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Professional Development That Won't Break the Bank
Posted On November 6, 2018
Because of declining budgets, many librarians are taking advantage of small, regional, and topic-specific conferences designed for shorter time periods away from the job and with reasonable registration fees due to smaller venues, often college campuses. Innovation and entrepreneurship were themes common to three library conferences this fall whose programs were designed to maximize professional development budgets: the 2018 Entrepreneurial Librarian Conference (Oct. 12; Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.), Library Shark Tank Weekend (Oct. 12–14; Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, Calif.), and ForwardFocus (Oct. 19; Illinois Central College in East Peoria, Ill.). Organizers made it clear that their goal was to influence what libraries do beyond the individuals who were lucky enough to attend, although each event took a different path to ensure this.

Entrepreneurial Librarian

The theme of the 2018 Entrepreneurial Librarian Conference—Grow, Evolve, Lead—aimed to inspire entrepreneurial action among librarians while creating a professional community. In this, the organizers have succeeded. The day was all about information sharing, and the event did not include a vendor expo. The conference began in 2009 and is held every other year (except for consecutive conferences held in 2013 and 2014), and there have been webinars in between.

The accomplishments shared may not appear to be entrepreneurial to everyone, but at the institutions where these pilot projects were launched, they were seen as innovative and designed to promote change. The 70 registrants came primarily from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia; the cost was $45. One clever way the conference saved money was by using the back of catalog cards as attendee badges.

Keynote speaker Patrick “PC” Sweeney (political director for EveryLibrary) had to appear via Skype because his flights were repeatedly delayed in the wake of Hurricane Michael, which had swept through the region the day before the conference. (In the end, all but three registrants were able to make it to the event.)

Sweeney’s message was that librarians have been successful in getting the public to like libraries, but they haven’t been as successful if we measure the public’s inclination to fund them. Per EveryLibrary, the challenge libraries face is identifying, cultivating, and empowering “super supporters.” Sweeney presented an audience engagement road map for moving people and local organizations from ignorance of what your library does and can do to those who can advocate on your behalf.

There were three breakout rooms for presentations that mainly focused on outreach projects emphasizing different ways to collaborate with diverse user communities—with prescriptions for how to successfully cultivate these partnerships—including:

  • Showcasing student projects
  • Incorporating new partners that are co-locating in the library, such as academic success, mentoring, tutorial, writing, and career development centers, as well as innovation studios
  • Working with entities that are responsible for economic development as well as with new inventors and commercialization efforts that have a need for patent and market research expertise
  • Expanding information literacy workshops designed for new target communities, including high schools
  • Raising faculty awareness about open access and author rights as well as about institutional repositories for grey literature

While most of the presentations in the past have been by academic librarians, there is a push to expand into more presentations about projects involving public libraries. If you’re an entrepreneurial librarian and want to present at the next conference, keep an eye on the event’s website and Facebook page, or follow @entrelib on Twitter.

Library Shark Tank Weekend

What better way to honor librarian and information industry provocateur, the late Barbara Quint, than with Library Shark Tank Weekend, an immersive hive-mind event held before the Internet Librarian conference in Monterey, Calif. (Oct. 16–18), which was hosted by Information Today, Inc. (ITI). The longtime editor of ITI’s Searcher, senior editor of Online Searcher, Information Today columnist, and founder of the Southern California Online Users Group (SCOUG) loved getting together with kindred spirits to work on big ideas and disruptive possibilities. Library Shark Tank Weekend would not have disappointed her—nor did it disappoint the 25 participants, including three library school students who had been sponsored by Shark Tank planners. This was a gathering organized by librarians for librarians.

This past spring, a call went out asking forward-thinking, fun-loving librarians for a big new idea or project that could help libraries thrive in the modern world. Those submitting proposals had the chance to pitch them to the audience of experienced library leaders and business professionals at the Shark Tank. The proposals were as follows:

  • A ready-reference chatbot designed to help users find experts
  • Library and Recreation Services (LaRS) on the Go, which would take city and library services to underserved neighborhoods and rural areas
  • Resources on a Roll, next-gen library bookmobiles with interchangeable pods that could deliver a variety of new services to people whose neighborhoods lack libraries, especially those living in remote areas where going to the library (or town hall) isn’t easy or feasible
  • An effort to make the arts more accessible to older adults and their family members
  • An open micro-funding platform for public libraries that would shift funding from local to global
  • A librarian performers co-op for exchanging talents and skills among public library systems
  • A readers’ advisory dating game on a YouTube channel
  • Interlibrary loan for library programming
  • Establishing an independent press through a public library system

Shark Tank attendees voted on the top five proposals they believed had promise and then joined project teams for the proposals that piqued their interest. These teams worked on Saturday to develop the ideas and create a business plan to attract support—financial and otherwise—to realize the projects. On Sunday, the teams presented the projects to the Sharks, an illustrious group from both inside and outside the library profession, including Susan Hildreth (former director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services), Todd Frager (chief financial and operating officer of Library Systems & Services), and Joe Murphy (former director of library futures at Innovative).

The winner was Library Programming Marketplace, a combination of the proposals that involved library programming. It is a platform that allows libraries to exchange programs and program expertise so that they are not constantly forced to reinvent the wheel. The winner will get a full write-up in an upcoming ITI publication.


The ForwardFocus conference launched in 2012 and is held both online and in person. It is coordinated by a team of librarians who are currently or formerly associated with Illinois Central College. All are committed to reimagining community college library services. Using Blackboard Collaborate, the organizers were able to provide those who could not travel with a low-cost virtual option that was well worth the $10 fee for an individual (the cost was $40 for up to five logins from a small institution and $70 for up to 10 logins from a large institution). This year, there were 69 total attendees, 55 of whom participated online.

This year’s theme, The Changing Information Landscape: Libraries in the “Post-Truth” and Open Access Era, highlighted ways in which community college libraries are adapting to and thriving in the current information landscape. Sessions addressed efforts by community college librarians to teach information literacy, advocate for access, and lead students and faculty into the information age.

The day began with a series of lightning discussions addressing four topics: information literacy, the changing information landscape, open access, and post-truth. This was followed by hour-long breakout sessions in two tracks, Open Access and Post-Truth:

  • The Open Access track highlighted information literacy for non-credit sessions in a particular discipline (e.g., ENG 098: Introduction to College Writing) and how to adapt information evaluation to the current information environment, building active learning into information evaluation and designing instruction modalities to accommodate diverse learners.
  • The Post-Truth track included a review of information literacy sessions used to teach second-semester biology students how to compare and evaluate the credibility of scientific research articles, appreciating the impact on students’ understanding of the scientific method as well as information literacy; evaluating the trustworthiness of news and other information sources; and examples of assignments given to statistics students to help them avoid spreading fake news.

Attendees could choose between the tracks or move among concurrent sessions as they desired. Those participating via Blackboard Collaborate were given separate URLs for each breakout session. All sessions were professionally facilitated by librarians and professors, with insightful questions posed and worksheets distributed for attendees to complete. Discussions allowed participants to envision how they might modify the presentations to fit their unique situations.

Facilitators made specific efforts to include online participants in the discussions via chat. One could not attend without having learned a great deal from these successful approaches for improving student outcomes at community colleges and beyond. 

Barbie E. Keiser is an information resources management consultant located in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area.

Email Barbie E. Keiser

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