, knowing our communities and their needs and understanding how those needs change will increase the success rate if we’re truly listening and acting on what we hear.   

Change can be a terrifying word, but it can also be a hopeful word if we let it. Taking this to heart, Inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, was one of the last speakers we heard from at this year’s meeting. She recited from her upcoming book, Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem. To quote her: “We all hear change strumming, won’t you sing along?” I heard the change strumming these past few days, and I am absolutely ready to sing along. 

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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