Reflections from the Library Marketing and Communications Conference 2017

On November 16 & 17, 2017, I attended the 3rd annual Library Marketing & Communications Conference, held in Addison, Texas. For two days, library marketers from diverse backgrounds came together to learn from experts and practitioners about the many facets of this topic, including media, public relations, partnerships, user-centered design, data-driven decision making, and the marketing cycle.

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This was the first time I had attended CALCON and I got a crash course in conference attendance.  I will take many of these lessons with me as I attend future conferences.

I learned to bring a notebook and pen to each session.  Apparently, presenters no longer provide print-outs of their slides.  The slides are all available on the conference website.  I also learned that bringing snacks is a good idea.

I learned that it may feel as if everyone else attended the conference with at least one friend or colleague.  This can be intimidating, but ultimately everyone is at the conference to learn.  When I made the effort to introduce myself, I met many interesting, nice librarians.

I learned the value of moving beyond my comfort zone when choosing sessions.  The presentations that were most valuable to me were on topics of which I had little previous knowledge.  Overall, I had a great time and the opportunity was invaluable.  In order to get the most out of the experience, I had to move beyond my comfort zone.

I promoted to a supervisor position this past April.  Because of this, I attended many of the sessions that were included in the Leadership track.  I gained a lot of insight from both presenters and other attendees.  There was information on how to supervise, how to hire new staff, and how to stay excited about a job that sometimes involves difficult conversations.  Additionally, I left with many resources to continue learning on my own.

Overall, attending CALCON was a challenging and rewarding experience.

Librarians, Make Happy Work!

As a librarian new to Colorado this year, I was thrilled to attend CALCON in October and meet many new people from all over the state who love their work in–and with–libraries as much as I do.

CALCON was such a positive experience for me, from networking to attending keynote sessions, to attending the quick and enlightening lightning sessions. My most inspirational session had to be the
first: Social Super Glue: How to Improve Your Library’s Workplace Culture with Kris Boesch. While Boesch doesn’t work in libraries, her session on how to “make happy work” was especially poignant to me.

Librarians and library staff are public service workers who often take on much of the challenges and stress their patrons face each day. We can become overwhelmed by negativity and pass it on. Boesch pointed out how crucial it is to have happy staff in a library, because happy employees make 26% fewer mistakes than unhappy employees, and unhappy employees can cost $30,000 more a year for a library to employ. This is due to a decrease in productivity, contagious negativity, bad customer service, turnover, safety
incidents, and a difficulty in recruiting new staff. On the other side, a happy employee is more productive, shares their happiness, shows better customer service, and makes less mistakes with fewer absences than even an average employee.

As a branch manager, I realized how much of an impact one person’s happiness can be on the entire staff. That’s due to the fact that full-time people spend an average of 2,000 hours of their life at work each
year. Imagine what it’s like for a department of 5 (10,000 hours) or 20 (40,000 hours). It’s my job to not only for me to focus on my own happiness, but also to make a happy and positive environment for all of my staff.

Where do we begin?

Empathy. Respect. Kindness. Curiosity. Understanding our purpose.

From here, I created an action plan to “make happy work” at my library. My actions include:

1.) Acknowledging the successes and struggles of others

  • It makes an impact on people when they realize that their work
    is noticed by others. By acknowledging their lives, we’re acknowledging that
    they matter.

2.) Coming from a place of curiosity in conversations

  • By beginning a conversation or interaction with the intention of
    learning something, you’re creating an atmosphere of respect and interest. This
    is very simple, yet powerful. How often do we come into a meeting with a
    preconceived notion of what we expect to get from it? By merely leaving
    judgment at the door, you open endless opportunities to learn from those around

3.) Leading a “Rose, Bud, Thorn” exchange at the beginning of a meeting, which encourages staff to think more deeply about how work is going and share it with the team.

  • Ask your staff or colleagues these things:
    • What is your rose (What is
      the highlight of your day/week/month?)
    • What is your bud? (What
      are you looking forward to?)
    • What is your thorn? (What is
      your challenge? What is going wrong?)
  • I have already attempted this in meetings, and IT WORKS. The time in a meeting for sharing went from one sentence answers to thoughtful conversations that staff all participated in.

Boesch’s keynote was the perfect introduction to CALCON, because it inspired me to think about the significance of my staff’s happiness each day. I came from many sessions with program ideas, new leadership skills, ways to increase the library’s relationship with the community, and the expertise of
new people. However, if my staff aren’t happy, then everything I learn and implement won’t work how I intend, and we’ll never reach our goals. It’s up to each of us to work on our own happiness and help our colleagues and patrons be happy.

As Boesch highlighted, “The secret to success is simply a decision.” And, I am committed to being happy and helping those around me make happy work.


CALCON 2017: Connections

During CALCON I attended several workshops most regarding children and teen based programming. I learned new ways to connect with the children in our community to create a lifelong partnership. I enjoyed talking with other attendees from various libraries and sharing stories and ideas about inspiring children to learn and create.


I would not have been able to attend CALCON without the Colorado State Library MPLA/CALCON 2016 Small/Rural Scholarship. My library is both small and rural, and I’ve had to make some sacrifices in our Professional Development/Continuing Education Budget. Being small and rural can sometimes feel a bit isolated, and CALCON is a nice opportunity to stay fresh on the changes of our profession.

This year was exceptionally fun joined with MPLA – those people are wild. We have a very active and inspiring library community in Colorado, but it was nice to get additional perspectives. I attended the ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’ session presented by Christopher Schipper and Kimberly Lowe of San Juan College in New Mexico. They presented about their WiFi hotspot checkout program, and while I know Denver Public Library recently did this, San Juan College’s experiences and struggles seem to closely align with the struggles I would have launching a program in my library district. I recognized a lot of the same characteristics of my community: rural, geographically isolated, and low income. CAL Logo

To me, conferences are all about discovery and sharing. I was lucky enough to attend both lightning talk sessions and present my own talk. The Lightning Round Sessions consisted of about 10 presenters, each of us speaking for 4 mins on a wide variety of topics.

My presentation was ‘Creating a Colorado Collection’ about my library’s implementation of identifying materials about Colorado or by Colorado authors. This is a project I’m very proud of. It was a simple idea, fairly easy to implement, and has received a bunch of positive praise from our patrons. I was excited for the opportunity to share this project & idea, but there is NO WAY I’d be able to stretch the information into a full hour session. There is only so long a person can talk about CO Flag Spine labels.

Thoughts on MPLA/CALCON 2016

I am grateful for the opportunity to have attended CALCON16 through a scholarship for MLS students.  Having just started a new position in public libraries in the last six months, the conference gave me so many new ideas to explore and try. CAL Logo

I was inspired by the presentation on creating dynamic displays given by some folks at Castlewood Concept Library.  Creating engaging displays is something I am passionate about and I learned that displays are not always all books, but can include trinkets and other items.  I have already implemented some of their ideas for my displays and look forward to coming up with more creative designs. 

I was amazed by the passion and enthusiasm of April Miller and Jackie Kropp on their presentation for seducing romance readers.  I am not a romance reader, but I left with tons of knowledge on romance genres and recommended authors in each genre which I can’t wait to share with patrons.

From implementing trivia in bars to creating effective makerspaces, or inviting big-name authors to your library, I learned a lot and look forward to attending again next year!


Librarians as “First Responders”

After graduating in May of 2015 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison SLIS program, I was lucky enough to land my perfect job (Adult Programming and P.R. Librarian at Pine River Library) in my perfect place (SW Colorado: nestled between desert and mountains, home to some of the best hiking, biking, and skiing in the West, if you ask this Alaska and Montana girl!). Add to that, my own office in a library connected to a community garden, with yoga classes three times a week???! I knew right away that I had a high standard of excellent, innovative, engaging programming and services to live up to!

In my first year of librarianship, I’ve been was lucky enough to attend two conferences, one national (PLA) and one local (CAL). I know that it’s the main point of these professional convergences, but both times I have returned to my desk with a pages of useful notes, with a few cryptic jottings here and there (“Colorado Spider Survey”?!). The brainstorming I did in the margins of my notebook during CAL looks like it will generate enough ideas to bring me through the next year of adult programming at least!

When I first set out to write this blog, I was thinking that I would follow the traditional route, talking about the sessions I liked the most from the conference. But in the wake of last week’s election results, I’ll go big picture here instead. I now realize that one of the most affecting sessions I attended at CAL was Jamie LaRue’s Julie J. Boucher Memorial Lecture on Intellectual Freedom. I had always heard that he was a bit of a rockstar in the library world, but this lecture really proved that fact. His wit, grace, and well-honed appeal for the importance of Intellectual Freedom had everyone in the room inspired about our chosen profession.

With recent events, Jamie’s inspirational words are returning to me even louder than when he shared them a month ago. In light of the drastic change of rhetoric we are facing, the importance of libraries is even stronger. Just two days after the election, the Los Angeles Times featured a column entitled ”How to weather the Trump administration: Head to the library.” In this appeal for the equalizing power of libraries, David Kipen, former literature director of the National Endowment for the Arts writes:

“If all these experiences have taught me anything, it’s that librarians may be the only first responders holding the line between America and a raging national pandemic of absolutism. More desperately than ever, we need our libraries now, and all three of their traditional pillars: 1) education, 2) good reading and 3) the convivial refuge of a place apart. In other words, libraries may be the last coal we have left to blow on.”

Oh yeah baby! CAL Logo

Jamie LaRue warned us about the changing trends he sees in challenges to books: More challenges are coming at the high school level, and these challenges are often directed at books that are a part of school curriculum. By the time the next election comes around, these students will be a part of the voting public, part of a generation who could mobilize in the voting booths and shift our country back towards the more inclusive ideals (and beyond) that America has worked so hard in the past to reach. As Jamie reminds us, libraries must fight to retain open access to thoughts, materials, ideas, art, stories… all the things that will continue to “make America great” no matter the administration in power at the time.

I’ll end this blog with a quote from the great Kurt Vonnegut, which my library director shared in the days after the election. Let’s keep fighting the good fight!

“The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.”

Communication is Essential: First Step is Listening

As a life-long learner, CALCON 2016 was an exciting opportunity to not just learn new ideas but also hone my skills in previous interests. After three days of conferences, classes, and networking, my important takeaway was “it’s all about communication in all its forms”. This is the foundation on which we build everything else.

The class about “weeding without tears” was a good example of this insight. Examples were given of library supervisors not taking the time to communicate to a concerned volunteer who discovers piles of discarded library materials that lead to a huge maelstrom of bad press, protests and in extreme cases, the dismissal of staff and directors. Be pro-active and use these teaching moments to educate the stakeholders and citizenry in the purpose of weeding. It is a major tool in good collection development and a librarian’s job. A concerned patron has the right to ask about the reduction and disposal of library materials, and our profession should welcome inquiries and not be dismissive. Make sure the concerned citizen knows they have been heard. That they have been listened to!

CAL Logo

Other classes I attended reinforced this idea of communication as the key. The “finding the funding” class explained that before asking for money, the library should have previously developed a relationship through good communication with the donor organization. Listening to understand each other’s missions and how well they match comes before communicating needs and mutual goals.

Reaching out to each other also to communicate our needs and aspirations can result in greater successes. Inter- Library Loan is a wonderful example of sharing materials, but libraries can also share ideas, as well as unique resources such as a book- bike mobile. Some pool their money to create large author events as an example.

The author event class displayed how communication among library institutions can benefit the patrons as well. Securing a bestselling author may be too pricey for a smaller library or library district but is easily within reach when combined with a neighboring library’s resources. And again, communication is key. Not only in the set- up and planning with your own patrons but the scheduling and moving the author from city to city in a timely manner that works for everyone.

One library was able to allow their patrons to vote on which author to bring for their public event. A choice of three authors offered by the publisher to the library met their patrons’ interest and library budget requirements. A simple community communication through paper ballot allowed the patrons to have some say, a vote, and some buy in on what their library would present. In this example, library programing was directly designed through listening to the collective voice of the patrons.

Yet communication is slippery.

The problem with communication …is the illusion that it has been accomplished. – George Bernard Shaw

The same words used may conjure different concepts based on our unique individual experiences. The choice of media for the communication can be an obstacle. Some may feel comfortable in speaking in front of a room full of people, some are better suited to write down concise plans and thoughts, yet we all need to hone both these skills to be effective information professionals. Often we believe we have reached our audience only to find that our intent was totally misunderstood when clarifying questions were asked. Communication essential to our profession includes a strong emphasis on listening skills.

The ALA Turn Outward campaign gives all libraries the tools to step up and begin conversations and community communication. The tool kit is very useful in training reluctant librarians to step out of their comfort zone and approach their future programming from the library user’s point of view.

CALCON 2016 offered many opportunities to practice my own networking skills with co-workers and new colleagues. This was a worthwhile workshop experience all on its own. Visiting with vendors, sharing information such as the location of the morning coffee cart, lunching with new people forced introverts such as myself to practice these all important intercommunication skills.

What have I learned? This CALCON experience confirmed for me that the days of the quiet shy librarian in the back room comfortably surrounded by her library materials is no more. The collection, though still important, is not our profession’s primary concern. Our primary focus is the people with whom we come in contact and their information needs. Librarians today must think on their feet and communicate effectively with their co-workers, other library professionals, and the library stakeholders and patrons. As a MLIS grad student concerned about developing career skills for the information field, I believe communication skills should be the number one competency necessary for our profession. Not just speaking skills, but listening respectfully to each other and truly understanding the message sent is essential to all our activities.

Our inputs must be based on comprehension, in order for our outcomes to be successful. We must get the first step correct. Listen.


Submitted by:

Darlene Oliver, Loveland Public Library. Colorado State Library CALCON Scholarship Recipient