Bringing Out the Best in Us
by Dick Kaser
I saw it at SLA in June, and I saw it again at ALA in July. In fact, I’ve seen it all summer in our own enterprise. If there’s one thing to be said for this economic downturn of ours, it’s that it’s bringing out the best in us.
Eight years ago this month, when 9/11 became one of those dates that would live in infamy, we all seemed to know instinctively that things were changing and that the changes taking place would forever alter our way of life. Just go to the airport if you want to see how true that statement is today.
Though it’s difficult to pinpoint a particular date when it started—was it last year or the year before?—we are still weathering the euphemistically “tough economic times.” By now, I believe that everything has changed again, and our world will never be the same as it was back before this very long, deep, and widespread “recession” hit.
Everyone has been impacted, everyone has been affected, and everything that hasn’t changed already is going to change.
But on the upside, the need to weather a common crisis has a way of bringing conflicting agendas onto the same page. It aligns our perspectives, it bands us together and cements our relationships, and, as cold as it may sound, we could even say that there is no better glue.
My fellow editors and I blogged as a team during two conferences this summer: SLA in June and ALA in July. We covered lots of events and posted myriad stories, but what I never had the chance to say was how the events felt to me.
At SLA, which was celebrating its 100th anniversary in Washington, D.C., and ALA in Chicago, library association members truly rallied. It was especially heartening to see the attendance numbers as SLA rivaled its turnout in the past couple of years, and ALA set an all-time record.
In a sidebar with Keith Michael Fiels, ALA’s executive director, I learned that “a lot of members” had paid their own way to Chicago, according to Fiels. They were sharing rides and rooms and economizing in order to make the trip work. It was as if nothing was going to stop them from supporting their association and gaining the benefits of attending those conference programs for their organizations.
I saw it with the vendors too. Though some had substituted small booths for big ones, and though some had swapped lavish customer appreciation parties for small or in-booth lunches (and for anyone looking to pick up a bag of show-floor goodies, there were far fewer tchotchkes to be had), the vendors were clearly at these shows to do business but in a focused way. I could only imagine how many meetings of the mind had taken place back at the home offices to create such an alteration in show plans. The bells and whistles may have been gone, but nothing had been spared in the places where doing business mattered most.
In our own shop, we’ve also cut to the chase. In addition to budget trimming and a general openness to economizing, we’ve been more motivated to reach what were, in the past, difficult decisions. As we work more closely together, bound by a common goal, our personal relationships are developing. We are growing together. And as we dig our way out of this, I can tell that things among us will never be the same. They will be better.