ALA Part II – Empowerment

Saturday morning started out with the ALA Empowerment Conference Welcome Breakfast. ALA has a “conference within a conference” for library “support staff.” From the ALA Conference site:

Designed specifically for library support staff and featuring a variety of programs with nationally known speakers like Warren Graham, Jenny Levine, and Michael Stephens, this is a conference not to be missed! Learn about work-life balance, customer service, career paths, ergonomics, safety and security, and more! Enjoy networking opportunities with colleagues from across the nation. Tour the world’s largest library exhibition. Get inspired at the opening breakfast, attend an always dynamic ALA opening general session, and gain valuable tips for making the most of your conference experience. You’ll come away rejuvenated, refreshed, and ready to successfully navigate the choppy seas at home!

At first I was hesitant to register for the Empowerment Conference (it is included in the full ALA registration fee) because of my stance on the support staff/paraprofessional/non-professional issue. I still don’t get why there needs to be a separation within the conference. Why can’t everyone just go to the same conference?

So with trepidation I went to the breakfast. I wanted to see what this empowerment thing was all about. Bruce Kimbrell from the Disney Institute gave a fabulous presentation on customer service. The information from that session deserves its own post. I have to say that this was the best presentation I saw at ALA.

During the session I kept wondering, wouldn’t librarians benefit from this too? Why is this featured as a session for support staff? After the session I spoke with a member of the sponsoring roundtable, LSSIRT, to try and wrap my mind around the issue of separate sessions for support staff. We even had our own conference bags (which were very nice I might add).

ALA Empowerment Conference Bag

I didn’t get her name but the LSSIRT member explained to me that ALA can be overwhelming, especially to first-timers, and this was a way to feature sessions of interest to support staff and that anyone was free to go to any of the sessions. Librarians can attend Empowerment Sessions and support staff can attend other sessions.

But I wonder if other conference goers even looked at the sessions listed for support staff? Couldn’t librarians benefit from a customer service presentation? Aren’t we all capable of choosing what best suits us as individuals from among the plethora of sessions listed in the 226 page program guide? If the goal is to make ALA manageable for newcomers why not a separate conference within a conference for newcomers? Somehow I still felt singled out carrying this black and green tote around. Were people looking at me and thinking, she’s not a real librarian?

The truth is not a single person I talked with over my 5-days in Anaheim even knew about the Empowerment Conference, and instead of being judged by my tote people asked how I got such an awesome bag! When I described the Disney Institute session people wish they had known about it so they could have attended.

Because of other commitments I was not able to attend the other Empowerment sessions, but they all sounded amazing:

  • What I Really Meant To Say Was…(a.k.a Dealing with Difficult People)
  • Black Belt Librarians: How to Recognize & Respond To The Four Levels Of Emotion That Any Patron May Be In
  • When’s My Ship Going to Come In?: Global Trends Affecting Libraries
  • Are You Captain Bligh of the HMS Bounty or Julie McCoy, Cruise Director on the Pacific Princess? Dealing With Difference by Understanding Your People Style
  • “Can I Please Blow Up This Reference Desk?”
  • Preparing For Tomorrow By Looking Back at Yesterday
  • Would You Like an Umbrella With that Beach Blanket?: x-Treme Customer Service
  • Captain Your Own Destiny and See Where It Takes You
  • Ready, Set, Go! Racing Toward Excellent Public Service

I’m taking Paul’s advice about getting involved. I’m joining the LSSIRT. It seems like a good place to start to advocate for library staff and hopefully I can learn more about ALA and how support staff fit in with libraries and ALA.

About Lori Reed

Lori Reed, coauthor of Workplace Learning & Leadership: A Handbook for Library and Non-Profit Trainers, is a learning and communication strategist with more than twenty years experience in learning and development. A 2009 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and a 2010 "One to Watch" for paralibrarians, Lori graduated cum laude from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science in Communication. Lori is a certified Synchronous Learning Expert and a North Carolina Master Trainer and has traveled across North America speaking about libraries and training.


  1. I am a member of LSSIRT. It is very beneficial for my staff to see the publication that they put out. I hope that we can afford to send some to a national conference. All are welcome and paid for at the state conference. These are practical programs that can apply for librarians. Dealing with difficult customers, diffusing patrons, dealing with change, dealing with the public. Lot’s of great ideas for staff programs locally. I used some for local staff programs. The black belt librarian and the dealing with difficult customers are the two most popular. I called them and scheduled them locally. They loved it.

  2. I served on the Empowerment Conference Steering Committee and sent a link to your page to the other members. Thank you for the “shout-out” for this valuable conference. Also, I am the LSSIRT Councilor and I warmly welcome you to LSSIRT, and welcome your comments.

  3. Mary Nation says:

    Loved your article about the ALA Empowerment conference. I am the membership chair for LSSIRT and would also like to welcome you to our rountable. Along with agreeing that even librarians would benefit from the empowerment conference, the LSSIRT board would also like to see librarians as members of LSSIRT. We all work together so why not all grow together.

  4. Sarah McQueeny says:

    Touche’ Lady!

    I really connected with your comments here.
    I went to my first ALA Conference in June last year and was thankful that my attention was funneled, as it were, into the Empowerment activities. I thought it was a great way to get my feet wet and to relate to the Conference with other support staff. And I benefited from non-Empowerment activities as well– a little structure & a little freedom to explore.

  5. Dorothy Morgan says:

    Where have I been not to have engaged sooner in this conversation! Thank you Jennifer for forwarding me this website discussion forum. As the President of LSSIRT I sincerely welcome you to our roundtable and appreciate reading the comments from my friends and LSSIRT Steering Committee members. As Mary said we do all work together to meet the mission and goals of the library community. All library workers are welcome to join us. We will consider your comments as we pursue the 2009 Empowerment Conference plans.

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