By Susan Hoppe, Virginia Public Library

What was there not to enjoy about the Association for Rural & Small Libraries conference in Fargo?  The weather was great, there were more than 500 attendees from 48 states (the largest single group was from Minnesota!), and the sessions were difficult to choose from.


A number of sessions were focused on conflict and safety within the library.  Jessica White, a member of the Fargo police department gave tips on de-escalating situations before they can become angry or even dangerous.  She suggested, for example, the importance of remaining calm and using calming words with upset patrons.  It was almost more important, according to Officer White, to pay attention to what upset people have to say, to allow them a chance to vent, as this can provide them with the chance to calm down on their own.  In addition to techniques in de-escalating a situation from the start, she offered a few tips on how and where to strike, in the event one is being actively attacked and can not escape readily.


Further along the lines of conflict avoidance, Sharon Morris and Jamie LaRue taught us how to go “From Chicken Little to Fred Astaire.”  That is, rather than allowing our fight or flight instincts to kick in a la Chicken Little, practicing the give and take of a dance will lead to better communication within the library.  For example, on being told that dinosaur books shouldn’t be in the library and accessible to somebody’s grandchild, it is counter-productive to roll your eyes.  The better response is to listen actively, ask for more of an explanation as to why the books shouldn’t be in the library, and find out what they do want their grandchild to read.  Then, direct them to books which are appropriate to their needs and wants.  By performing a positive dance of give and take with patrons, rather than reacting negatively to their presentation of their problems, we can avoid much negative conflict within the library.


Dancing with the patrons can do more than avoid conflict.  Ke’el Edwards, from TEI Audio, introduced the concept of “Librarian as Salesman.”  We do want people to borrow our books, but more than that, we want them to use the library for the long haul.  For that we need to first connect with them by building a rapport.  Rather than ask, “What are you looking for,” find out how they are doing, what they like to read/watch/listen to.  Then, inform them of what you have to offer.  Introduce them to new databases, books, other resources, which may or may not be closely related to what they came in for.  Finally, without forgetting to give them what they came in for, build their trust by consistently providing them with quality service.  This is how you keep patrons coming to your library.


Kylie Fullmer and Brooke Pederson, from libraries in Washington state, introduced “Backpacks and Cache Boxes,” two programs which they have used to both bring new users into the library and keep current users having fun through their library.  “Cache in Concrete” is a geocaching-type program in Concrete, Washington.  Nine caches were placed in various parts of the town (pop. 400), with informational sheets located in several businesses and the library.  Participants followed either clues or GPS coordinates to find the caches.  Once there, they answered trivia questions about that location.  This program encouraged and enabled children and adults alike to learn more about their town.


Backpack kits are available for library card holders in Ritzville, WA.  Four backpacks were donated by a local company and the library filled them with equipment for fishing, geocaching, birding, and hiking.  A local outfitter donated the fishing poles and other local organizations have helped by providing suggestions for items (binoculars, first aid kits, etc.) and lists (etiquette tips, types of clothing to wear, etc.) to include in the backpacks.  Both of these programs provide ample opportunity for community outreach.


For those who were feeling burned out or who knew others who had burned out, there were two good sessions.  “Lost Your Library Mojo,” with Kansan Gail Santy, was specifically related to burn out.  Gail discussed causes of burn out, ways of getting over it, and techniques for avoiding it in future.  Unbelievable though it may be, overwork was given as the number one cause of librarian burnout.  Patti Mcanally’s “Let’s Have Fun!” session wasn’t about burn out, per se, but it was about having fun in the library, and having fun is one way to avoid it.  Patti’s suggestions ranged from employee potlucks to scavenger hunts, from optional social activities to creative training activities.


This was the best library conference that I have ever been to.  There was not a single time slot that did not have something of interest to me.  It is more accurate to say that it was difficult for me to choose among the many quality choices.  Thank you, ALS, for making it possible for me to attend.

Modified Serenity Prayer