What I learned at MLA 2013 – Sheila Snow-Croft
by Sheila Snow-Croft, Public Health Coordinator, NN/LM SE/A Region
My initial response to the task at hand, sharing what I learned at this year’s conference, is to discuss logistics. I learned that if one belongs to 3 sections and 2 SIGs, one cannot attend all of the necessary meetings. This year this was because they were all scheduled at the same time. As incoming Chair, I attended the EMTS meeting but had to miss both the Public Health and Relevant Issues sections’ and the LGBT SIG’s meetings. At least the new Health Disparities SIG met for lunch on Sunday, rather than during a properly slated time block, with the added benefit of some delicious Thai food. Shameless plug: anyone with any interest in addressing health disparities should consider joining this dynamic group.
Another logistical reality that I learned at MLA is that I cannot adequately tweet, read tweets, and pay attention to speakers and sessions. I enjoy social networking, but without a full sized keyboard it simply takes too much time and attention for me to try and tweet. I found myself missing good parts while going back over what had just been said, reading the same quotation from many different tweeters, and experiencing some frustration because I knew I was missing what was happening in real time. After the first few tries I went old school and just sat back and listened and learned and immensely enjoyed the speakers and discussions.
One session that stood out for me was the John P. McGovern Award Lecturer: Dr. Richard Besser, ABC Chief Health & Medical Editor. He spoke of his impressive career, including being Director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response at the CDC and his work with disasters, including being awarded the Surgeon General’s Medallion for leadership during the H1N1 response. His career path was interesting, as he had never planned to be a reporter or to work in a high profile position such as his spot at ABC, which includes spots on Good Morning America, World News with Diane Sawyer, and Nightline. The stories of his work in public health and at the CDC were fascinating, as was his current role explaining major events and health emergencies while trying to keep an audience’ attention and not be too depressing – usually in a minute to a minute and a half of airtime. As I listened and watched his clips of ABC news spots, I read tweets where colleagues were asserting that his information was not relevant to librarians. I could not disagree more: my previous degrees in English dictate that I believe in the power of storytelling. Dr. Besser explained, with examples, how he makes information interesting and tries to keep people listening enough that perhaps they will truly pay attention and learn something. This is the heart of what we do: what good is information if it is not shared? And what better skill to have than the ability to share our stories succinctly and well? I was inspired and entertained and I learned things, and that’s all I can ask of any conference session.