Friday, April 28, 2006

TLA Conference Notes: Day 1, First Impressions

Over the next few days, I will be putting up some of my notes from the TLA Conference, mostly my session notes. As I came out on the last day, I feel that my brain is full, so some of what I will do here is emptying some of that into a nice container. So, let's start with day one (April 26).

I started my day by attending the first General Session. Dame Julie Andrews was the keynote speaker. However, before that, I had to get through the line at the registration to pick up my badge. I went over from the campus with our Circulation Librarian. Lines were a bit on the long side, and not terribly organized. You would think librarians of all people would know how to form a straight line. We did notice that the onsite registration booths actually had no lines. So, is the message here to skip preregistration and just do it when you get there? We did wonder there for a moment. However, the squiggly line did move along and we got our stuff. I attended two sessions (one and a half; the second turned out to be a bit disappointing, and I left. More on that later) and heard two papers. I also had some time to visit exhibits, but I will write a bit on that later.

  • General Session I: The Mayor of Houston gave the welcome. As many politicians, he has a library story. I don't mean this in a cynical way, but it is a given if you give a speech to librarians, you have to have a library story. His story started with his early experiences via a library bookmobile. Overall, he gave our colleagues out of town a warm welcome. The temperature outside was in the mid-60s and cloudy, but no rain, making it a perfect day to walk in downtown. Since my campus is in downtown Houston, I took the rail and walked part of the way; weather was good for that. After the mayor's welcome, I had a moment to ponder if I had learned another lesson. The lesson may be that you can arrive at least a half hour late, and you would not miss the actual speaker. That is because of all the announcements, kudos to the sponsors, awards, incoming and outgoing officers, and so on. Don't get me wrong: I think some recognition is important, but some of this was a bit on the long side. Then again, had I missed it, I would have missed a grown man actually shed a tear. The dean of SLIS at UNT received the Lifetime Achievement Award, and the man was speechless. It is not very often that you see someone truly moved when his peers recognize him for a lifetime of serving the profession. Congratulations.
  • Julie Andrews: After a collage film highlighting her career, the dame gave her speech. She began by pointing out how she gets irritated when she is labeled as a "celebrity author" since she has been writing children's books for about 35 years. She says that she has been fortunate that her role and position have allowed her to be an advocate for reading. She once met Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who told her this: "Words matter. Books count." This is what brings us together: words. It is all about the words. Without words, there would be no songs. In 2003, she launched her own children's books imprint, The Julie Andrews Collection, under HarperCollins. The imprint publishes new works as well as seeks older works to reissue. The mission of the imprint "encompasses books for young readers of all ages that nurture the imagination and celebrate a sense of wonder."The idea is to provide wonder through words. And this will thrive when people use their power of advocacy. The joy of reading is that it asks us to use our imagination and thus be engaged. Overall, she is an interesting speaker, but her presentation did seem quite a bit on the short side. I don't think it even clocked in at 15 minutes, 20 tops (and I am basing this on average reading time for a paper of about 20 minutes). I thought it was just me who felt this way, but talking to some librarians from out of town, they felt the same way. I do wonder if that is kind of normal for events like this, that speakers just seem to whiz by.
One of the things that impressed me sitting there at the assembly room for the general session was just all the librarians present. There is something about seeing others in the profession gathered in one place: school, public, academic, and special. I think it can be reassuring that you do belong to this larger community of people interested and committed to serving their patrons and making sure they have access to the information (and other materials) they seek. I also liked that we seem more relaxed. I have been to professional conferences where it is all a suit and tie affair. Librarians go from well-dressed (mostly the presenters) to mostly very casual wear. I am a jeans and shirt guy, so it worked for me. Next, session notes.

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