ALA First-Timer: TEDx Program Empowers

June 29, 2014

If you present information in a visual format, it may be tweeted, shared, and commented on for months to come, as ideas make their way around the world. 

That’s where a 20-minute TED (technology, entertainment, design) talk has the ability to meet the public at just the intersection between attention and a need for visual.

At Friday’s program “TEDx: An Independently Hosted Event at Your Library,” speaker Robert Barr, director of Juneau (Alaska) Public Library, demonstrated how he is capitalizing on the civic engagement tools that a TED talk can provide a community.

Sharing information about his yearlong program using TEDx, Barr provided new programming ideas that this listening-intently, slightly overwhelmed ALA first-timer school librarian plans to implement for after-school engagement for parents, faculty, community, and kids.

Barr presented examples from similar programs he used in Johnson County (Kans.) Library and now Juneau. He touted the community and civic engagement that comes with hosting an independent TEDx event. Formatted around three TED talks with discussion, librarians can host or facilitate discussion sessions pertinent to their communities. Whether you invite local speakers or facilitate sessions with library staffers, you will find that patrons will engage in your “neutral” space.

The neutrality of the library space combined with a library’s “ethos, philosophical commitments, and collections” are the prime reasons Barr said TEDx events make a good vehicle for employing civic engagement tools in the library. 

This program may have been geared toward a public library setting, but as a school librarian and student-to-staffer participant who will be graduating in December, I learned that organizing an independently hosted TEDx event after school can be a relevant alternative to book clubs. It can also help advance the 21st-century skills of digital literacy through collaborative discussion among kids, parents, community members, and faculty.

Plus the act of maintaining the library as neutral territory as a way for stakeholders to share diverse opinions allows librarians to practice facilitation skills. And it opens the door for communities to model discussion skills with and for kids.

Among the 12 TEDx programs Barr held at his library last year, one was a program on magic—a great event topic for kids.

ALA President Barbara Stripling said we would leave Barr’s session feeling “empowered” to try this innovation, and she was right-on. This session made me not only excited to try a new idea at home but also excited for all the other good ideas I’ll surely hear this weekend at my first ALA.

JENNIFER WHITLEY is media coordinator at Tanglewood Elementary School in Lumberton, North Carolina.

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