The Real Takeaway of ALAMW14: The Homeless

I’ve just returned from the 2014 ALA Midwinter conference in Philadelphia. The average temperature was around 11 degrees Fahrenheit. I had free time between my meetings — time I would usually have used to run to the Liberty Bell and other historical highlights within walking distance. Instead, the bitter cold and snow kept me indoors. When I ventured outside for food, I’d tread lightly on the ice covered sidewalks and the above-shoe-height puddles of slush on the streets. The only bit of skin I showed was just around my glasses. It was beyond freezing for me.

Despite the cold, there were homeless men every few yards on nearly every sidewalk. Half held up cardboard signs proclaiming their homeless status while others just huddled under one blanket in a doorway while icy concrete emerged from underneath their blankets. I saw men missing legs propped up in wheelchairs. Everyone’s hair was gray, their skin leathery, and deep wrinkles ran from the corner of their eyes towards their jawbones.

An Example

My colleague and I had just emerged from Reading Terminal Market. We were waiting for the light to turn to cross the street. I then noticed a man lowering himself onto the wet sidewalk across the way. He looked to be 60+ and was lying back on the sidewalk and stretching out. Then he went up onto his heels and curled his fingers into the grate beneath him. Thus he raised up a little bit and moved this way and that till he found the optimal spot. His eyes were closed and his face was a study in concentrated satisfaction. Beneath him, white bellows of steam escaped around his body; he was lying on top of a sewer grate for warmth.

As I walked around the cavernous conference center, I kept thinking about this large building that is heated and has restrooms, sofas, and power outlets. I wondered since this is a big conference, if the local homeless populace could come in, pretend to be an attendee and just stay out of the biting cold for a bit. But if they left their sidewalk territory, they’d miss their chance at raising funds so they could live.

This is of course not the first time I’ve seen homeless people or homeless people outside a major conference I was attending. It was the cold weather, the sheer number of men, and the sight of so many huddled into doorways into the night that has stuck with me more than anything I heard or participated in at Midwinter. I do not fully know Philadelphia’s efforts to help their most needy and vulnerable residents. I was also under the mistaken impression that a portion of Philadelphia’s Restaurant Week would go towards charity.


I don’t know if there’s anything we can do as a profession and professionals to help out our fellow man while we attend our conferences. I do not pretend to know the stories of the men I saw or why they were there outside instead of seeking a night’s reprieve from the dangerous temperatures. There is Project Home of Philadelphia which “empowers people to break the cycle of homelessness” and other organizations that can help.

Note: I’ve made a slight edit for myself.

Planning a Class via Google Docs

The ALA Techsource class that I am teaching with Polly-Alida Farrington starts next month. Polly and I are using Google Docs to write the class content. An overview of the process so far:

  • Polly created a folder in Google Docs to hold all the documents for our class.
  • For each section that we write, we start a new document and give it a name corresponding to the week of class.
  • I am using headers (h2 and h4 respectively) to organize a document’s structure.
  • When a section is finished, I add to the end of the document title to indicate that the document is for review.
  • To control who is over which section, Polly has created a document about the class outline. I’m adding notes here and there in bold with my initials to ask for clarification.
  • I also created a document to keep track of stylization, major section titles which may be used repeatedly (e.g. More Information, Advanced Skills) and the timeline.

We ran into each other on one document and had a short “hello!” “hello!” moment of commentary across the topic of the document. Otherwise, it is strange writing out the class text since I am more familiar with screencasts and in-person teaching.

Using WordPress to Build Library Websites eCourse

The class that I have been hinting about is finally available! I will be working with Polly-Alida Farrington to teach a practical, hands-on version of her book that she wrote with Kyle Jones. It’s a small world since Kyle used to work at my library in reference! This past month at Internet Librarian, I got to meet Polly face-to-face where we had a great chat about this course. We will be covering some basic information that will get you familiar with the bolts of using WordPress and specifically how to use it for library websites.

My WordPress experience besides running this severely design-neglected blog (easier to clean someone else’s house than your own!) is having co-designed, built, and managed the Department of Library and Information Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s website. It is currently being successfully managed by new webmasters. My professional portfolio is also on WordPress. I have also taught a others in face-to-face and virtually how to use WordPress. In fact, it’s come to my attention in recent weeks, that library patrons have been very interested in creating their own websites. I sent them a link to my introductory video and was then given a follow-up that they had started their own website!

My favorite WordPress + Librarians resource is the WordPress and Librarians group page on Facebook.

First Day of My Last Semester in Library School

Okay, so technically yesterday should have been my last day. However, it snowed (more like iced about 2 inches) so school was canceled. Today we had a two hour delay which did not effect my day of meetings.

  • I had a meeting with my advisor to discuss the trip to UNC Chapel Hill for the “The Curation of Social Media as a Public Asset” seminar. She also gave me some advice on being more confident in my job search and to look for transferable skills. I’m fairly tech-savvy so what I don’t know yet, I can definitely learn quickly.
  • Meeting with the Committee on Accreditation (COA) for our department’s upcoming American Library Association (ALA) accreditation review process. I was given a bundle of things to work into the website. It feels pretty nice to be involved and having a decisive voice in how we are meeting our strategic goals during this review.
  • Met with my two assistants for an hour. I showed them around the International and Comparative Librarianship Communitas website. When I came home, I sent them their marching orders for the rest of the month.
  • I worked on sprucing up the LIS website by making some graphics and/or changing things from the COA meeting. In my next post, I’ll post some screenshots of what I did.
  • Joined my online Metadata class. My boss spoke about the accreditation process and I was surprised that she pointed out (again) that I’m the webmaster. I’m humbled by her praise.
  • I finally ate dinner while watching the season one sixth episode of Fringe. Then I decompressed by discussing today’s events with my boyfriend. Poor thing knows way more about department politics/gossip than anyone should have to suffer through!

Fun side note I noticed today: in the past year, a lot of LIS programs have completely revamped their websites.