Pictured speaking to the group is Jenny Gillihan, regional director, Obion River Regional Library.
The UT Martin Paul Meek Library, in collaboration with the Obion River Regional Library, recently hosted a one-day conference March 22 for library staff from school, public, and academic libraries throughout Northwest Tennessee. The event attracted more than 100 participants who enjoyed educational sessions, a keynote presentation, lunch and networking with colleagues. The United Way of West Tennessee sponsored the event.
“While there are many stereotypes about libraries and library workers,” said Dr. Erik Nordberg, Paul Meek Library dean, “the work we do is so critically important. In essence, we train people to locate, evaluate and incorporate information in their daily lives. Yes, we still check out books and help people with leisure reading, but we also provide critical access to information sources , both print and digital, that inform and educate people.” Through these resources and training, libraries help individuals to be successful in their educational pursuits, improve their employment opportunities and economic security, and encourage their participation in civic and community activities.
Library collections and services are provided to different audiences at different types of libraries across the region. The Obion River Regional Library, a local extension of the Tennessee State Library and Archives, supports 20 public libraries in the nine-county region of Northwest Tennessee – some operating at the county level, and others at the city or community level. These agencies provide services to their residents and taxpayers. Many local schools have a library function located in their building, with dedicated staff supporting the learning needs of students in the K-12 curriculum. The region also hosts three institutions of higher education with libraries supporting their students toward associate, bachelor’s and graduate degrees.
Any given individual may interact with one or more of the libraries in the region during their lives, some as young children, checking out juvenile titles free of charge at the public library. Others utilize their school library over the course of their grade school education and as college students at UT Martin, Bethel University and Dyersburg State Community College. Many adults rely on their public library for internet access, assistance with public services, and access to health and employment information. The Paul Meek Library is open to the public and extends borrowing privileges to all Tennessee residents.
“Unfortunately, staff at these many libraries don’t have equal opportunities for continuing education, or opportunities to meet, know and collaborate with each other,” Nordberg said. Academic librarians often have institutional support for professional travel to specialized conferences in their academic sector. But it can be more difficult for public and school library staff to budget for professional development. And although there has been increased access to low-cost virtual training, it is no substitute for in-person gatherings.
The one-day conference at UT Martin was designed to support public, school and academic library workers in the region. The event is built upon previous collaborations between the Paul Meek Library and area libraries, including a disaster-planning workshop for libraries led by a training consultant from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
For the March 22 conference, the Regional Library supported the travel of keynote speaker Dr. Cindy Welch, a school library media professor at the University of Tennessee School of Information Sciences in Knoxville. The conference continued with participants attending sessions on a variety of topics, everything from storytelling techniques and escape-room events to the use of Google Drive and added resources available through the Tennessee Electronic Library.
“This was a fun and educational opportunity to strengthen our local network of libraries,” Nordberg said. “We were able to foster community and collegiality across the staff at public, school and academic libraries, some of whom didn’t know their counterparts at another library right down the road.” The event was such a success that organizers have already begun discussion about another convening in spring 2024.