alternative chicago, four years later

Update: here’s the Google maps version of the guide.

Four years ago, the last time that ALA Annual was in Chicago, I was a baby librarian and blogger living in the ‘burbs and thrilled to be going to my very first library conference. Four years later, I can’t quite believe all the things that have happened to me, and how many of them have their roots in that first conference, where I went to the first ever blog salon, met Jenna and Jessamyn for the first time at a Radical Reference meeting, shared a cab with Walt Crawford . . . the list goes on. I missed my four-year blog anniversary back in May, but it’s really hitting me now that I’m reading tweets about #ala2009 how much has happened since then, both in the world of technology and in my life.

I’m sad that I can’t be at the conference this year, as I have many dear friends and colleagues attending, but I’m so, so grateful to the internet, which is what introduced me to most of those friends and colleagues in the first place.

I was the only local in Radical Reference in Chicago in 2005, and one of the projects I took on, with a lot of help from my good friends at Third Coast Press, was to make a guide to alternative Chicago. I’m not sure how many of these places are still around, but I thought I’d share them again. I might even make you all a Google map of them tomorrow!

[NB I’ve spent a lot of time wondering if I should move the apostrophe, since the guides were really only the work of one librarian, namely me — but they’re intended for many librarians, and so I’m going to go with my original, if grammatically quirky, punctuation.]

In any case, those of you who are there, enjoy the conference and the city — and those who are not, I’ll see you online.

library education discussions @ ALA

I’m still toying around with my schedule for ALA (if you want to see some of what I’m considering, head on over to my calendar), but there are a few places I’ll be for sure, including, of course, the bloggers shindig on Saturday night. If you see me drooping, please poke me–that’s way past my bedtime.

I’ll also be participating in the Library Education Discussions that Radical Reference is sponsoring. They’ll take place at the SRRT Booth (#3450) in the Exhibit Hall and will be lead by current students and recent grads. There’s a full schedule, with leaders and topics, at the RR events page. These discussions grew out of the Library Education Forum that took place back in March, just as I was getting started at my job here. I wasn’t able to make that forum, but I will be moderating a discussion from 4-5 pm on Monday, June 26th. The announced topic is “Practical Skills,” so please come with your laundry lists of Things I Wish I’d Learned in Library School–and with anything else library-related you’d like to discuss. If you’re not able to attend but have things you’d like to hear discussed, drop me a line or leave a comment here, and I’ll do my best to do your points justice.

ALA day 1: fostering civic engagement, part 2

Here’s part 1 of this report.

We all know that the most common question at the reference desk is “Where is the bathroom?” But what’s the most common question if you’re serving as a librarian on the street? The next presentation at Fostering Civic Engagement had the answer.
Jenna Freedman talked about Radical Reference: “serving activist communities and independent journalists online and in the street,” as her handout put it. RadRef started as a response to the 2004 Republican National Convention. As you may remember, not everyone was happy about the event, and many protesters were coming to town. The earliest RadRef members saw a role for themselves in the midst of the mayhem–they could be roving, on-the-street librarians. Ten or twenty RadRef volunteers went out on the streets, armed with ready reference kits that included maps, phone numbers for legal and medical aid, and a very detailed schedule of events, useful for answering that most frequent question, “What event is this?” They also carried cell phones, which allowed them to call in to other volunteers based at home, who provided back up support. They also set up a website and an AIM account so that people could post questions that way.

Nearly a year later, the group is going strong, with over 150 volunteers still answering questions on the web site and at events. There are local Radical Reference collectives in Austin, Boston, NYC, San Diego, and San Francisco who work on local projects–the Boston group put together the Alternative Guide to Boston for ALA Midwinter 2005. Additionally, they’ve been providing reference and information services, including workshops on fact-checking and how to file a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act request], for independent journalists across the country, most recently at the Allied Media Conference in Bowling Green, Ohio. Sometimes, as Jenna pointed out, these workshops are a simple as teaching people about the resources available in your local library–like databases that mean you can get older articles from the New York Times for free.

She also talked a bit about the nifty open-source technologies that RadRef uses, and about a library school education summit being planned for New York this fall. Watch this space for more on the latter.

Finally, Jenna addressed some of the problems and challenges Radical Reference has faced, including accountability, quality control, collaborating in a virtual environment, decision-making in a large group, and working with the many working styles and ideologies that Radical Reference volunteers bring with them. If any of this sounds at all interesting, you should think about getting involved. Good times, great company, fascinating questions, and a chance to exercise your reference skills in a variety of ways.

Next up was Debbie Abilock, editor of Knowledge Quest, the magazine of the American Association of School Librarians. Her presentation consisted of a list of questions and ideas of ways that schools and school libraries could foster civic engagement. Here are just a few of them:

  • How are students engaged in and involved with the governance of the school? How are students making decisions–and more importantly, can they make decisions, and are those decisions about issues more substantive that what colors to use for prom decorations?
  • What role do parents play in the school? Are they engaged in more than bake sales and car pools?
  • How transparent are faculty meetings, board meetings, and administrative decisions?
  • How are students part of the planning process for libraries and other areas in the school?
  • Do students have the ability to contribute to or suggest assignments?

Her point overall was that you can’t have civic engagement without engagement–you can’t teach students that they live in a democracy and expect them to believe it or care about it if you don’t let them exercise some democratic rights of their own, in their own sphere. Amen, sister! I say. And I got to tell her my great story about my grade school and the Pledge of Allegiance. (Short version: we got to vote on whether or not we’d say the Pledge. We voted no, except on special occasions, and then only if you wanted to say it.)

Cathy Carpenter, the last speaker, talked about her experience organizing a voter registration drive in the library at Georgia Tech in the fall of 2004. The last-minute effort garnered 500 new voters in 3 weeks. The best reason to have a voter registration drive at the library? Well, there are lots, but here’s my favorite: very few young people affiliate themselves with any political party, and thus they are less likely to register to vote at partisan events or tables. What better place to have a non-partisan voter registration effort than at the library, where, at least in theory, there’s a little bit of every point of view?

Finally, there was a small amount of time for questions and comments. Here are the ones I jotted down:

  • Use your library trustees/board members as links to the community.
  • The Things They Carried is a great one book, one community title, as it is, among other things, attractive to the young male reader. It worked well in Philadelphia.
  • Libraries can do outreach to organizations, not just individuals.
  • Check out the September Project.