ARSL magic: ruminations on why I love this conference

I just returned from the wildly successful Association for Rural and Small Libraries conference held in Sacramento. I have much to share about why I loved it, why I'll keep coming back, and why, like Brenda, I'm shouting enthusiastically to everyone I know: "this is my new favorite conference!"

This was my first time at the ARSL conference, and there was no need for a "first timer" track or a session sharing what to expect. Everyone was so darn friendly and accomodating, and each person said, "hi there" as if you were long-time friends. There were plenty of opportunities to mingle and meet new folks, check out exhibits, munch on snacks, and have fun playing Guitar Hero, or golf, or bowling. The folks behind the conference knew what they were doing, and each day came to an end without a glitch.

And the sessions: have you ever attended a conference where each session was repeated, so that you wouldn't miss anything? This is the sort of care and thought that went into dreaming up this conference. Each session spurred new and exciting thoughts about new things, like learning about ARSL's home on Webjunction's new site (Jim Malzewski), and the smart Iowans who are doing big things using 2.0 tools (Sarah Willeford, Pat Means, Tena Hanson), and using social networking sites to reach teens (Shelly Drumm), and where to find free or cheap sites for online marketing (Sarah Houghton-Jan), and a perspective on "normal" in small libraries (Jessamyn West), and what characteristics link successful small libraries (Linda Heuertz), and how small libraries don't seem so small in Second Life (Sonja Plummer-Morgan).

The conference started out big with a keynote from Joan Frye Williams and George Needham. Like Brenda, so much of what they shared has stayed with me. Some quotes from their talk:

On tough times:

Don't take it personally: you've been spinning gold out of straw for many years. It's the times, it's not about you."

"Doing less doesn't get you out of a hole, and it isn't as much fun as doing something differently."

On findability and signage:

Only librarians like searching. Everyone else likes finding." (Joan quoting Roy Tennant)

"If it's idle, don't put a sign on it. Get it offstage."

On touting your services and your policies:

Libraries reduce the carbon footprint. Be gentle to the Earth and be a good neighbor. Take credit for it. Make it obvious."

"Put an emphasis on the future; don't be a nostalgia act."

"I bet vandalism decreases when people are sitting in the parking lot, using the wireless after hours."

I have so much more to report, and will likely do so in the coming days. What a tremendous conference! Kudos to the folks who made it happen!