Grant Recipient Essay

The Rachel Chan Memorial Grant’s 2019 Recipient’s Essay

The Rachel Chan Memorial Grant allowed me the possibility to attend the Alberta Library Conference in April 2019. As a first time attendee and presenter, the weeks leading up to the conference were filled with anticipation. I had heard about the conference from colleagues who had attended both recently and not so recently. For over 40 years the Alberta Library Conference has had their annual meeting at the beautiful Jasper Park Lodge.

The experience of attending the conference began with a drive along one of Canada’s most scenic roads, the Icefields Parkway, and it did not disappoint. It’s a quiet and pleasant time of year to enjoy the route, without rental cars and RV’s abruptly stopping for any and all wildlife (including squirrels). Arriving at Jasper Park Lodge, I quickly saw why any attempt over the years to move the conference has been vehemently contested. It’s quite simply, beautiful. The setting offers a rare opportunity to network, learn, share, and relax in the stunning natural environment.

Location aside, the conference itself is an impressive achievement. With over 500 attendees (primarily from Alberta and some from further afield), it is a unique opportunity to get to know fellow library folks from all corners of the province. For those considering attending as a first-timer, I would recommend staying at the Lodge as there are many more meals and evening events that allow for mingling and meeting new people. Chatting with people from different types of libraries large and small created a feeling of community and common understanding.

Each breakfast was followed by the conference keynote speakers, who included Craig Silverman of BuzzFeed News and Terry O’Reilly of CBC’s Under the Influence series. Both keynotes were fascinating and definite highlights. Craig Silverman shared his extensive work in misinformation and fake news, of huge relevance to libraries and librarians. In his keynote he discussed how widespread misinformation has become in our digital world, from profit-based operations across the world capitalizing on political division, to deliberate sabotage supported by governments. His call to the audience to better inform and educate users on misinformation was timely and motivating.

The following day’s keynote was given by advertising guru and CBC host Terry O’Reilly. Terry gave examples of advertising successes and failures, and spoke of the importance of telling stories. He explained that good advertising needs to speak to people on an emotional level, and stories are a perfect way to do this. He reminded the audience that librarians and library staff are very well-positioned to share their stories and not to forget to do this to help promote themselves and their libraries.

After the keynote speakers had invigorated the crowd, attendees had many choices of sessions to attend, or chat with friends and colleagues soaking in the amazing views over Beauvert Lake. Attendees also took advantage of the good weather the first few days of the conference by going for a walk around the lake, or sitting in the sun. The conference included many sessions catered towards public, school and library board topics. Some academic and special library sessions were also available. I took this opportunity to expand my knowledge outside academic library work by attending a few public library sessions.
With Calgary Public Library’s new Central Library making waves and headlines, I was intrigued by the session “Opening Calgary’s New Central Library” presented by Calgary Public Library staff and board members. It was fascinating to hear about the collaboration that took place to make the massive project a success. I especially commend the project leaders on choosing an architectural team that turned a difficult building site into an opportunity to create a truly memorable building, and also creating a link to Calgary’s up and coming East Village neighbourhood. Not to mention the creative programming that has activated the building and already made it an essential hub for the city. I look forward to staying tuned on the amazing work Calgary Public Library is doing and continues to do.

Continuing my knowledge building of public libraries, I attended “Demystifying Alberta’s Local Governments” presented by Ian McCormack. Ian did an excellent job explaining all the intricacies of Alberta’s municipal structures and the variety of rules and governance that affect libraries. Ian is an expert in relations between library management and local governments — a unique niche! And he presented a somewhat dry topic in an entertaining and very clear way.

Following these sessions was my session “Student Athletes: Strategies for Library Outreach and Engagement” co-presented with Leeanne Morrow. We shared our findings from a project to better engage with and serve student athletes, a student group with intense time pressures and unique needs. The relationship between the library, athletes, and their academic support staff has been built over the last five years, with the past year seeing the library try a variety of strategies, some of which proved to be more successful than others. We were pleased with the session turnout and interest.
The return drive back to Calgary was made quite a bit more interesting with the arrival of snowstorms. Alas the conference was an amazing experience overall, and a rare opportunity to get to know many new people from across the Alberta library community, share and learn, and come together to chart new courses for our libraries. My sincere thanks to the Foothills Library Association and the Rachel Chan Memorial Grant for the opportunity.

James Murphy holds an MLIS from the University of British Columbia. He is currently Research and Learning Librarian at the University of Calgary, liaison librarian for Art & Architecture.