Best Practices: Conferences, Training, and Communities of Learning (Part 1 of 2)

Inspired by numerous conversations with trainer-teacher-learners attending the annual American Library Association (ALA) conference in Anaheim a little over a week ago, I’m struck by how much of what we all do is firmly rooted in the concept of building communities while having fun–and by how much a conference can help us in this valuable endeavor.
From the moment more than 20,000 of us arrived in Anaheim to the moment that we left, we seemed to be engaged in one continual series of planned and unplanned encounters. At times the gatherings were small, as when a few of us from Infopeople met one afternoon to discuss a proposed marketing plan for the organization, or when a handful of trainers from all over the country met for dinner and discussion of what is happening in the libraries which we serve. At other times, the sheer number of people walking the exhibits hall to see what publishers and other vendors are offering libraries seemed to make any sort of meaningful encounter unlikely. And yet, the opposite was true. I very quickly lost count of how many times, while strolling the aisles of the exhibition area, I ran into colleagues who were willing to take advantage of these chance encounters to discuss what we’re doing and find ways to move our overlapping projects forward to the benefit of the organizations and colleagues with whom we work.
At the heart of this, I believe, is something basic: the need to associate. The need to build something greater than any one of us can build alone. The desire to not be bored and fall into routines which serve no one but the lazy. The desire to constantly learn or create new things while retaining and nurturing the best of what we and our predecessors have already developed.
The result for us and those we encounter is the creation of ever-expanding formal and informal communities of learning. Dancing along the cutting edge of what libraries and training-teaching-learning can and should and do offer without fear of falling off. Sharing ideas to the benefit of everyone around the table and all who couldn’t be at that table but, through hearing or reading the stories that we spread, feel as if they were.
It’s all about listening, adapting, and passing it on as in the Wikinomics model described by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams—setting aside any concern about others using what we develop without providing us with immediate monetary compensation. The real payoff comes in knowing that whatever compensation we “lose” is more than made up for by what we gain through the collaborations which result from the exchange of information, ideas, and knowledge at conferences, in our workplaces when we return home, and in other parts of our lives where what we learn contributes to community.