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Things I learned from the WLA Conference

November 27, 2015

On Nov. 4, 2015, I was fortunate to attend one day of the annual Wisconsin Library Association conference, held this year in Middleton. These conferences are a great chance to network, but more importantly, librarians and library staff from across the state come together to discuss different aspects of library operations – including sessions this year on programming, library design, collection development and engaging teens through technology, among other topics.
Since MCPL covered the cost of attending the conference, I thought I would share with you, the public, some of the things I saw and learned during this beneficial excursion.
The morning keynote address was from Mita Williams, a librarian at the Leddy Library in Windsor, Ontario called “The City as Classroom” and how libraries can better embed their institutions in the community.
One way is to set up physical locations around communities at farmer’s markets or other public gatherings. The Suffolk library in Virginia has set up Pop-Up Libraries under a 10x10 tent with library services like card registration, digital training and sometimes stories.
The Louisville Free Public Library each year organizes a How-To Festival –something I would love for MCPL to try some day. Attendees have their choice between 50-100 presenters for 30-45 min. lessons on everything from how to jump rope and how to sing the national anthem, to origami and sign language.
Other avenues of outreach in the talk referenced a local wiki project where people can fill in information about their own communities – an idea that intrigues me and is something we might have to try in Marathon County. Williams also discussed embedding more in a community by promoting websites and apps for information on birding, for example, so libraries and their staffs can gain or enhance their reputation as a source for different types of information.
The first breakout session I attended was “What is Bubbler” about the Madison Public Library’s Bubbler program, which is an impressive mix of DIY programming (screen printing, monster making, upcycle crafting, etc.), digital media and evening events for adults. The Bubbler finds volunteers for their programs, but they also work frequently with smaller, local businesses on how-to programs, information sessions/seminars, digital literacy, etc. In the year ahead, our library staff will be exploring ways in which we can get our local business and non-profit communities more involved in library programs and increase the quality of our programming by incorporating people who are experts and make a living from their knowledge and craft. I think for a while we’ve been unsure about exactly how we can bring business owners, artists and others into the library for programming out of concern the library would be seen as promoting a for-profit endeavor. But the Bubbler has basically a come one-come all approach to involving small business owners and artists trying to make a living from their work, as long as they’re not handing out business cards and selling products at the library. The Bubbler also now has an application process for their artist-in-residence program that brings in an artist for 2-3 months to offer exposure to their work in exchange for the artist doing at least 3-4 programs.
Simply put, the Bubbler rules.
Several La Crosse librarians talked about how they organize, promote and run their computer and technology classes which is currently up to 24 programs. In the past, MCPL Wausau frequently offered computer classes, but we’ve pulled back a bit on those types of programs since the United Way’s RSVP program began offering their own classes. Not anymore: Stay tuned in 2016 for a variety of computer and software classes, from basic computer skills to the Wisconsin’s Digital Library e-book system. In the meantime, if you’re looking to learn more about computers or computer programs, try Learning Express Library 3.0 or an excellent site organized by the Goodwill Community Foundation.
The last session I attended, entitled “Designing a Participatory Library,” was on the design and construction of the new library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which is quite nice. MCPL recently embarked on a long-term planning and visioning session and we’re considering some changes in the way MCPL Wausau is organized. (Have some thoughts? Let us know here!) The Cedar Rapids library architects built in and designed the interior with more of a retail theory – “more Apple store, less DMV” - by opening up the space with staff desks strategically placed in a wide open floor plan. None of the shelves are higher than 5’2”, there’s lots of windows, different accent materials for way finding, more lounge-style furniture in study rooms, that sort of thing. And they’ve been more willing to say yes to requests like weddings, birthday parties and a petting zoo, and allow businesses/groups to rent meeting rooms after hours for a small fee to cover security or staff time.
In the seven years since it was built, visits increased by 240,000, circulation has increased from 1.2 to 1.4 million even though the collection decreased by 150,000 items. Program attendance the last year at the old library was 10,000; last year it was 130,000.
I look forward to more professional development opportunities in the future and if I come across anything that might interest our patrons, I’ll be sure to share it. And, if you have some thoughts on programming or other aspects of MCPL operations, we always welcome the feedback.

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