WLA/PNLA Conference 2004: Wenatchee Memories by Michael Wood, MLIS Day


Wenatchee: August Eleventh to Fourteenth, 2004. Hot as a griddle outside. Temperatures in the triple digits, an inferno. It was the Washington Library Association and Pacific Northwest Library Association joint conference, themed “A New Season” and promised to be “…a wonderful mix of intellectual inspiration and holiday fun.”

In the sizzling fires of Hell.

But what librarian could resist a cross-state junket, especially if it was funded from the professional development budget? And Wenatchee is, mercifully, ubiquitously air conditioned. The Coast Wenatchee Center Hotel was cool and comfortable, conference events held in rooms named Gala, Fuji, Red Delicious, etc. welcoming perspiring librarians to this fabled land of apples.

And so the end of summer brought a harvest of knowledge for a bumper crop of staff from libraries great and small. Best practices and the future of the profession were the main agenda of conference sessions, but fun was on the list too.

The Exhibits Hall was loaded with vendors offering pens, screen cleaners, refrigerator magnets: all the usual giveaways. A carnival atmosphere prevailed; I saw smiling faces and bulging goodie bags while meandering about the many trade booths. Cookies and coffee were available gratis. The iSchool was well represented by DJ Miller and Lindsay Boswell among others, who answered questions in their role of goodwill ambassadors to future students.

"Best practices and the future of the profession were the main agenda of conference sessions, but fun was on the list too. "

The Washington State Library sponsored a free wireless zone in the exhibit area; an ad hoc network of laptops was provided to serve as an ephemeral “Internet Café.” Whenever I looked, every seat was full.

A reception held at the lush Ohme Gardens was well attended. Wines from four local wineries were served… in miniscule portions.

At the Interest Group Meet and Greet I hosted a mock test called “20 IG Questions” – a true or false guessing game in which prizes were awarded to participants. These questions revolved around the various Interest Groups within the WLA.

For those charged with meeting the research needs of patrons seeking Northwest history, eminent local historian Walt Crowley demonstrated HistoryLink, the premier database for History in Washington State.

I was impressed by HistoryLink’s “Cyberpedia” resources that connect patrons with the stories behind their communities, cultures, and social issues. This website, costing well over a million dollars to build and maintain, is a valuable local resource with detail and depth.

The Washington Web Junction Launch Party, sponsored by the Technology Resources for Information Professionals (TRIP) interest group, was one raucous caucus. Jovial conventioneers crowded into a hotel suite, wine and wit flowing in equal measure. Web Junction, in part funded by the Gates Foundation, is a new web portal providing a central resource for many aspects of library computer software and services, a clearinghouse of information to help staff learn the latest technical tricks while networking with colleagues.

A much anticipated dinner cruise to Lake Chelan might have gone better. The tour bus contracted from Wenatchee being unready, attendees raided the beer section of a local supermarket so that libations might quench parched throats. Sadly, these were not allowed on the boat as a banquet permit had not been obtained. The boat crew seemed taken aback at the arrival of so many tipsy librarians. More delays ensued. At last underway, the vessel cruised in circles for the allotted time within sight of the dock, its taciturn crew having little to say about the lake and its wonders.

Friday’s climactic banquet featured a children’s performance of Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” that certainly lived up to its title. Disorganized, ill rehearsed, embarrassingly staged, the charming kids drafted into this haphazard production are blameless. Their shameless, sanguine director possessed an almost eerie chutzpah as she coolly narrated the shambles of the evening’s entertainment. The buffet was tasty, however, and an apple cobbler made a very fine dessert.

No convention is complete without an awards ceremony, and this one was heartwarming, hilarious, and inspiring by turns. Several illustrious lifers at the pinnacle of long careers of exemplary service were honored. To mark his recent arrest while championing the cause of libraries in peaceful protest of Tim Eyman’s I-864 tax cut (which stood to devastate public funding), WLA President John Sheller received a pair of commemorative handcuffs. Sheller was sheepish but sporting as the hall, sated by a delicious lunch, chortled with contented laughter.

It was a hot, but good, Convention.



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