What I Learned at ARSL Conference 2017

By Wendy Skevington

Imagine tent revival music in the background as a voice dripping with smoke and honey declares “Librarians of small Arizona libraries I’ve seen the light and you can too!” Yes, I am a new convert to ARSL, Association for Rural and Small Libraries. That’s not my voice, but the one wish I could use to share the many wonders I experienced at the ARSL 2017 annual conference. Abby Zeltzer has told me for years that this is the only national conference for people from little libraries and urged me to give it a try. More recently Lisa Lewis has been singing praises of this for organization of fervent librarians. Add my voice to the chorus, YOU should give it a try. Kieran Hixon, new president of the group, expressed that he felt like he had found his tribe when he first came to ARSL. There were people everywhere that wear all the library hats just like we all do. Phil Morehart, in his article for American Libraries said it felt like a family reunion.

In addition to the welcoming arms of my far-flung library family, other benefits of attendance included tips and tricks that even an old small library hand such as myself hadn’t heard. The half-day session presented by the founders of New Why, Michelle Drum and Natalie Winslow demonstrated how to reduce our website costs by 40% with a simple move to WPengine. In the long run that little nugget will pay for the excursion many times over and save staff stress and time with more proactive support to boot.

Sam Helmick introduced us to Canva, a design tool to give our online content a polished look. The basic access is free and after my first few tries, looks like the free version will be robust enough for my library’s purposes. During her marketing session , she also shared the clever idea of using emojis life size throughout the library.

“Let’s Move! Public Libraries Impacting Physical Fitness in Their Communities” was presented by Noah Lenstra from the University of North Carolina Greensboro and included information for librarians interested in movement-based programming, which includes everything from bike rodeos to yoga classes to 5Ks to story walks to music and movement storytimes. The bulk of the presentation can be found here. Also look for future webinar offerings on the same site.

Jamie Paicely’s staff recognition session was full of clever ideas for showing your staff that you appreciate all they do even if you can’t pay them what they deserve. Perhaps the simplest is to buy them lottery tickets. Give tickets with the drawing 6 days out and everyone has time to savor the dream. Remind them to remember the little people.

With “Break out of Boring,” Andrea Scherer has spring boarded off the work of breakoutedu.com, investing $125 for the equipment to host many, many Breakout games. She had session participants run a game. We were quiet pleased to solve the riddles and earn the codes to the locks. Games can be scaled to any skill or age level. Our teens are going to love this!

Hanna Stewart and Keliann LaConte are also fans of “the learn by doing” school of thought and had us up doing “flybys” of a planet looking through a pretend telescope (rolled paper) clouded by atmosphere (a bit colored film held over the telescope). Their “Out-of-This-World Programs on a Down-To-Earth Budget” play and learn session showed how easy STEM programs can be with very little money. They highly suggest joining Star_Net, a science technology community for libraries for 1000s of ideas already vetted by libraries.

Possibly the most important thing I learned was from breakfast on Friday morning. The table was discussing how to get teens in the library and what to do with them when they arrived. I shared our Zombie Nerf War that we host on Thursdays after hours (to protect the innocent by standers from flying nerf bullets). This was an idea we refined from another library’s event. When I saw the look on the face of the librarian next to me as the notion bloomed that she could copy this program, I learned that I still have things to share with the tribe, even if it is only passing on what we have borrowed from others.

A great shout out to the ARSL folks who chose St. George, Utah, as the location for the 2017 annual conference. It was a stress-free, scenic six-hour drive from my library. Deep thanks to Arizona State Library for a continuing education scholarship. Otherwise, I still would not have enjoyed my first ARSL conference.


Wendy Skevington is Director at Holbrook Public Library.

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