Three Things I Learned from AzLA 2017

By Ann Leonard

Three things I learned from the 2017 Arizona Library Association Conference:

1. Feedback and input from your community/stakeholders is now non-negotiable.

One thing I noticed immediately is that there was a running theme which seemed to weave its way into every session I attended: involving your patrons in planning or execution of library programs and services is no longer just an added bonus–it’s an invaluable, non-negotiable part in successful library operations.

For example, when I attended “Dinosaurs Didn’t Read and Now They Are Extinct!: Displays that Get those Library Users through the Door”, a presentation by three librarians of Maricopa County Library District, all the library display examples incorporated patron interaction: be it displays hinged on summer reading stats, consisting of patron-made contributions, or integrating voting and games.

Other sessions that really stood out in this regard included “Interact for Impact”, a workshop by Tempe Public Library’s teen department, and the “Seed Libraries Have Taken Root in Arizona: Sow Now What?” round table. “Interact for Impact” set up engaging re-enactments of their programs which included elements made by teen volunteers themselves. Programs at Tempe are made with the teens, for the teens, and often by the teens. To really drive home this message TPL librarians showed recorded testimonials from the teen patrons explaining not only what activities they enjoy, but how much they value having someone listen.

The “Seed Libraries” round table consisted of seed library librarians and staff across the state sharing the ways they include their communities as part of this unique service. Not only are patrons encouraged to donate the seeds of their harvest, but many libraries host “seed packing parties,” “seed swapping” events, and partner with local community gardens. This makes for seed libraries that are truly embedded in their communities and patrons that feel proud to be involved.

2. Be authentic; allow yourself to be vulnerable.

Growing up poor, artsy, and bookish, I often felt like an outsider. Now, I’m a government employee waking up each day to navigate a whirlwind of office politics, meetings, and strategic goals, all while donning business casual attire. I didn’t really picture this round peg fitting into that square hole, but I make it work and I do it well. Ever since I graduated from library school and started my career, however, I’ve occasionally had to deal with feeling uneasy about whether I’m truly being as “me” as I can. Am I stating how I really feel? Am I bonding with my team? Am I balancing the goals of being professional, while also being authentic? No one, I imagine, wants to be an automaton.

During the AzLA Service Awards, Emerging Leader Award winner Cherise Mead expressed that she wouldn’t be able to be an effective leader if not for the fact that she allowed herself to be vulnerable with her team. She bravely let her colleagues in, giving them details about a personal health condition, including her limitations and boundaries. She was pleasantly surprised that she was not met with either impatience or pity, but rather empathy and support. Her story demonstrated that sometimes opening ourselves up at work can result in strong staff, and even stronger teams.

3. There’s joy in recognizing our peers.

Lastly, I always take away so much from the Service Awards Luncheon. I can’t help but get a little sappy watching my colleagues from all over the state being honored by their peers for their hard work. Seeing librarians and library staff being applauded up to the stage by their proud, supportive team reveals so much more to me than just a one hardworking individual. It takes a strong, supportive institutional culture to take the time to gather a group to write convincing letters of nomination, and strong teams result in fantastic libraries. Furthermore, I am often touched by acceptance speeches that highlight the variety of journeys and specialties we have in this profession, yet which all share expressions of gratitude for librarians and libraries as a whole. Overall, I left AzLA thinking less about what feathers I can put in my own cap, and more about what opportunities and accolades I can grant others.

Ann Leonard chairs the Web and Social Media Committee and is a member and founder of the AzLA Archives. She is a Librarian II working on web and social media content management at Tempe Public Library.

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