Top 10 reasons your Friends members should attend the ALA Annual Conference

By Marsha Bennett
Community Relations Manager, Johnson County (Kan.) Library

One of the most important things the Friends of the Johnson County (Kan.) Library does is to budget for Friends board members to attend the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference. Two to three Friends board members usually attend the conference each year and always come back with new energy, great ideas, and a realization that their Friends organization is doing a lot of things right. Here are the top 10 reasons your board members should attend:


 

1. Empowerment


There is probably no better single place to learn about how to advocate for your local library than at the Advocacy Institute sponsored by ALA and United for Libraries at the Annual Conference. In this half-day workshop, national library leaders come together to share their perspective on the importance of grassroots advocacy, break it down into manageable activities, and take the fear out of the thought of actually conversing with an elected official. Board members soon realize that they can do this, and how powerful their involvement can be. The minimal cost to attend this special session is well worth the information received that can be shared with other board members.

2. Best Practices


United for Libraries’ Nuts & Bolts programs are current and poignant, relating to issues that Friends boards as well as Trustees and Foundations struggle with. Breakout sessions are focused on specific topics, with participants sharing what their organization does to recruit new members, increase book sale totals, operate used books stores and sell online, market and promote or re-energize their organization. The mix of attendees includes board members as well as library staff who liaison with the boards. Presenters are experts in their fields and offer many tips, best practices and resources.

3. Meeting Authors


The author programs presented by United for Libraries offer a close up and personal interaction with first time authors as well as those who are seasoned and popular with readers. For board members who organize book clubs or just enjoy reading, this is the icing on the cake. Where else could they go to meet as many authors in one place at one time? And they are thrilled to speak with authors and receive signed copies of books.

4. Expanding Scope


Visiting with vendors and publishers is a true learning experience and something board members cannot be exposed to in their own communities. The number of exhibitors at the conference for many first time board members is overwhelming. It gives most a sense of the library world as a whole — what products and services are out there for libraries, what purchasing decisions need to be made, and what goes on behind the scenes.

5. Understanding National Issues


Attending programs and keynote addresses and hearing from speakers while with librarians from their own communities puts Friends board members on the same page concerning national issues and the value of libraries. They become more acutely aware of economic impacts when they learn of the struggles many national libraries are facing. They begin to truly understand the role of the public library in a democracy and become more informed and better board members.

6. Field Trips


There are often opportunities to visit local libraries in the city that hosts the annual conference. It is a great way to learn about how libraries interact with their community, what collections they have, what library programs they offer, and how their libraries are constructed, furnished and organized.

7. Celebrating Attending


United for Libraries' Gala Author Tea, sponsored by ReferenceUSA is a way to learn about award-winning groups. At the Tea, the annual Baker & Taylor Awards for outstanding Friends groups are presented. It is a great way to find out what those organizations do, why they are successful, and how Friends groups can apply and win in the future.

8. Organizational Development


The ALA Annual Conference provides a venue to meet United for Libraries board members and staff that can provide a wealth of information, experience, and resources to help Friends groups develop and grow into strong support organizations for their libraries. Putting a face with a name enhances the relationships that have occurred with the United for Libraries office via email or phone.

9. Networking


Meeting new friends from all over the country who are involved in similar groups in another part of the county is fun! Exchanging ideas at the Annual Conference can often lead to new and improved ways of doing things, and create opportunities to try something different. Members can also build a support network with people who can be contacted when questions arise, or to get information on how another library or Friends group operates.

10. Relationship Building


One of the benefits with the most value is the relationship building that occurs between the library staff members and board members who are attending as a group. The shared experiences and informal conversations over meals can help people understand each other and work together better as a team. Plan to add “Attending the Annual Library Conference” to your next Friends board agenda for discussion. The time and expense for Friends board members to attend are well worth the benefits received and can truly make a difference for your Friends of the Library.

For more information about attending the ALA Annual Conference, visit www.alaannual.org. For information about United for Libraries events at the Annual Conference, visit www.ala.org/united/events_conferences/annual.