Monday, September 30, 2013

R-Squared: A Game-Changer for Library Conferences

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 19 September 2012.

Last week, over three hundred librarians transplanted themselves from their home locations and gathered in Telluride & Mountain Village, Colorado for R-Squared: the Risk and Reward conference. Self-declared risk-takers, they spent three days at high altitude forging a new dedication to entrepreneurial thinking in the library setting.
Joining one of four custom tracks – Creative Spaces, Culture, Abundant Community, and Customer Curiosity – they prepared for a journey that they knew would be a dynamic experience, but no one could have expected just how excellent the conference would be. The conference generated a lot of buzz, fully deserved, and I expect that as time goes on we’ll all start seeing disruptive ideas that found their incubator up in the mountains this September.
At more than 9,500 feet above sea level, Mountain Village, Colorado provided a stunning backdrop for the conference. A short gondola ride up over the mountain from Telluride, we found ourselves surrounded by phenomenal views and low population density. By choosing Telluride as the location, the R2 organizers forced participants to take their first risk: getting there. My trip involved a series of flights on progressively smaller planes until I ended up in the 19-seater headed over the Rockies to Telluride. Soon enough, we were on the ground and settling in, trying madly to acclimate to the change in altitude and playing “spot the librarian”; remarkably difficult with this subset of the profession!
I’ve made it to a number of library conferences this year, and they all attracted their own populations. At R-Squared, though, the attendees self-selected into a vibrant, active population, all of whom were willing to dive right in, get their hands dirty, and figure out a course of action. The conference was designed to be a unique experience, and all of the tracks took people out of their comfort zones in one way or another. The difference here, though, is that everyone leapt from their comfort zones with a vengeance, chasing risks to enjoy their inherent rewards.
Every track allowed for that sort of exploration; every track pushed participants to strive for lofty goals in little time, learning just how much can be accomplished with a plan, a team, and a deadline. In my session, we explored the entire pre-brainstorming process and transformed a week of library events, all in a single morning! Other sessions hunted for information spaces out in Mountain Village, explored the possibilities of community expertise, and looked for disruptive innovations to challenge staid thought patterns. The keynote speakers that opened and closed the conference implored us to remember that we are the voice of change–and we should be.
Those changes are going to build, slowly, but R-Squared was the catalyst. We’ve all returned home, some with longer trips than others, and now have to begin the process of applying what we learned in the mountains. The real reason R2 was such a fantastic event is not because of anything that happened in Colorado, though the adventures we had will not be forgotten easily. Rather, R2 brought together an incredible group of people, and showed them what a difference can be made when we all work together. The ongoing conversations will change the nature of librarianship.

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