Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Star Shone on Alabama

On Wednesday, I spoke at the Birmingham Public Library Lunch at the Alabama Library Association conference.

I have a bit of advice for you: it you ever get invited to the Alabama Library Association conference, go. I was there way too briefly, but what I saw, I enjoyed thoroughly. (Incidentally, the fried chicken at the lunch was almost as good as the best I’ve eaten, and I lived in South Carolina for seven years.)

I was met at the airport by Renee Blalock, the Associate Director of the Birmingham Public Library, who had invited me to the conference. Michele Norris, the host of NPR’s All Things Considered, was also on the flight—she was the keynote speaker for the conference. Another word of advice: if Michele Norris ever speaks within 100 miles of where you are, drop everything and go hear her. Her keynote speech was exactly what every meeting organizer hopes for: a relevant, incredibly well-delivered speech from the heart that gets discussion going for the rest of the event. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t agree with everything she said, but the way she said it was SO GOOD! Before she became the host of ATC, Michele’s beat was education and she still cares passionately about kids (including her own two toddlers) and how they learn.

My only gripe with Michele’s talk is that I have a hang-up about the library as nostalgia. She talked a lot about how libraries used to be. She expressed concern about “point and click” journalism, and about whether information, as it becomes more common, will become less valuable.

But she was fully engaged with the audience. At one point, she said she would love to spend time shadowing the librarian at NPR, just to learn more about what she does. At that point, Elizabeth Aversa of the College of Communication and Information Services, School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alabama (yes, this all fits on her card) offered to have her shadow LIS students as they learn about the next generation of information provision, and Michele accepted.

Michele’s talk wasn’t all nostalgia…she was firmly grounded in the current environment. She talked about a dinner party she’d attended with a number of journalists. As the evening progressed, they started talking about stories they’d each pursued based on internet research that either turned out to be totally bogus or that took them off in the wrong direction. As it turns out, there was one librarian at this party, and after everyone had related his or her horror story, she said, “You each could have saved yourself a ton of time and embarrassment just by picking up the phone and calling your librarian.” KUH-ching!

She said that librarians need to be right at the table when the editorial meetings are being held every day. By extension, librarians need to be at every meeting of the city council, school board, deans and provosts, student senate, and wherever else decisions are being made. That’s how we make the leap from gatekeeper to player!

OK, so sign me up for Michele’s fan club. The icing on the cake? She said her favorite children’s book is Curious George. (OK, this is a shameless plug for WebJunction. You can get your price of admission refunded at the door!)

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