I had the great good fortune to be able to combine a visit to my brand-new niece with a day-trip to the first annual Michigan KidLib Unconference! It was even more fun because I wasn’t the only person coming from out of state! Anna from Cinncinnati learned about the unconference because she is a So Tomorrow reader (and if you’re not you should be too) and received permission from her boss to drive up for the day.
Why did we–and everyone else who drove across Michigan on a winter day–make the effort to attend? Because even without planned workshops and presentations, unconferences can be powerful continuing education opportunities. With three breakout sessions and 12 topics to choose from, everyone attending had the chance to listen in on and contribute to exchanges that informed their day-to-day library responsibilities. Session notes are available if you want to take a look!
It was a great day, I had amazing conversations all day long, met fabulous librarians, and saw some old friends face-to-face for the first time. Being with so many dedicated children’s services pros was wonderfully motivating and recharging, and I am so grateful for the experience.
Lisa, Anne, and Andrea did a super job planning and hosting the event. Lisa and Anne have blogged about how they put the event together with Andrea and I encourage you to read their posts and start to consider if this is something you might bring to your state too.
Can’t take on planning an unconference? What about a smaller event?
Instead of a day-long in-person experience, can you schedule and host a Google Hangout, and for an hour talk about a single targeted question, program, or service? Maybe your library would like to start a new outreach program–can you reach out to staff at libraries that already offer that service, and ask them to join you to talk about their experience? Your state library youth services consultant might be able to help you find possible contacts–both those who are doing the service and those who are interested in trying it out. He or she might also have established communication channels to help promote the Hangout, too.
Does your state library help coordinate face to face networking opportunities? There may be a regular event that until now has flown under your radar. Or maybe there’s a general-interest-something in hand but you’d love to chat just with youth services staff for the night. See if you can use your local listservs, state library blogs, or state library association websites to publicize a night to get together after work. This sort of thing can be a success whether 3 people or 30 attend–more folks means more networking possibilities, but fewer means more chances for deeper conversations. Again, if you’re nervous about starting conversations or keeping them going, come prepared with a few specific questions, programs, research articles, or recent book reviews to talk about. Everyone else is eager to share and learn and it will be easier than you think to keep the ball rolling.
If you aren’t ready to organize an event, read some thoughts about creating a personal network and consider joining in an existing online conversation. The Flannel Friday and Storytime Underground communities on Facebook always have an active conversation thread to join in or read. If you’re not excited about Facebook for personal reasons, consider creating an account to just use professionally. You don’t have to share anything more than very basic profile information, you don’t have to ever post a status update or photo, or even “friend” anyone, but it would allow you to follow some professional accounts and join in on conversations there. Twitter is another social network that you don’t have to “swim in the deep end” to garner benefits from. Create an account, set it to “private” and without ever tweeting once you can follow along regular Twitter chats, such as Readers Advisory (#readadv on the 1st and 3rd Thursday evening of each month) an ALSC-hosted discussion (#alscchat first Thursday evening every month), or general library issues (#libchat Wednesday nights weekly).