COVID-19 has definitely created new access needs. Unfortunately, not everyone has a well-equipped home office that comes with internet access, which is where the public library can help.
I’ve written a few times about the changing roles involved in running libraries and how ‘proving our worth’ has become a full-time job in itself. Conference attendance is one of the items scrutinized to determine if the library is spending taxpayer dollars in the most effective way.
Before we make the decision to send people to the Ontario Library Association’s Conference (OLA) Super Conference, we have to think through the tangible benefit for each person attending. The OLA Super Conference costs my library system approximately $1,000 per person to attend. We brought two board members and four staff members in 2017. The Super Conference not only puts a significant dent in our training dollars, it also draws attention to how we spend our money. As a result, we have to be able to justify its value.
As a library system we contribute to OLA in various ways: our chair is an Ontario Library Board Association (OLBA) Councillor; I write for Open Shelf and Chair the OLA Advocacy Committee; another staff member sits on the Evergreen Committee, part of the Forest of Reading; and three of us presented at the conference this year.
At the Haliburton County Public Library’s board meeting immediately following the Super Conference, I presented a slideshow outlining the highlights of all six attendee’s conference experience. Attendance brings value to our organization and individual benefits to our staff and board members.
Our board chair was inspired by Sunni Brown’s keynote address on adjusting to constant change and the marketing and advocacy advice provided by Jamie Hardee and John Chrastka. Marketing guru Jamie Hardie, of Hardie and Co., has done a lot of work with Innisfil Public Library. “Stop talking only about successes. Start talking about what is missing, what are you not able to do and why,” Jamie Hardie has said. A notable piece of wisdom shared by John Chrastka, Executive Director of EveryLibrary; the first US political action committee for libraries, which has suggested a plan A and plan B for acquiring funding. Plan A involves presenting what libraries can accomplish with proper funding. Plan B presents what a given library would look like with either status quo funding or with cut funding.
The recent practice at the Super Conference is for the OLBA to hold a ‘Boot Camp’ for public library board trustees on Saturday. This takes into account that library board trustees are volunteers and often have other jobs so Saturday is the best day for them. A brand new board member attended and felt the boot camp gave her a much better picture of the role of the board and board members.
I was at the conference from Wednesday morning until the end of the OLBA’s Boot Camp on Saturday afternoon. In fact, my board chair and I had the dubious honour of being among the last speakers at the conference – speaking about policymaking, no less. There were still about three quarters of the attendees remaining! We have been working cooperatively for many years, but for the first time in eight years we had the opportunity to present together on our library’s development.
Erin Kernohan-Berning, our Branch Services Librarian, learned some behind-the-scenes tips about digital readiness and Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) regulations for electronic accessibility. Erin tends to get the non-glamourous, low visibility, but essential tasks and quietly goes about her business on a day-to-day basis. We do allow her some fun, as she sits on the Evergreen Committee and attended the Forest of Reading breakfast at the conference. Luckily for us, she was there with our local high school’s Teacher Librarian and between the two of them they convinced two Young Adult writers to make the trek to Haliburton in March — read more about the event at the haliburtonecho.ca or thehighlander.ca.
Sherrill Sherwood, Haliburton’s Collections Development Coordinator, presented a session about our Automatic Release Program (ARP) for our LGBTQ collection. She also came home from the conference with an idea for a ‘New Arrivals’ button on our website. She figured out how our Integrated Library System (ILS) can highlight the new items being added to our collection each week. Patrons wanting to see only new materials can go straight to that collection through the button on the website. This was something tangible that I could demonstrate to our Board in my presentation.
Our Programming and Outreach Coordinator, Nancy Therrien, came back from the conference and immediately put in motion a Tinker Lab Pilot project. We have several outstanding grants with which we are hoping to expand our maker culture in the near future. It was useful to be able to explain the Pilot and its possible incarnations to the board.
When you think about all the aspects of the Super Conference and how it tries to be all things to all aspects of libraries and library services, it is extraordinary that it keeps succeeding and growing. That six people, with wildly different roles for the library, could come together and tangibly benefit from the experience. What is even more amazing is that we only represent the public library side of things. It makes my job that much easier if every year I am able to demonstrate the conference is well worth the time, effort, and expense.
Bessie Sullivan is the CEO of the Haliburton County Public Library. She can be reached at bsullivan [at] haliburtonlibrary.ca.