ALA Midwinter Conference: When Trainers Eat

The title and idea behind Gail Griffith’s current Infopeople workshop—“Community Engagement”—came to mind again less than a few hours after I arrived here in Denver this afternoon to attend the American Library Association (ALA) 2009 Midwinter Conference.
Griffith, as mentioned in an earlier Infoblog piece, reaches out to those who like to practice, play, and learn. She offers a workshop which is “about doing and practicing, not so much about studying models” as she helps current and prospective library leaders learn how to better create and sustain communities. And that sense of engagement perfectly describes the community of trainer-teacher-learners which gathered at the local P.F.Chang’s China Bistro this evening to take advantage of this all too rare opportunity for face-to-face engagement instead of the online relationships many of us have on an ongoing basis.
There were eleven of us with overlapping connections through ALA and its training group (CLENE), Infopeople, WebJunction, and TechSoup, and it certainly helped that Infopeople instructor Pat Wagner, who lives in Denver, suggested the perfect place for this group. A place where we could easily see and hear each other. Where we could concentrate on our exchanges rather than spend lots of time trying to determine what to order or how to split the bill. And where we could hear what colleagues from the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Denver, Chicago, Charlotte, and the South New Jersey area are doing in and for library training programs.
Opportunities to collaborate even more closely and effectively were never more apparent than as we sat together for a few hours. Even the staff of the restaurant did everything they could to serve and be part of our community of learners, taking us for a tour of the kitchen, back of house, and under the house areas in what they said is Denver’s second oldest building. There was a pride of ownership there that all of us as trainers could respond to and appreciate. They talked about how every member of the kitchen staff worked as a well functioning team. They showed us the immense basement area. Then they led us to what our guide referred to as “the catacombs”—a sub-basement area which, at one time, led to a series of underground tunnels linking the building to others throughout the area and which still feels like the sort of place which people might enter and never again be seen.
“This,” Lori Reed, Employee Learning & Development Coordinator for the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, quipped, “is like the Blair Witch dinner” as we found ourselves exploring those underground nooks and crannies one doesn’t normally expect to find in a P.F. Chang’s or any other restaurant. And when the evening ended, our community had grown just a little tighter. A little more engaged. And probably even more appreciative of all the treasures our involvement in library training projects brings to us in the most unexpected moments.

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