Libraries, Members, and Joan Frye Williams

When I’m deeply immersed in creative writing, I love having the opportunity to attend or watch one of novelist-essayist Anne Lamott’s presentations or interviews; it’s a bit like going to church—being calmed and having my faith in the creative process reaffirmed. When I’m immersed in training-teaching-learning—and these days, that seems to be where I willingly spend the bulk of my time—I find the same warmth, comfort, inspiration, and humor whenever I’m lucky enough to be around Infopeople instructor/consultant Joan Frye Williams.
Listening to Joan’s eight-minute presentation when she served as a panelist for a Future of Libraries breakout session at the American Library Association (ALA) conference in Anaheim last month—“Everybody who knows me knows that eight minutes is not my format,” she began, drawing the first of many bursts of laughter from the standing-room-only audience—showed me again that I’m far from alone in my appreciation for what she offers trainer-teacher-learners and anyone else with a love of community-building.
Her presentation included themes she often explores. The way we serve our customers—that group she often refers to as “civilians.” Our attitudes toward gathering and sharing information: “People don’t need information retrieval anymore. They need information rejection” to help them sort through all they’re being offered, she quipped. And the theme she and George Needham discussed several months ago in an Infopeople podcast: what to call library patrons-customers-users. When she suggested that “civilians” themselves provided the best word—“members” —she received the same reaction I’ve observed with every audience which has heard her propose it. It was as if a cool summer breeze were soothing a group of people who had just arrived at an oasis after slogging through countless dunes of desert sand. There was an audible sigh of appreciation from the ALA conference attendees, and one of the other panelists who followed Joan immediately adopted the word in his own presentation.
“By the way, the opposite of ‘member’ is not ‘non-member’; it’s guest. Remember that. Write it down,” she added, drawing more laughter and at least a few nods of agreement.
The point here is much larger than the moment in which it lives: people like Joan draw us in and provide inspiration because, as trainer-teacher-learners themselves, they travel the same roads we travel, take the same mental photographs we all would take if we were as inquisitive and observant as they are—as dedicated to listening to answers as they are to asking questions. They see with clarity, charity, and enormous amounts of love. For their profession. For their colleagues. And for the community which all of us comprise and revel in as members.
Most wonderfully of all, she’s planting seeds whose fruit she may not ever see. But those seeds are there if we want to nurture them by reviewing them in a video of the session posted online; by reading summaries posted in ALA’s District Dispatch or Library Journal; and, most importantly, by literally spreading the word to others so that no potential member is excluded. Which, for me, is training-teaching-learning at its best.

One thought on “Libraries, Members, and Joan Frye Williams

  1. Hear, hear! I missed her ALA talk, but I agree with all you said. And we are ALL members; that’s what’s so wonderfully inclusive about the term!

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