Saturday, September 18, 2004

Friday 17 September 2004 Reaching Forward South Conference

We attended the 2004 Reaching Forward South Conference for Library Support Staff: The Buck stops here! This was a one-day conference -- and what a well-organised one, but then again, they had been working on it from October last year. (A call did go out at the conference for volunteers to sit on the organising committee for the next one)

There was an excellent keynote speaker, Debra Wilcox Johnson, who spoke about "defining success - you have the power" about taking personal responsibility for one's own success -- that one contributes to the success of the library and has an impact on the people you serve, and that recognising and celebrating success are the key to staying motivated on the job . She later spoke at a session called "Working well together" in which she talked about how relationships among the staff have a direct effect on the quality of customer service, on elements of good internal customer service and factors that contribute to a good work environment. I was thinking that this sort of motivational speaking coming from an experienced librarian not only to library support staff, but to librarians in general, is the kind of thing that I could do, and perhaps when I get back, I should try do something similar for the branch. It was certainly something that all librarians not just support staff should hear!

I attended two other sessions, one on grant writing which was presented by Patricia Norris of the Illinois State Library (the giver of many grants!) on how to get the most out of one's written proposal. She started off the session by distributing advertisements for grocery stores and asking people to look at the ads -- because that is essentially what grant proposals are...

The other session was entitled "Oh, the circ desk and customer service" -- presented by Bev Obert (who will be doing a session on strategic planning with the Mortensen Associates). I think I expected a little more from this session as it promised tips and techniques to share with co-workers ... it was very much focussed on public libraries. Mostly, people shared stories about customers -- which is what we librarians love to do! But I think I expected a little more.

There were other programmes during the day including an odd one to my mind, - "Dressing for success on a budget" which looked at ways of creating a professional wardrobe by using key pieces, mixing and matching, layering and accessorizing presented by staff from a large department store. I did think it a little out of place, but it could be regarded as "Personal development" -- but there again, it did seem to be popular and perhaps is a need - maybe library staff do need a hand in sprucing up their wardrobes... The department store had a couple of rails of clothing for sale in the exhibit area and seemed to be attracting a lot of attention. (Have no idea if the clothing was on sale -- but there were vouchers for 15% in our goodie bags!)

Other "personal development" sessions that were offered was retirement planning for librarians - what they should be doing about pre-retirement planning issues, as well as one on Financial Planning.

There were other sessions that I was not able to attend, that looked very promising and that we could possibly plan branch or interest group activities around:-
  • The Many Looks at Reference which was a joint presentation from representatives from different types of library (academic, public and special) on some new and some old "how-to's" of reference, particularly with almost everyone having access to the internet and the changes this brings to reference services.
  • Stress Relief at your desk which, judging from the sounds coming through the partitions, was a lot of fun... There were chair aerobics, chanting and other stress relief techniques tried out by the group.
  • Programs on a Shoe-string Budget during which successful program ideas which have been implemented at one library for very little money were shared.
Other sessions in the day included:
  • a session on Universal Access presented by Audrey Gorman, which looked at ways of improving service to the whole community and which promised to "pull together your knowledge of diversity, people with disabilities, and customer service while helping you avoid the trap of treating them as separate issues" (There is a possible workshop/presentation or article here as later in our programme we are looking at Services to Disabled Users)
  • Open-Source Software in the library in which trends in open source as well as specific software packages that have implications for libraries were discussed
  • A session that looked at the cultural and sociological aspects of working in a field that is predominantly opposite your gender with some serious "stuff" as well as humour. Title of the session -- "Wanted: LTA, Skirt Optional" (assume LTA means Library Technical Assistant or something like it)

On display was ALEC, a customised truck which has been turned into a mobile classroom and computer lab.

Two library support staff were awarded 2004 Reaching Forward South Award Winners and were presented with a certificate, flowers and $100 cash, which was sponsored by the department store.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Wed 9th/Thursday 10th September - Getting to Urbana-Champaign

It took the group a little longer to get Urbana-Champaign than we expected. We landed in Amsterdam on time, after an uneventful flight. I bumped into an old family friend who was very surprised to see me as she didn't know I was travelling anywhere out of South Africa!

We were searched before boarding the plane (North-West Airlines) - had to take my shoes off, and was patted down by hand ... a bit startling but nevertheless, we boarded the plane and the plane trundled down the runway. Then the drama began .... the staff seemed to be having a problem with one of the passengers sitting behind us, and there was much to-ing and fro-ing, with the pursur eventually coming to confront the guy. The pilot then decided that he was turning around and "de-planing" the passenger, which duly happened and we took off about an hour and half later. Everyone on the flight was very well behaved after that! The staff informed the passengers that connecting flights had been changed and we would be handed new boarding passes by airline officials once we had landed. It was going to be tight, as we had had a three-hour break between the time we landed and the flight to Williard Airport, especially as we had already lost about one and half hours.

Then more drama for the South Africans at Detroit airport. As we were going through immigration and customs, the group was pulled to one side ... and only released five hours later.. missing all connecting flights to Urbana-Champaign. There we were - stranded at Detroit Airport. Thank heavens for North West Airlines and their customer service. We spent the night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and nogal, scored a scrumptious breakfast before flying on to Williard where we were met by Barbara.

The experience with immigration and customs left a very sour note to the start of the stay for me -- not that they shouldn't have pulled us to one side and only released us five hours later, but it was the lack of information or communication that really got to me. We did not have our luggage with us at the time we were pulled aside, so we were worried about our luggage, conscious of the time of our flight, were tired after a long flight, and saw several people not allowed entry; saw how rude and intimidatory and arrogant the staff were (yes I suppose that is the impression they want to create), shouting at people like they were stupid ... mangling people's names and then getting upset when the person doesn't respond when he/she doesn't recognise his/her name! Thank Heavens for other Americans -- like the NorthWest airlines staff and the bus drivers here in Urbana-Champaign. A little kindness goes a long way.