ALA Student Group Hosts International Conference

Raychelle Steele, MLIS '21, joined the Kent State University's School of Information (iSchool) student chapter of the American Library Association (ALA) for professional development and networking opportunities. Did she think that would one day involve coordinating an online conference featuring librarians from three different countries as speakers?

"It was a bit of a surprise," she admits, laughing.

Steele began working at the Westerville Public Library in Westerville, Ohio, in 2019, and shortly after began her studies at the iSchool. After graduation this year, she was hired into the position of Adult Services Librarian at Westerville. And part of her duties have grown out of her experience in the 2021 spring semester.

"The ALA student chapter has typically done a speaker series in the fall and spring of every year," Steele says. "In fall 2020, they began talking about doing something with an international group. We wanted to focus on children's librarianship, so we worked with the Association for Library Services to Children [ALSC]."

With the help and guidance of Dr. Marianne Martens, the ALA student chapter were also connected with The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), the leading international body for library and information services. More significantly, Dr. Martens helped the group partner with the speakers who presented at the conference.

The result was a virtual conference unlike any other in the student chapter's history. Speakers included Jorun Systad, the library director for the Førde Public Library in Norway; Benjamin Scheffler, head of children's and youth library in the Zentral-und Landesbibliothek in Berlin, Germany; and Maria Alekseeva, head of the international relations department, and Anton Purnik, head of project management department, both from the Russian State Library for Young Adults.

ALA Student Org's International Webinar Participants

Each panelist was sent a list of questions to consider when presenting with a focus on children's librarianship. Steele says "Scheduling was the biggest planning hurdle. Russia was the most distant participant and the range of countries gave us an 8 hour window." Despite the challenges, however, Steele believes that virtual conferences are much easier to plan and execute, since venues aren't required to be booked, furnished and staffed.

Conveniently all the presenters were fairly fluent in English, so the Q&A portion of the 90 minute conference went smoothly. "We thought we’d see more differences between what we expect from librarianship in the United States and what we might see internationally," Steele recalls. "Instead, it turns out there were a lot of similarities."

Among the similarities between the various libraries around the globe were their "library of things." These consist of items that patrons can check out that aren't the standard fare of books and media, but things like guitars, WiFi hotspots, tools, toys and more.

When the invitations went out, Steele wasn't sure what to expect. What the ALA student chapter got was over 400 respondents and guests who logged on from nine different countries spanning three continents.

"It was such a unique opportunity to meet with librarians from outside your experience," Steele says. "As someone graduating into the field, I found the ideas and backgrounds fascinating. The passion for what they do was really inspiring."

Missed out on the webinar? "Children's Librarianship: International Perspectives" is currently available for free on ALSC's website.

POSTED: Wednesday, June 16, 2021 - 3:54pm
UPDATED: Monday, July 26, 2021 - 3:55pm