The Association for Rural and Small Libraries Conference – What I Learned

By Joyce Baker

The Association for Rural and Small Libraries Conference has always been one of the most practical conferences I have ever attended, so I was very excited when the Arizona State Library approved a scholarship for me to attend again. The conference was hosted in Little Rock, Arkansas, this year and overall the conference did not disappoint.

I decided to focus on data measurement this year. While this may seem a little less exciting than some other workshops, I thought it was time to ramp up my reporting so stakeholders could see how effective our services are.

I started my time in Little Rock with a pre-conference on “Disaster Preparedness.” Eva Grizzard from Northeast Document Conservation Center gave us a very practical template for developing a library emergency plan. While Coolidge has a citywide disaster plan, I think it is time to develop a plan for library-specific emergencies and this template is just what I needed to start that process.

I attended three data analysis workshops. “Project Outcome,” taught by Emily Plagman and Rochelle Logan of, was the first workshop. Emily highlighted the free outcome-based surveys they offer to libraries for use when evaluating services. I will definitely explore implementing these surveys for some of our programs in the future because they are simple yet provide rich data.

This was a two-part program but I only attended the first part because I was anxious to attend the “Data Visualization for the Rest of Us” workshop taught by Linda Hofschire. This was my favorite workshop. Linda talked about how to use well-designed graphics to tell a story more powerfully than a paragraph. I have been struggling with this in my reports to my Advisory Board and am looking forward to putting these tools into practice. I was especially excited to learn there will be a Research Institute for Public Libraries Conference next year that will teach this material in more depth. I hope to attend it.

The last data workshop I attended was “Power in Numbers: Making Data Work for You,” taught by IMLS staff. This workshop was a good complement to the data visualization workshop.

My city manager recently asked me about the Edge Initiative, so I was excited to attend a workshop on Edge for Small Libraries. I plan to take back the information I learned about the initiative and specifically how it is relevant for small libraries. We will discuss whether it is something that we want to do. I was particularly pleased to see that the reports on how your library is doing compare your library with other ones of similar size.

Another great workshop was “Managing Digital Overload” with Crystal Schimpf. We looked at the causes of digital overload. My biggest take-away was “stop trying to multi-task. It isn’t possible.” Wow, I need to accept this! Then Crystal gave us seven skills for managing digital overload. She challenged us to select one or two personal goals for managing all of our information. I plan to focus on only one thing at a time and learn some better ways to use technology to organize all the information I receive. I hope that these two goals will help me make digital data work for me instead of me being a slave to it.

The keynote speakers were incredible! We heard from Josh Hanagarne, author of World’s Strongest Librarian, Daniel Black, author of Perfect Peace, and P. C. Cast. All three were fantastic. All I can say is I ordered books by all of them after hearing them speak.

Thanks again to the Arizona State Library for providing scholarships to conferences like this. I always return exhausted yet re-energized to try new programs and services in our community. I am ready to apply what I learned. It can be hard to leave the office for an extended period to attend a conference. However, I find these conferences worth the time investment.

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