Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Diversity Conference

Today and tomorrow, I'm attending a conference co-sponsored by OCLC, the Ohio Library Council, OHIONET, and the State Library of Ohio called "Building Organizational Strength Through Inclusion: The 2004 Diversity Conference." (That last link may only last until the conference is over, by the way.)

The opening speaker was marvelous: José Aponte, the Executive Director of the Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs, Colorado. There were many highlights to his talk, titled "Dancing with Elephants: Staying Relevant in Changing Times." But several of them directly related to the scan.

José spoke extensively about the idea of the library as a "sanctuary," which he defined very much as a third place. He talked about the need to create a sense of public space that will empower the communities that use that space, that will reflect and engage the entire service district. He spoke of using demographics to the library's advantage. Noting the graying and the browning of the US population, he said, "These are our users. Take advantage of this." He also spoke of the need to build archival collections that recognize the contributions that all the various communities have made to the building of the modern, variegated community. He said that in Colorado Springs, the library had done a pretty good job of reflecting the current demographic make up of the community, but in its historical collection, it had omitted the role of the Spanish and Mexican settlers that had developed the area and given many of the geographic features their names.

José was also very eloquent on the need for political (as opposed to partisan) planning and strategy in libraries. He stressed the importance of knowing what is important to your boss. He said that while he reads LJ and American Libraries, he also reads the magazines and web sites that government officials read, such as the Governing Magazine site. He also repeatedly mentioned the importance of understanding demographics in planning for the future, the logical outgrowth of which might be reading American Demographics magazine and website.

One comment José made touched me very deeply. He said, "Choose optimism over pessimism. But understand that optimism requires action."

We have about 160 people attending this conference, and about 110 who are going to come to hear Martín Gómez, the new President of the Urban Libraries Council and a member of the OCLC Board of Trustees, at our fundraising dinner for the ALA Spectrum Scholarship program. These are people who have chosen optimism over pessimism, and it is inspiring to see them plan action.

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