Thursday, September 17, 2009

IMLS calls the bloggers

Or rather, we dial into a conference call. Today I participated (well, I use the term lightly, and you'll see why in a bit) in a conference call with other bloggers and the IMLS. I'd gotten an email invitation for the call back in *checks email* mid August, then with dates/time in early September.

The IMLS wanted to discuss their most recent publications; my initial assumption is that they wanted to sort of advertise the publications, which is totally fair, and good on them for connecting in with us internet dwellers. So I printed off the reports, glanced at them, and promptly shoved them to the back of my to-do pile. Which means they never got read. Which means my active participation in the call was very low. The publications seem interesting, and I'm interested in reading the one on 21st Century Skills and the one on the future of libraries and museums (.pdfs)... someday. And the others seem like really interesting evaluations of programs and partnerships.

But here's my impressions of the call: It was fine. It was neat to be invited (thanks IMLS!), but I didn't get a whole heck of a lot out of it. I hadn't read the publications, so I was hoping for other, more lively bloggers to carry the conversation and make things interesting. And there was some of that. But the call started off with the fine folks at IMLS giving overviews of the publications and making some announcements. Then they opened it up for questions and were met with... crickets. Until Kevin of Library Preservation stepped in helped kick start a conversation. But, as far as I could tell, only three bloggers (Kevin and myself included) had called in. And I hadn't even planned to do so yesterday (see not doing my homework, above).

Here's what I would like to see next time: Rather than a sort of show and tell, which I felt was kind of what happened this time (partly our/my fault for not being proactive and ready for a conversation), have conference calls around one subject, or focused around one publication/topic area. Before having the call, follow up the initial email with a list of some sort - I'm not sure whether main points, potential conversation questions, or provoking statements would be best - but something to help fire up and focus potential participants. But don't stick to those bullets - if the participants are quiet, like we were today, use them as jumping off points.

Also, and this is very important, have everyone on the call introduce themselves. I desperately wanted to know who I was talking with. I think there were 5 or 6 IMLS folks (who were introduced and I completely failed to keep track of) and just the three of us bloggers.

Finally, and maybe the IMLS is going to do this but I'm posting this about three hours after the fact and they haven't had the chance to yet, send out an email to the participants/invitees offering a follow up from their point of view. Because I'm curious if they got what they wanted or not.

Frankly, I would like to see more of this. Especially if there was some way to focus the conversation. I feel like the "Here's everything we've got: Any questions?" approach was too broad. I think the IMLS has a good idea here; it's an excellent way to harness the thoughts and voices of people who are below the executive level in museums and libraries (since it seems like high ranking folks are the ones involved in the face to face discussions IMLS and other similar orgs occasionally hold). Thanks IMLS, for putting a voice on your organization for those of us there today.