ARSL 2015 CONFERENCE
ROCKIN’ IN LITTLE ROCK!
James O’Neal, MLIS
Middle Georgia Regional Library
Ken Davenport Scholarship recipient
I was completely flabbergasted the last week of July to discover that I had won the Ken Davenport scholarship to attend the 2015 ARSL conference in Little Rock! I owe it all to my Director, Jennifer Lautzenheiser, who encouraged me to enter the scholarship competition. So, still somewhat in shock, I started planning my very first trip to Arkansas. Since the conference would begin on a Wednesday, I eventually decided to start my journey on the Saturday before, with the aim of doing some diamond hunting and quartz crystal digging in Arkansas during the days leading up to the conference; having been a rock hound since early childhood, Arkansas diamond and quartz crystal mining had been on my bucket list for quite a while. After a 12 hour drive from my home in Georgia and a good night’s sleep, I hit the diamond field Sunday morning and ended that Sunday with….dirt. No Arkansas diamonds for me, it seemed. However, the Monday and Tuesday adventures in the quartz crystal mine resulted in buckets full of crystals! So, with my trunk full of crystals and my car now officially a low-rider, I headed into the city of Little Rock.
What a beautiful downtown I encountered in driving to the Marriott! Street cars, crowds of people walking the sidewalks, nice landscaping, fascinating buildings…wait, was that a pagoda? The Marriott was a stunning building inside…soaring heights, gleaming stone, and friendly staff! Once I was settled in my room, I signed in at the ARSL registration desk, picked up my all-important badge, and retreated to my swanky room to rest and get ready for the walking tour of downtown that afternoon. The tour was rather interesting; our guide pointed out some historic buildings in their current incarnation as charter schools. The historic hotel across the street, the Capital Hotel, was said to have an amazing interior, but we were forbidden entry due to some high-profile personage having an “event” there that evening. Could it be “Bill,” as the locals call President Clinton? It will forever remain a mystery, because we continued on to the ARSL reception in the state library, where with judicious amounts of beverages to fortify our bookish selves, we library folk met, mingled, and had a marvelous time…especially listening to the Booktations’ renditions of some good ol’ tunes!
The meals provided for attendees were amazingly delicious! Kudos to the chef and staff at the hotel! I met many people during the breakfasts and lunches at the conference, including Diana, a fellow Georgian who was a new regional system Director, so we talked up the benefits of our state-wide consortium, PINES, to the other people at the breakfast table; they seemed duly impressed. I also met Josh, an Assistant Director from an Idaho library system and a fellow fantasy aficionado; the tech guys Dustin and Donovan, both from Arkansas, were a hoot…little did I realize that they would pop up at EVERY breakout session that I attended. I thought that I was jinxing the equipment at first, but they were just checking on everything. I absolutely cannot forego mentioning Asti, another Arkansas librarian…we quickly became friends and were laughing it up in the hotel bar after a couple of “Tipsy Librarian” drinks especially created for our conference!
I looked forward to each breakout session that I planned to attend…and trying to find each particular meeting room in the warren of levels and hallways in the Marriott made it seem like an epic quest every time! All of the sessions were well-planned and well-presented, even when the technology tried to stymie the presenter (enter the Dynamic Duo of Dustin and Donovan to the rescue!). These hiccups were quickly fixed and the learning continued! I was eager to attend the How to Spice Up Your Facebook Page session, since my library system finally created a Facebook presence and it could use all of the help that it can get! The Minecraft session was interesting as well, and actually made me want to learn how to play it! Additionally, it is something that my library system will soon offer, so once again it was a beneficial learning experience for me personally as well as professionally. I “borrowed” some fantastic ideas from the Readers’ Advisor Socialite session, especially their “gold nugget” idea about showcasing some of the really great books in the library that just aren’t on people’s radar. I’m hoping that I can use their ideas about utilizing Pinterest and Goodreads in my rural branches, too. There were other sessions that presented wonderful and useful information, including grant writing, maker spaces, managing multiple libraries, and so forth. I’m glad that I brought a small spiral-bound notebook, because I filled it up with all of the good tips, tricks, and practices that these sessions offered!
There was one breakout session that absolutely made a deep impression on me: Creating a Culture of Yes. The concept of making your library go from “good enough” to “unexpectedly amazing” struck a nerve with me. Since I oversee 9 rural branches, I consistently see library settings and practices that range from “decent/not bad” all the way to” heck no!/what were you thinking?” I have been slowly striving to bring them all up to a higher level of service and environment, and this breakout session refueled my flagging energy! I absorbed everything that I could from the presenters, including how to make more inviting physical surroundings, improving the collection, and especially ramping up customer service! I have already made strides in implementing some of these marvelous things in my branches. If I had to choose just one breakout session as the most valuable, I would certainly pick this one!
I was sad to see Saturday arrive, even though it started off with a great session and a delicious brunch; I was going to have to say goodbye to some great new friends and to leave this marvelous environment of ARSL! It was absolutely the best feeling to be surrounded by so many other people who felt the same way that I do about the magic of libraries! You could almost touch the positive energy surrounding the place! But, as it has been said before, all good things must end. So, after some heartfelt goodbyes and well-wishes, I checked out of the lovely hotel, set my Google Map app for HOME and drove off into the east, sad, but also glad that I attended and was subsequently changed by this entire experience.
I hope to see everyone again next year in FARGO!