Finally, it’s time for an ALA Recap. This might take a couple of posts, so I don’t completely overwhelm you–but won’t you come along for the review and ride?

Thursday, after a rousing day at work and an emergency appt at the orthodontist to stop one of the wires from slicing up my mouth, I headed out of LPL at 1 p.m. It was home to finish packing, take a meeting with New York, and clean several pounds of strawberries that were languishing in the refrigerator. I didn’t do the greatest cleaning job, nor freezing. The 4-H judges would have been stunned to see my flinging of the strawberries into Tupperware without flat freezing first. Sorry. I decided it was more important to get the berries frozen rather than meet Alton Brown’s standards of acceptably frozen fruit. They’ll still go well with champagne, pancakes, and smoothies.

I drove down, and it was a perfect day for the drive. I’d not been on a long drive on my own for some time and the sky, road and temperature were perfect. It was incredibly cathartic to relax back in my seat, turn up loud summer anthems, and try to keep the speedometer in an acceptable range. I pulled in to AudioGirl’s a little later than planned and spent far more time than usual finding parking. We agreed that I had bad parking karma. AudioGirl, her boyfriend, and I went for tapas and sangria and to discuss what young adults (not teens, people in their 20s) would use a library for and what types of programs would bring them into public libraries.

Friday morning brought an early start, I had to get across town and down to the Chicago Hilton (not the Palmer) for Unconference by 9 a.m. Armed with Starbucks, I hopped on the Blue Line. Have I mentioned how much I desperately miss regular public transportation? Once downtown I walked to Michigan, but the humidity was to a level that I found unacceptable–so it was onto the bus. And I spotted my first conference go-er (well, maybe not my first but my first painfully obvious one). If the purple hair hadn’t given it away, the yellow lanyard with name badge did.

When I finally figured out how to get downstairs at the Hilton, I walked into a busy room–of friends. There were about 80 of us in the room, and I knew a surprisingly large number of them. It was an unusual and amazing experience, one that I’d repeat over the weekend, of “meeting” people I already knew. Introductions weren’t really necessary and we went immediately from “Yes, of course I know who you are” to continuing conversations from days, weeks, and months before. The “longest-known-never-met” award went to Brian Gray, who I’ve known for the better part of five years.

And then, armed with coffee and muffin, we settled in for Unconference. Organized by Michelle Boule and Meredith Farkas, we charged into two sets of 15 minute presentations, interspersed with discussion sessions. It wasn’t quite what some would consider a “true” Unconference, in that we had chosen the presentations and discussion sessions in advance, but as most of us were traveling quite a distance, this preperatory planning was understandable and the ladies, despite both having newborns, did a magnificent job.

I won’t go into a detailed schedule of the presentations, you can find that here, including a number of the slide decks used. Matt Hamilton, I think, won the most awesome slide deck award of the day.

Things that really stood out for me:

* Jason Griffey pointed out that 2.3 sms messages were sent last year. And not all of them were teenagers saying “OMGWTFBBQ!” Cell phones, cell service, and texting is here and infiltrating our world. Some countries have more cell phones than people. If our local coffee shops can send us texts with offers for the week (though we wish they’d just send out the soup or donut list), why not libraries?

* Rachel Vacek talked about using mobile applications as a way to reach out to your users. Many of them are already using some kind of mobile app, how can you meet them? She mentioned asking your users to create an app for you–I wonder if we could get one of the local uni computer science profs interested in that as a practical application project? Hmmmmm.

The presentations moved quickly–only fifteen minutes was allowed, including a question period. It was the goal to get us thinking and we did. Questions flew fast and furious and there were obvious times we could have stopped and talked for hours–but our time keepers kept us going, which helped us keep things going without getting bogged down or into arguments.

We had discussion periods. I talked with several librarians about how we’re using social networks to reach our patrons and no one really had best practices. We discussed making sure it’s a Library presence rather than a specific librarian’s presence, how to pull users back to your site, concerns about patron privacy if they ask a reference question on a social networking site that’s going to retain that information, and how often to update the Twitter feed. I did feel that the word “widget” was overused in some cases, but that could be a personal hang up.

I had my discussion topic picked!! Granted, I mostly talked to people in passing about the subject, but there is definitely interest in how to get people back into libraries after they graduate from high school or college and how to continue to be relevant to our TAX BASE. More on that in another blog post.

By the end of the day my brain was full and I was wiped. Brimming with ideas and new/old friends and conversation, a small cluster of us swept out to walk to the Palmer for the LITA Happy Hour. And in some kind of odd musical theater way, we kept adding to the cluster. I think we left the Hilton with four people and arrived at the other Hilton with about ten. Here I got to “meet” Tombrarian, Iris, Dorothea, Walt, the girl who works with my former cohort Patrick at Yale (sorry, I can’t find your Moo card!!). Another round of “yes, I already know you!!”

Then it was back to AudioGirl’s, where we succumbed to humidity, long days and the ready availability of good snacks already at her house.

(Photo of Aaron, Iris and Tom at LITA Happy Hour)