February 2019 | Volume XXXVII. Issue 1 »

Winning the ILA Resources and Technical Services Forum Scholarship

January 28, 2019
Mara Fass, Champaign Public Library

I was very grateful to the Resources and Technical Services Forum for giving me the opportunity through their scholarship to attend the Illinois Library Association’sAnnual Conference in Peoria this year. Over the course of three days I was exposed to an inspiring range of perspectives on library service that truly left me feeling energized and ready to approach my job duties at home with new enthusiasm.

My current job responsibilities at the Champaign Public Library are primarily in technical services, but I also work four hours each week on my library’s information desk and am involved in promoting readers’ advisory services to our customers. I was happy to see that the diverse variety of programs offered at the conference would allow me to attend programs related to all of my job duties. I was especially pleased that there were so many technical services–focused sessions on the conference schedule, as that isn’t always the case! I was able to benefit from hearing more experienced catalogers present on “Wrangling AV with RDA,” which really got into the nitty gritty of how each cataloging field has been affected by our shift to RDA standards. My notes from that particular session might be fairly unintelligible to non-catalogers, but the conference also had a valuable session encouraging everyone to avoid thinking of technical services as its own impenetrable area completely separate from other departments: Thursday morning’s “Technical Services ARE Public Services: Providing Excellent Customer Services through Cataloging and Technical Services Projects.” From adding numbers to the spine labels of books in series to going the extra mile to ensure that all books on a given topic are near each other on the shelf, the presenters made a strong case that Technical Services staff can both listen to and proactively address the needs of other staff in their library.

We are currently working on revitalizing and expanding our Readers’ Advisory services at Champaign, and I therefore attended a number of RA-focused sessions to see what other libraries are doing to get ideas. One of these was “What TheyWant Where They Want It: Passive Advisory for Books, Movies & More” on Tuesday afternoon. Since most library customers don’t interact directly with staff to seek out recommendations during their actual visits to the library, these presenters offered ideas about how to make staff picks more easily accessible. An idea I found especially intriguing in this panel was to include all staff across all departments when collecting staff recommendations, thus encompassing a much greater range of reading/viewing/listening tastes than if you only pull from one or two departments. The presenters also advocated allowing staff to submit reviews in a variety of ways rather than insisting that everyone type something up, thereby hopefully including even those who aren’t confident writers. I love this idea of getting the whole staff excited about recommending their favorite titles to customers. A panel I attended on Wednesday afternoon,“Readers’ Advisory: Turning Ideas into Action,” hit on these ideas again and introduced the idea of rewarding staff for being “caught” book talking and offering training and encouragement to all staff to feel more confident when asked for recommendations. I’m excited to explore this at our library and to think of ways to involve a much greater number of staff in Readers’ Advisory efforts in the future.

In our current cultural climate it’s become very clear that the question of how to embrace and promote diversity is one of the most important questions facing libraries today, and I was glad to see it come up repeatedly over the course of the conference. Opening speaker Gene Luen Yang introduced conference-goers to his “Reading without Walls” challenge, which encourages readers to pick up books that will serve as windows into new perspectives and lived experiences. He also talked about the importance of books as mirrors for those who don’t often see their own identity represented in popular media. One of the most exciting aspects of the conference for me this year was the opportunity to hear directly from diverse populations on how libraries can better serve their needs. On Wednesday morning I attended a fascinating presentation titled “Cultivating a Neurodiverse Workforce: WhyYour Staff Should Include Employees on the Autism Spectrum.” I appreciated the takeaway messages that neurodiversity is an important (and too often overlooked) area of diversity and that each individual on the autism spectrum should be approached as exactly that—an individual—rather than drawing conclusions about all people with autism based on experiences with one person. The next morning I entered a packed room for “Life through a Transgender Lens,” which featured several transgender individuals speaking about their experiences and how they would like to be treated when they enter a space like a library. I was very appreciative of the speakers’ willingness to make themselves vulnerable by openly sharing their experiences with such a large group.

Throughout my time at the conference I was impressed by the enthusiasm and energy I saw all around me from peers taking a break from the day-to-day concerns of their libraries to spend some time thinking about the future and imagining new possibilities for their spaces and communities. The conference was a great opportunity to meet colleagues from all around the state and to benefit from their knowledge and expertise, andI returned to my library with many new ideas to think about applying to our collections and outreach. Again, I am deeply thankful to the RTSF for the scholarship that allowed me to come to Peoria.

About the Resources and Technical Services Forum Scholarship

The ILA Resources and Technical Services Forum has established a scholarship to offset registration, travel, and lodging for one technical services staff member who would not otherwise be able to attend the ILA Annual Conference. For more information or to apply, please visit www.ila.org/about/awards-and-scholarships.

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