Marianne S. Hanley: My Conference Experience

I am grateful for the opportunity to have been chosen as the 2013 recipient of the Jan Merrill-Oldham Professional Development Grant. As a grant recipient, I was asked to share a few thoughts and ideas about my experiences as a first-time attendee of an ALA Annual Conference.

l to r: Debra Nolan, Marianne, and Hilary Seo at the ALCTS Award Ceremony on Sunday, June 30.
Debra Nolan, Marianne, and Hilary Seo at the ALCTS Award Ceremony on Sunday, June 30.

The experience was really a whirlwind right from the time I got off the plane at O’Hare. It didn’t take long before I met up with a van filled with equally excited and pleasantly chatty librarians from all over the U.S. on their way to their hotels. All of us were sharing our many plans and expectations. Everyone wondered about what authors would really be like, and of course, which were the best restaurants to visit.

On my first full day, the street outside my hotel just happened to be full of two million joyous fans headed to a downtown rally as Chicago’s hometown heroes (no, not the hapless Cubbies) the Chicago Blackhawks, who were celebrating their Stanley Cup Hockey Championship victory. More exciting for a slightly smaller, but equally enthusiastic Windy City gathering was the gathering of those drawn to spreading the written word, the members of The American Library Association attending our Annual Conference. Given a choice between drinking beer out of Lord Stanley’s Cup or hearing the insights of bestselling, award-winning authors, Khaled Hosseini, Ann Patchett, and Alice Walker, most librarians would choose the prestigious author’s presentation every time. Not to mention the veritable smorgasbord of library-related programs offered at the Conference.

My first session was a preconference, "Ports in a Storm." It focused on how during a disaster any library can serve as an ad hoc Disaster Response Center. This program discussed how to connect librarians with the emergency planning community, first responders, public health workers, and community based groups with disaster related responsibilities. We heard first-hand how in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, the Queens library was one of the first service providers to respond in the Rockaways, and went far beyond providing traditional library services. The staff and community came together to provide needed support, information, and relief supplies (including books) to thousands of affected residents. Efforts continue to this day. Their use of social media allowed them to notify the public about community announcements as they were happening. It is absolutely heartwarming how libraries became hubs for desperately needed rescue efforts.

The exhibit floor on Friday night was truly daunting. But once I delved in a bit, I thought it could be compared to a polite, fancier indoor carnival. The amount of free items and free books was amazing. I just happened to be walking by 3M where they were about to start a presentation on their new Cloud library. I dropped off my business card in the fish bowl and I settled in for a very interesting presentation on eBook lending. The next thing I knew, my name was being called—I won a brand new Kindle! My daughter will benefit from that surprising bit of luck.

I also attended the Book & Paper Interest Group (BPIG) meeting, where we discussed preservation issues in architectural libraries and archives. It was a fitting topic for Chicago, the city where Frank Lloyd Wright began his quest to develop an honest and democratic order of architecture. We discussed architectural archives and libraries because they pose unique preservation challenges arising from their various reproduction techniques and chemistry. As librarians we are often asked to do more with less, and I learned how important it is to use out-of-the-box, creative solutions to meet challenges. It was interesting to hear how the librarians approach different solutions in both research and corporate settings to provide access to digital media.

This program was particularly of interest to me because at my own university, Syracuse, we created a brittle books program, and are delving into the many different possibilities of what to do with our crumbling books. Should we replace or repair them? Or should we link to an e-version in the online catalog? If I have learned anything, it is that every book brings with it a different set of circumstances and all of these circumstances need to be taken into account before we go ahead and make a decision.

The weekend culminated at the ALCTS Awards Ceremony and Membership Meeting held at the Chicago Hilton, where I received the Jan Merrill-Oldham Professional Development Grant and a citation from Hilary Seo, the award jury chair, and Debra Nolan from Library Binding Institute. I would like to thank Hilary for all of her truly intuitive guidance and for the many introductions given to me during this very eventful and informative weekend. It was truly the highlight of my professional life. I continue to learn new and exciting information about the field of preservation each and every day as I continue my career as a preservation librarian.

Two final thoughts that stand out in my mind: deep-dish pizza is truly incredible, and I am pleased to report that ALA speaker Khaled Hosseini’s newest bestselling novel, And The Mountains Echoed, is one of the best books I have read in a long time. I am honored to have an autographed copy. I look forward to attending next year’s conference in Las Vegas.

—by Marianne Hanley, Collections Maintenance & Management Librarian, Syracuse University