Making Connections in Flagstaff

By Dan Stanton

I’m always surprised by the number of current AzLA members – 946 (not including vendor members). I guess that seems like a lot (or it certainly would if you put almost a thousand people all in one place). But Arizona is a large state, and our libraries and AzLA members are spread out. I grew up in Connecticut (a little over half as large as Maricopa County!), where things are compact and each community has its library, and you can’t throw a rock without hitting a college. Even so, it seemed like a big deal to drive across multiple states when the need arose (usually to buy beer on Sunday in Vermont).

From all indications, the 2014 AzLA/MPLA Joint Conference was a resounding success. We had some great programs and thought-provoking speakers. We had a chance to play host to friends and colleagues from the twelve-state Mountain Plains Library Association (MPLA), giving us a chance to show off. Not only did the 72 MPLA members from out of state get to experience November in the Phoenix area (Mountain Plains, remember?), they got to experience and contribute to the collegial sharing of ideas with about 330 AzLA members who attended. So, about a third of AzLA Members attended the 2014 Conference in Fountain Hills. That’s pretty good!

Speaking of thirds, have you ever noticed that Phoenix is really on the line of the bottom third of the state on the map? Tucson is in the south for sure, but I always think of Phoenix as being in the central part of the state. Did you know that AzLA has never had a conference outside of the Phoenix or Tucson metro areas? Never. This means that we AzLA members in the southern third have had it pretty good. Forever. We may even have lived close enough to save a few bucks by commuting and sleeping in our own beds at night (I know I did), while folks from the elsewhere had to bite the bullet if they wanted to attend. Every year.

It’s not that AzLA hasn’t wanted to go elsewhere; in fact, getting out of the metro areas has been on the wish list for years, it’s just that we are too big a group for most places. As President-elect, I was tasked with selecting the location of the AzLA Conference. I purposefully looked outside of Phoenix and Tucson, but again we are limited by our size (you can either have exhibits in the one big room, or you can have keynotes and meals; you can’t have both). This year we found a place that’s just up the road in Flagstaff (if you take another look at that AZ map, you’ll see that Flagstaff is on the line for the top third of the state!). And Flagstaff really wanted us. The Visitor’s Bureau met with us, the city is fun, the facility is beautiful, and we are right on the edge of the NAU campus.

I’ve heard some people say they are excited because they have never been to Flagstaff. To those people I say: you won’t be disappointed. I’ve also heard murmurs that some people aren’t planning to attend because it’s too far to travel. To those people I say: I hope that we can change your mind, and not only because it’s fair (AZ is a big state and it’s time to give the north a little attention for a change). I hope we can change your mind because Flagstaff is a (literally) cool destination unlike any location we’ve been at before. I hope we can change your mind because our colleagues in the north are excited about the opportunity to participate as never before, volunteering and presenting. I hope that we can change your mind because lots of people have been working hard to present another high quality AzLA conference where you can get some perspective, some encouragement, some validation, and some new ideas from your colleagues.

It’s crazy the amount of work that goes into planning the AzLA Conference. There are so many moving parts that it boggles the mind. I need to give a shout-out to our Conference Co-Chairs, Jasper Halt and Ann Leonard. Not only are they tracking and resolving all the logistics issues that come along (speakers, venue, meals, programs, etc.) – they have been at it, consistently and enthusiastically, since before the 2014 Conference! They know we are trying something different and they know it is going to be awesome. We have keynotes that are movers and shakers in the library world, and we had 97 excellent program proposals to choose from, from all library types and from all over this big state, and beyond.

As President-elect, I was also tasked with selecting the Conference theme, which for me was a no-brainer. Libraries are all about making connections. We connect people with information, services, and each other. In order to do that, we need to connect with others in our organization, our community, our profession. You know who we are–passionate, dedicated, underfunded, and underpaid. Always looking to improve or enhance the experience for their end users, be they students, professionals, or members of the public. In isolation, we do the best we can. But with an association, we are part of a bigger group. AzLA is 946 strong and Arizona is more than Phoenix or Tucson. Let’s go someplace new and make some new connections!

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