Austin: Bat City

Looking Back at AALL in Austin

The only things I knew about Austin were what most people probably know . . . it’s home to great barbecue, the University of Texas, the state capitol, and the South By Southwest Festival. But I knew there must be so much more to Austin than that, and how can you not love a place where the city’s slogan is “Keep Austin Weird”!? It had always seemed like it would be an interesting place to visit someday, so when I saw the 2017 Annual Conference was being held there, I was excited. Being a first-time member of the Annual Meeting Program Committee made me more determined than ever to attend. Receiving a CALL grant was instrumental in making that possible.

As part of the AMPC, we were assigned as liaisons to one of the programs we selected for the conference. My program was “Introverts as Leaders,” which was scheduled for Sunday afternoon. I was excited for this to be my program as I liked it when reviewing it for the AMPC and because I think being a natural introvert can apply to many librarians. I count myself in that group . . . unless of course I’m talking football or sports in general–then you can’t get me to stop talking! But just because many of us might be more naturally on the quiet side doesn’t mean we can’t or don’t want to be effective leaders. The almost 150 attendees of this program back me up on that . . . we had people sitting on the floor for this program!

The speakers were our very own CALL member Gretchen Van Dam of the 7th Circuit Library and Antoinette Griffin of Griff Development LLC based in Austin. And 10 minutes before the session had started, I was even asked to play a small role in a demo on stage. Discussed during the session were the different tendencies of extroverts and introverts and how we can apply those tendencies when we communicate with other people on our team and within our organizations. We talked about how we can use both verbal and non-verbal communication to our advantage, as well as how we can make small changes over time to come out of our introvert shells to become effective leaders.

Another program on leadership had a title that had me hooked immediately–“The Human Equation: What Star Trek Teaches Us About Leadership.” I’m a huge Star Wars and Star Trek fan, so there was no way I was going to miss this one even if it was in the last time slot of the conference.

Because of the vast expanse of the Star Trek universe, the panel chose to use characters from only one of the series, “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” to illustrate their points. Purposely skipping the obvious choice of Captain Picard, the panelists each focused on one of 3 senior members of Picard’s team to represent different leadership and management styles: Commander Riker (1st Officer) – leads by example, follows protocol but improvises during crises, team builder, can be serious but also takes charge, cares about others as colleagues and individuals, “makes it so”; Lt. Commander Data (2nd Officer) – task oriented, information gatherer, not guided by emotions, reliable and egoless, speaks when necessary and feels has something important to contribute; and Counselor Troi – considers multiple viewpoints, excellent listener, subtly persuasive, instinctively empathetic, and good observer. At various points throughout the series, each one has specific characteristics and unique qualities that have allowed them to take the lead in navigating the crisis at hand, thus showing that no matter what rank or position you hold within an organization, anyone can assert leadership.

A few of the other interesting programs I sat in on included “The Linchpin Librarian,” “Moneyball for Lawyers: How Legal Analytics is Transforming the Business and Practice of Law,” and “Finding the Words to Communicate Your Value.” Having attended a few previous conferences, I knew that I needed to find that balance between attending programs, committee meetings, and speaking with vendors at the exhibit hall and at their events. Of course most of us make time to hit the booths of the biggies such as Bloomberg, Westlaw, Lexis, and Wolters Kluwer, but we must allow time to have meaningful discussions with the vendor representatives and provide feedback or suggestions (don’t forget the swag and raffles!). And let’s not forget the other vendors we regularly do business with and even the ones we might never have heard of. You never know what new product they are introducing or how just talking with them can be invaluable in the future.

One other thing I’ve learned . . . make time for yourself! Set aside time to meet up with colleagues and friends you might not see during the year except at conferences. If I’m attending one of the annual meetings, I always make it a point to get together with my college roommate who is also a law librarian.  See how perfectly matched we were! If you are from out of town, block off time to explore the city–whether it’s restaurants, shops, and attractions just within walking distance of your hotel, or you feel more adventurous and are willing to travel further from the conference area. And if you have family or your spouse/significant other with you . . . make time for them too. Although they traveled with you to the conference location and that is your primary focus, it’s not theirs. So make sure you include them in any planning and come up with some special plans that have nothing to do with vendor events or the conference. It could be a fancy meal or sampling some of the famous local cuisine, a nice walk around town, or as weird as waiting with my husband and many others for around a million bats to come flying out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge at sunset as a storm approaches. Like I said . . . keeping it weird in Austin . . . but now looking forward to Baltimore in 2018!