PLA Conference Ends With a Vowell

On the final day of the PLA conference. I attended two interesting sessions:

  1. Building the Global Village: Public Libraries as Responsive Agents of Community Engagement and Change
  2. New Buildings and Innovative Library Design: Reflecting Communities in Our Buildings

The first was on providing services to non-English speaking patrons. The second — well the title makes  it obvious what the second was about. What’s not obvious, however, is that it was presented by a delegation of librarians from New Zealand. Who knew that in New Zealand, libraries are very much at the center of their communities? So much so, in fact, that when Aukland, New Zealand’s largest and fastest-growing city, decided to develop an entirely new neighborhood on what was previously empty land, the citizens who served on the planning committee for the new community decide that everything in the design would be based on having the library be the central focus of the development. Now that’s a group of citizens who love their library!

Oregon Convention Center
The Oregon Convention Center in Portland, site of the Public Library Association's 2010 conference, from across the Willamette River.

Although, in the paragraph above I varied from my policy of not boring you with the content of these sessions, I will now return to form, and cease discussing things that are really only of interest to those of us “in the business.” Actually, I wasn’t even supposed to be at the New Zealand session. Catherine and I had originally planned for me to attend a session entitled “Perfect Harmony: Orchestrating Cultural Partnerships.” I’m not quite sure what we thought this session was going to be about, but as it turned out, the words harmony and orchestrating referred quite literally to a partnership between a library and an orchestra. Once I had that information, I made an executive decision to skip that one, not wanting to spend and hour and a quarter learning about something that was not very likely to happen at JJML. Rather, I opted for a session on how some library’s are choosing to drop the Dewey decimal system, instead categorizing their books using words — more like the way bookstores do it. It sounded riveting, well maybe not riveting exactly…but at least worthwhile. Unfortunately, I arrived late only to find that the auditorium was completely full. Apparently, librarians do find this stuff riveting. So, that’s how I ended up taking an enjoyable tour of New Zealand’s newest libraries.

Interestingly, while women far outnumbered men at this conference; in this session there were proportionately more men in attendance then at any other session I went to. Boys like to build stuff, I guess. Or, maybe we just wanted to find out if New Zealand really looks like the scenery in The Lord of the Rings movies. (Apparently, it does.)

Well, my flight home leaves at midnight — Jet Blue’s PDX-JFK redeye, well known to anyone who’s made this trip. I’m looking forward to being home, but I’ll miss Portland, it’s a very special city. I encourage you to consider visiting here the next time you’re heading west.

Oh yeah, the vowel, or rather, the Vowell. Sarah Vowell, author of Assassination Vacation and three other books, and long-time contributor to National Public Radio’s This American Life was the closing keynote speaker. Her monologue touched on Hawaii Five-O, the roots of democracy, the Oneida Community in upstate New York, King Charles I of England, various versions of the Bible, sex, and, of course, librarians (whom she referred to as pasty-faced librarians). During this talk she managed to be informative, insightful, snarky, poignant, rude and, it goes without saying,  funny. Her closing comment was that Librarians have “the goods,” referring to all the books and other media in libraries, including those that are enlightening in some way or other, and those that are, shall we say, less so.  “Go home and peddle your literature,” she said, “and your smut.” Maybe you had to be there.

See you in the Library!
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