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Highlights of MLA | SLA '23

A Whirlwind of Activity While Connecting to Colleagues and Vendors

MLA’s Annual Meeting in Detroit, Michigan was a whirlwind of activity! I had a packed schedule going in and presented a paper, lighting talk, and two posters – while also moderating a world café table discussion on emerging technologies and meeting a mentee – so my “free time” when not presenting or obliged to other duties was a treasured commodity. It was a jam-packed conference with lots of interesting sessions, connections with colleagues, and worthwhile vendors to investigate. Neighboring the conference center was the Detroit River, which provided a good reminder to “go with the flow”, let the conference waters lead me where they may, and enjoy the surroundings. Here are a few highlights of my MLA experience.

Finding Zen in the Hall of Exhibits

The opening of the Hall of Exhibits began with a toast and Detroit-themed food – Detroit-style pizza (square with melted cheese all the way to the edges) was the biggest hit! It was a nice time to get some swag, meet with vendors, and connect with colleagues. The highlight of the exhibit space was the MLA 125-year Retrospective Exhibit with accompanying timeline, photos, mugs, and memorabilia. I enjoyed learning about the technology showcase and getting a schedule of participating vendors that showcased their services. I was able to hop in on a few showcase events and found the audiences engaged with vendors eager to demo their products and answer questions. I found myself going back to the Exhibit Hall throughout the conference to view posters, grab a drink, or listen about a new technology – it was a way of finding “zen” and processing the loads of information I was getting from sessions.

It’s All About Hybrid Work

I attended some of the sessions for the Leadership and Management Symposium and loved the opportunity to have a track of sessions related to my interests in library leadership and management practices. One of the stand-out sessions of the symposium was about hybrid work environments titled “Re-thinking the Definition of Community and Connections in a Virtually Connected World” by the fabulous presenter Mari Anne Snow of Sophaya + Remote Nation Institute.  This engaging session provided tips and strategies to better utilize our virtual meeting environment while engaging our staff and patrons. It emphasized the new ways of connecting with colleagues where we might feel like we’ve interacted with them sooner than we have thanks to meeting together on Zoom! A quote Ms. Snow gave, “It’s not work-life balance, but work-life integration” really spoke to me on how I understand the changed working environment, where we’re no longer expected to balance these areas of our lives but rather integrate them (I don’t know how many times my library co-workers have seen pictures of my soon-to-be three-year-old now…and I’ve seen their children, pets, and gardens!). It was a great reminder of the patience required for us to continue to work through these changing work structures and habits as we enter a “new normal” of a hybrid work environment.

Catching Up with Co-Workers

Speaking of hybrid and virtual work environments, strangely, many of us within the same library haven’t seen each other in person for months, even years, because many of us are on different in-person work schedules, so traveling to Detroit and attending MLA in-person together was a great way to connect with those I work closely with. We had drinks and meals together and discussed goings-on in and out of the library. It was a needed refresh and connection point with not only colleagues from different institutions but also with my own. While waiting for our flight to return to our home city, I quickly put on my colleagues' calendars a “post-conference-going happy hour” for us to continue our discussions and highlight the takeaways of our experiences in Detroit. As this year’s theme alluded to, we have dedicated time for “looking back, forging ahead.”

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