As the ballroom was filling up, Bruce said, "In ten years, I don't think I've ever seen you this far up in front!" No kidding. I got a lot of teasing about that. Someone suggested that perhaps I move up a few rows each day, so that it wouldn't be so traumatic, but I decided to go cold turkey.
No matter what the conference or what the presentation, my habit for a quarter of a century has been to stand at the back of the room, pacing, thinking, watching the audience. But yesterday, when I officially assumed my position on the MLA Board of Directors, I had to sit in the front row, and then walk across the stage when my name was called, so that MJ could congratulate me and give me the "Board Member" ribbon.
I had to slip out before the session was done. I had a phone call scheduled. I went into the back of the exhibit hall, got a cup of coffee, found a seat at a round table in a quiet corner. I flipped open the laptop, locked onto the free wireless signal, opened up a few pages that I thought I might want to refer to. At 10:00, I dialed into the conference call, and for the next hour had a great conversation with Paul Mayes, who was in Middlesbrough in the northeast of the UK, Sandra Stewart, calling in from San Jose, Richard Wallis, who was somewhere in the UK, although I'm not quite sure where, all moderated by Paul Miller, who might've been in the "other" Birmingham (the one that's not in Alabama). For an hour, we talked about how the new communication tools are transforming our relationships with the communities that we serve. Conversation over, I tucked my laptop under my arm and walked back out through the exhibit hall thinking that one of the things we'd never thought to mention was the wonderment that we were able to so easily have that conversation from those corners of the planet at all. It's just a natural thing to do. This morning, an email from Paul tells me that the podcast is up and ready for downloading.
A little later I stopped to chat with a friend of mine as we were milling about the conference registration area. He was talking with a tall, attractive woman and I glanced at her name tag. Michelle Kraft. Ah-ha, I thought. I know you. I'm not sure whether or not Michelle and I have ever actually laid eyes on each other, but I read her blog every day, so seeing her standing there was like seeing somebody who works with me at Lister Hill. Not long after that, I ended up on an elevator with Stewart Brower, and mentioned that I'd been looking at his blog earlier in the day (while I was talking with the L2 gang) and we commiserated about how difficult it is to find time to post something while the conference is going on. The distinction between the conversations I'm having in person and the conversations I'm having online is getting blurry.
I'm not persuaded by Friedman's metaphor that the earth is becoming flat, but it sure is getting easier to get around. I walk through the convention center and am delighted to see people I've been seeing at this conference for years and years, and then I see people that I "know" only because they're active in the virtual community, and then I stop for a phone call with interesting people scattered across a couple of continents, and it's all very natural and easy.
At the closing party last night, I danced a slow dance with Lucretia McClure. Last year, we celebrated her 80th birthday with a big cake at the awards luncheon. At the new members breakfast this year, she came to the podium to give her welcome to the first time attendees, as she does every year. She alters the talk somewhat each time, but the bottom line message is always the same -- all of the tools and technology are wonderful, but the most important thing is the curiosity, intelligence and dedication of the librarian. It's the way that we use all of these remarkable tools that enables us to do the work that we do, and it's how we come together in our communities that enriches us. Lucretia has been on the front lines for a very long time. She's impatient when people hesitate, when they don't take the risks inherent in taking advantage of the opportunities in front of them. She is always pushing us to do more, do better, be more innovative, more creative. When I said goodnight to her, she looked up at me with those beautiful eyes sparkling and said, "I'll call you. I've got some ideas for what you need to do on the Board." I'm sure she does. I'll listen.