I hate throwing the TO on there, but it is in Toronto and they put a TO on literally everything up here.
So, today I attended TEDxLibrariansTO. It was awesome, and totally worth the money. Hell the opening speaker alone was worth the money. If you read my blog post from last night, you’ll know I had some pointed things to say about the profession and where we’re going and what I believe needs to be done, and soon. Well, Amy Buckland, the first speaker at today’s conference laid out all of the points that I laid out, and said almost the exact same thing. Only she ended with the whole Faulkner “get in the wagon” bit. I kind of wish I actually cared enough to read Faulkner. But I was just sitting there going, “Yes, I came to the right conference.”
Next speaker was Eric Boyd from Sensebridge. Now, he was very interesting, because at the BoingBoing meetup, I got to hangout with a lady from ThinkGeek who was wearing this heart monitor necklace. Eric Boyd is the guy who MAKES the heart monitor necklace! What a bizarre coincidence. He talked about the value of hackerspaces and how technology can be used to change your perception of not only the world, but of yourself. It was really very cool.
Then we watched a TED video of David McCandless on Data Visualization. He talked about some of the data visualizations that he created to help put things into context, and how visualization gives you the opportunity to see patterns and put things into perspective. It was a wonderful point to bring out because it really spoke to our role as information professionals as people who try to help make sense of knowledge and information. Great piece.
Our first break in the day was a facilitated conversation related to the topic at hand of librarians as thought leaders. People had a lot to say about change, resistance, innovation, and a lot of hard driving questions about the conflict surrounding the industry right now. It was really cool. Oh, and there was ice cream.
After the break the next speaker was Dr. Sara Grimes who talked about video games a form of narrative. She gave a bunch of wonderful examples of how video games give children the opportunity to explore a story from an immersive/experiential point of view and how this narrative form is just as valid as any other. It was really a beautiful piece. I had a great conversation with Sara at the after party where we talked about my love of puzzle games and cutesy games and the awesomeness of Child of Eden. Seriously, I will buy a damn Kinect to play that game.
Then there was Dr. Siobhan Stevenson who talked about the withering of the library workforce, and how policy changes are driving libraries into downsizing and losing skilled professionals. It was kind of frightening, and the conclusion was a little wibbly, but I got where she was going with it. The premise is that when looking at strategic planning we have to consider also the impact this will have on quality of service.
Lunch was great. I had a lovely piece of apple cake and an egg salad sandwich.
When we got back from lunch we had a light TED video by Steven Wernicke about how to make the perfect TED talk. It was really quite funny.
The first live speaker after lunch was Mita Williams who spoke about the library as a place for important conversations, and the value of unplanned spontaneous group sharing activities. She talked about how she organized a “Jane’s Walk” in partnership with a local blogger, the awesomeness of Pecha Kucha talks and her experience hosting “unconference” events. I had heard about these types of events in the past, but was left kind of confused about them. She really explained how simple they are and how awesome it is to get everyone talking about these sorts of things. I really was inspired by that one.
Then we had Melanie McBride who is another one who extolled the virtue of gaming, though her tack on this was different. She was adamantly against the concept of “gamification” of things like school and work, because that was violating what she saw as the core principles of gaming: Voluntary participation, when you want it, and a sense of autonomy and validation for your accomplishments. She’s a big WoW player and she shared the story of a young man of 18 who went to BlizzCon, the big WoW convention and totally stole the show because he caught an enormous flaw in the game based on the stories and the novels that had been written. And he called the game writers on the error and they didn’t even realize that they had done it. The video of him pwning the writers hit YouTube and got zillions of hits, everyone in the community loved him for it, and the creators made an NPC character who is the “Fact Checker” based on this kid. That was the height of how games can provide a sense of accomplishment. This video has over 4 million hits. The boy has rolled this fame into raising money for autism support charity, because he has Asperger’s Syndrome himself. It was just an awesome story.
Then we had a break where we got to have a discussion with all of the people among the speakers about whatever we wanted to talk about. It got kind of heated there for a while when we were talking about the myths that we create about our profession and ourselves. It was very interesting.
The final panel speaker who came up was John Miedema, the author of “Slow Reading.” His presentation was about the research evidence on comprehension from people who intentionally read slower so that they could fully engage with a text versus people who skim and speed read. But also it was really about the pleasure in just taking your time. The presentation was filled with these beautiful images of people reading. It was really quite lovely.
The closing statement was from Fiacre O’Duinn who was one of the two TEDxLibrariansTO organizers. He shared the story of his life growing up in Ireland and how reading the newspaper was illegal, and how librarians were revolutionaries getting news to people secretly. And he talked about how his neighborhood a lot of the boys didn’t make it out, they got hooked on heroine and many of them died while he was still in school. But he went to the library and how that saved him from a life like that. And then about his time in school in England during the IRA bombing campaign and how he had to keep his mouth shut when out in public because everyone would know he was Irish and would think he was a suspect person. Through all of that madness, the library and the librarians in his life kept him going, and now he is one too. It made me cry a bit just thinking about it. But it was a wonderful story of the kind of power that we truly have to make a difference in people’s lives.
After the conference finished we all went out for dinner and drinks at the Fox and Fiddle and we hung out for about another three hours. I got a lot of compliments for traveling all that way. They had no idea that so many people were interested in coming and that I would take the bus to go like 900 miles just to be a part of this. Humble, these Canadians. But they shared a map that showed the global hits for their website. They got site visits from people from all over the world, across all of Canada, every state in the US (and DC), tons and tons of hits in Europe, Japan was loving it, China, Australia, and dozens of places in the Middle East and Africa. They also said that there were complaints that they held it on the same weekend as ALA. They didn’t even think about it that way. It’s not like they were trying to compete with ALA, by any stretch of the imagination.
But honestly, I think there is a gem in this idea, and Fiacre and Shelly really nailed it. There is a desire in libraryland to have a more engaging conversation about the profession. Something that is driven from the ground up, from researchers, from visionaries, from people who are out there in the field working to shape the profession into something new. We need this conversation as a profession. I have never felt like I got this level of engagement from ALA. Never. I’ve heard that there are groups now that this happens, but I’ve never heard of them or how to get involved. It feels like a secret cabal. I know that there is also some kind of ALA unconference as well.
But the TED format is something else entirely. It’s not a comittee, it’s not even a conversation. It’s just awesome content. We need to be exposed to that awesome content. It can’t just be hidden away in the rabbit hole of some round table in a random room in a conference the size of two city blocks. That’s just completely unwieldy. The conference catalog is the size of a damn phone book. I would pay $200 to go to three days of TEDxLibrarians in a heartbeat, because I am walking away with a goldmine of resources to draw upon now.
I have one more day in Toronto. I’m thinking of going to see Niagara Falls. They tell me it’s kitsch heaven and I can’t wait.