The Undercover Librarian

OLA Round-Up

This past week, the Ontario Library Association held their 2011 Super Conference at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre here in T.O. Students in my program were lucky enough to receive expo passes, granting us access to the exhibits and some of the services. (It did not, however, allow us to attend sessions, and had I not been working – due to the all of the staff at my current library being at OLA – I would have forked over the extra cash to do so.)

The convention centre did not have WiFi available, much to the disappointment of everyone who had hoped to document their conference experience on their social networking site of choice. (A recent check for the tag #SC2011 on Twitter pulled thousands of tweets, many asking for WiFi to be available next year. Computer terminals were available, but at a rate of almost $6 to use, very few people took advantage.) Since it would have cost me far too much, I didn’t document my experience as I went, but I’ll do so now – just in case there are some students or other library staff out there who haven’t been to the Super Conference. It’s well worth the time and money if you can go, as I discovered during my first conference this year. So, without further ado:

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t have a chance to attend any of the sessions that were offered. I’d selected a few that I was particularly interested in, but was then asked to work, and I couldn’t justify the expenditure if I was only going to be able to attend one or two sessions during the whole four days of the conference. So instead, I started with the poster sessions and the resume consultation.

The OLA offers resume consultations and interview tips at their conference, and for any student still enrolled in a library program or for recent graduates, this will likely prove to be the most valuable part of the conference. I had the opportunity to sit down with a librarian from a library type of my preference – both academic and public librarians were available when I arrived – and not only did she critique my resume, but she also suggested ways that I could prepare for job applications and interviews, and ways to stay involved in the field and maintain my skills should I not be offered a job as soon as I would like. If you attend the Super Conference and can make time for this – even if you’re already working in the field – I cannot recommend it highly enough. Even in the brief session I had, I genuinely feel like I learned more than I had during any resume writing exercise I’d done before.

The poster sessions are used to present specific programs being run by different libraries throughout the province. I checked them all out, and spoke to quite a few library staff, but the one that really caught my attention was the “Boys Read to Succeed” program put on by the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and  – believe it or not – Games Workshop. Their focus this year was Lord of the Rings, and it was a pretty ingenuous way to bring together literature and gaming, and to get a group of kids reading great books that they might otherwise never have thought to pick up.

Aside from the poster sessions and the skills session, I spent most of my time here:

The expo. This is the place where vendors of all things library (and some not so library) gather to promote their products, programs, or  services. And while not everything was of immediate interest – for example, as comfortable as they looked, I just wasn’t in a position to buy the fancy new leather chairs from Brodart – I did manage to spend a lot of time conversing with the vendors, and could easily have stayed or gone back for more on Saturday morning. (Sadly, the info. desk won’t staff itself, and the potted plant does a very poor job of using the catalogue.)

I won’t go into every conversation I had, but there were definitely a few worth mentioning.

First, a few classmates and I had a great session with a rep. from Knowledge Ontario. We completed a session about their live chat reference service last semester, but I had no idea how many other services they had available, and shame on me for that. (And those links only represent a very small portion of what they do, if you can believe it.) This is an organization which will lose its funding after June 30, 2011; please check them out, use the services if you can, and speak out. This is something which I genuinely believe we cannot afford to lose.

On my second day, I had a fantastic conversation with representatives from the CNIB Library, and learned about their work, and their movement towards integrating their services into all public libraries. Until now, the resources of the CNIB Library had only been available to members of the organization, which meant that other patrons with various accessibility issues who were not members of the CNIB, were unable to access the resources. Although I don’t have any accessibility issues myself, I have friends who do, and as a result, I’ve developed an interest in library accessibility for a variety of different patrons, whether their challenge by visual, auditory, or something else entirely. The reps. even provided me with an introduction to the program and their initiative on audio CD, and you have to admit, that’s great marketing and a pretty simple but effective idea.

I also had a wonderful discussion with Catherine Fleming McKenty, a Montreal-based author who recently published a novel with the assistance of the Cabbagetown Regent Park Community Museum. (I haven’t read Polly of Bridgewater Farm just yet, but an order will be put in shortly.) Ms.McKenty and the CRPC Museum rep. who was staffing the booth (whose name I did not catch, regrettably) were a genuine delight to speak with, and I wish I had found their booth earlier and been able to spend more time talking with them. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the CRPC museum and Ms.McKenty next year.

To be completely frank, the other nice feature of the expo is the free stuff. Between the pamphlets, booklets, bookmarks, business cards, art prints, pens, buttons, free books (yeah. FREE), and other goodies, I walked out with a huge amount of great materials and information.

(Monica approves of free stuff.)

Not that anyone else would care, but large button reads “I’m a Horror Story” – from Tinlids, which was giving away buttons proclaiming the wearer to be a literary genre. (I was too late to get the “I’m a Complicate Plot” button, which struck me as too funny to pass up. Apparently, everyone else who got there before me felt the same. “I’m loosely based on a true story” was my second choice, and was quickly snapped up as well.) The small orange button reads “catalyst”. The theme of this year’s conference was “the power of collaboration”, which was shortened to “The Power of C” on the buttons being handed out. Because library professionals tend to have a quirky sense of humour, they also had buttons with various library-related words starting with c – creativity, catalyst, and my favourite – and my boyfriend’s only souvenir from the conference:

My only major issue – WiFi issues aside – was the way some vendors reacted when they learned we were students. More than one classmate reported that vendors would visibly lose interest in their conversation, or even blow them off entirely. I take exception to being treated like a nuisance because I’m not technically “a professional” yet, and was frustrated about being ignored if a vendor saw the “student” designation on my pass.  When my classmates and I discussed this, a few people also made the point that alienating future customers was an unwise move, particularly in an industry suffering from budget cuts across the board, leaving less money for buying their products. I know I would be unlikely to purchase from a vendor who had snubbed me. Luckily, these vendors were few and far between, and most were glad to spend time with us – several students even reported going back at later times and having more in-depth conversations. (One classmate had a half-hour sit-down conversation with an Knowledge Ontario representative, for example.) Thankfully, the good outweighed the bad many times over.

The Wrap Up

Time for a confession: Normally, wandering around a convention floor and speaking with vendors isn’t my idea of a great time, and I figured that this component of the conference would bore me to tears. But much to my surprise and relief, it was well worth it. For those established in the profession, it’s obviously a good way to see what new products and services are out, catch up on what their current vendors are doing, and socialize with colleagues that they haven’t seen since, well, the previous conference. (My impression was that for many people, the conference functions as a sort of informal MLIS class reunion in addition to everything else.)

But for students like myself, it can provide even more. Although I’m ten weeks away from the end of my program, and although I already work in a library, I didn’t completely feel like a member of the profession. Coming away from the Superconference, I felt better prepared for what might come after the end of April, and better informed about what’s going on in the industry. And quite frankly, socializing with librarians, other technicians, and vendors (and running into library professionals that I already know!) made me feel like part of the group. For a student or a new graduate who is still trying to navigate their way through unfamiliar territory and unfamiliar faces, this is an incredible confidence booster, and that I think that can only help us in the long run. So if you’re an LIT or MLIS student and haven’t yet attended an OLA Super Conference, mark February 1 to 4, 2012 on your calendar. You won’t regret it.


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This entry was posted on February 6, 2011 by and tagged , .
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