Showing Up

January 28, 2014

“We don’t have to be perfect,” Lisa Bunker reminded me over lunch on Monday. “We just have to show up.”

Showing up was a theme I have noticed and experienced viscerally and repeatedly while preparing for, attending, participating in (onsite as well as online), and learning from numerous formal events and informal conversations at the ALA Midwinter Meeting here in Philadelphia over the last few days. It was the theme promoted on the cover of American Libraries through the title “Philadelphia 2014: The Conversation Starts Here.” It was the key to becoming immersed in a wonderfully inspiring conversation about technology in libraries Friday evening, in the conference Networking Uncommons, and observing colleagues’ reactions to Google Glass on Saturday. It is an integral element of the iOme [I owe me] challenge described by Adi Redzic at his Midwinter session. It is an unspoken but well-understood principle behind the belief that the “Libraries Transforming Communities” initiative requires that we go out into the communities we serve rather than waiting for them to come to us if we want to engage in dynamic, effective, and transformative partnerships and collaborations. And it was certainly a necessary step for those of us who wanted to learn from Bunker’s “ALA Master Series—The Library as a Catalyst for Innovation” session Monday at Midwinter.

What was impressive among many strikingly positive elements of her presentation was how it so obviously was designed to be an example of how we can be catalysts at many levels. Bunker showed us how to be catalysts in bringing people together: Approximately 10 minutes before the session formally began, she encouraged all of us who were already seated to introduce ourselves, one by one, to everyone else who had already arrived. The result was that at least one person, hearing that an unmet colleague from a city where he is about to begin working, walked across the room, introduced himself, and obviously began the process of establishing the community of practice that will make him as dynamic in his new community as he has been in others.

We saw how to be catalysts in providing engaging training, teaching, and learning opportunities by incorporating a cloud-based presentation tool (Haiku Deck) into our work because she took the time needed to briefly introduce it to us as she began her formal Haiku Deck presentation. And, as she moved into the core content of “Library as Catalyst,” she provided numerous examples of what she has seen and done as social media librarian at the Pima County (Ariz.) Public Library.

One of her most impressive achievements was creation of a library Catalyst Café that is growing out of its current space and in need of a larger venue. Even a glance at a list of innovation-catalyst programs and discussions held at the Café makes us want to fly, drive, or walk to that magnificent library-as-innovation-catalyst space and join the party: game-storming, crowd-funding, maker/hacker spaces, Pinterest strategies, product launches, social entrepreneurship, building buzz, visual storytelling, and social media policies.

The processes she uses with members of her innovation community are integral to the successes they produce together: She has people sitting in a circle as one way of breaking down hierarchy. She also incorporates lessons learned from other successful ventures, including a two-day “Start-up Weekend” program that was designed to inspire and support young teens in their efforts to imagine and design viable entrepreneurial projects. Day 2 of that weekend brought workshop participants in the library to pitch the entrepreneurial concepts developed during the first day of activities: “They really did it; they blew everyone away,” she told us. “It was an incredible day. I left with the feeling ‘I want this for my library.’”

Other sources of inspiration Bunker reviewed include the District of Columbia Public Library Digital Commons, with its high-end software, 3D printing, and Espresso print-on-demand book machine; the EUREKA coworking space collaboration between Arizona State University and the Scottsdale Public Library system; and the Mesa (Ariz.) Public Library THINKspot.

Additional innovative catalyst spaces are posted on Bunker’s blog. Now all we have to do is remember to show up!

PAUL SIGNORELLI, of Paul Signorelli & Associates, is a writer, trainer, social media strategist, and consultant. Email him at paul[at]

See, hear, and read more about what went on at Midwinter. 

Twitter: @alamw and #alamw14