Meetings with Meat

This article was written for the American Library Association Learning Round Table (LearnRT) newsletter.

When my nephew was 3 or 4 years old, one of the games he liked to coenplay was “meeting”. I’m sure he’d heard his parents refer to meetings they needed to attend and so, as children do, he was mimicking that. His meetings were very short, there was no agenda, and no one needed to take notes. I don’t really remember what we talked about, but I do clearly remember him once asking, “Do people eat meat at meetings?” His question made us smile, but I have found myself referring to it over the years. As I schedule or attend meetings, I ask myself, “Does this meeting have meat?” I’m not looking for charcuterie platters, but I am cognizant of not meeting just for the sake of meeting.

Since the start of 2020, our world has changed in so many ways. I recently conducted a small, informal survey, asking people about their experiences with time management as we are dealing with COVID-19. Not surprisingly, most people said their stress levels are higher than normal. Working from home more has presented some challenges. One of the things survey respondents mentioned over and over again is meetings:

“With nearly all of my meetings and work moving online, I feel like the pace of my
work has increased, and that people expect instantaneous responses.”

“I’ve had to limit the number of meetings I schedule, or I’d be doing
nothing but attending meetings.”

When dealing with stress and anxiety, it’s often useful to ask ourselves, “What can I control?” One of the things we can do to take control of our time is to be more thoughtful and intentional about meetings. While meetings are often essential for continuing our work and can help with the sense of social isolation that many are experiencing, they can also dominate our days. zoom image

8 Meeting Considerations

We’re all unique and our work situations are, too, but here are a few things to think about as you consider meetings and what’s working (and NOT working) for you.

  1. Make sure your meetings have “meat”. Before you schedule a meeting, decide if it’s really needed. Would the time be better spent actually working on the project? Could the meeting topics be quickly and effectively covered in an email? Does everyone who is at the meeting need to be at the meeting? Or is it really about a couple of people needing to talk something over and work something out? Could those people meet and then send an email update, looping everyone else in?
  2. Consider scheduling shorter meeting times. Like goldfish, meetings tend to grow to the size of the space we have given them. Do you currently always schedule one-hour meetings? Or thirty-minute meetings? Could a fifteen-minute meeting work instead? Meetings are very rarely where the work gets done. They’re a good time for defining the work, assigning the work, and talking over priorities and goals for the work, but then we need to sign off and actually go do the work.
  3. Limit the number of meetings you schedule per day. It’s easy to overbook ourselves. If we only include meetings in our calendars and then plan to do everything else in the space around those meetings, we may end up with too much to do and not enough time. Consider not only scheduling meetings, but also putting the other work you want and need to do in your calendar, too.
  4. People are different and have different perspectives on meetings. Pat and Chris work at the same organization. Pat has developed a lot of close friendships with other co-workers and pre-COVID19 times, went out for happy hours with coworkers at least once per week. Chris is friendly and easy-going but never goes to happy hour and doesn’t mix work-life and personal-life much. Both Pat and Chris are great at their jobs. During virtual meetings, Pat likes to chat and check in to discover how everyone is doing. Chris prefers to quickly move from greetings to agenda items. How can a meeting work for both Chris and Pat? Again, the specific solution will depend upon the context, but it’s likely there is a middle ground. Chris is probably OK with a brief amount of time spent on checking in with how everyone is doing. Pat’s social needs may be better met by an optional virtual book club or online happy hour.
  5. To use cameras or not to use cameras; that is the question. Many of us meet using technologies that include webcam capability. There’s been a lot of debate and discussion about cameras and whether or not to use them. On one hand, it provides a sense of social interaction that voice-only does not provide. Knowing that cameras will be on can be the inspiration for showering and wearing something other than PJs. On the other hand, it can be distracting (cat sighting!) and it can be awkward and uncomfortable. In addition, it can use more bandwidth. I think we’re still developing standard social norms around this, but my personal preference is to use cameras for small or one-to-one meetings. For larger meetings, I encourage people to have them on at the start of the meeting for some social interaction, but then we turn them off once we get started. Screen sharing a document can be really useful.
  6. Find and use tools to help you stay on top of things. When asked what is challenging about time management and work during COVID-19, one survey respondent said, “managing my own stress about the state of the world while getting work done. It’s very easy to go down the rabbit-hole of looking at the news, getting totally distracted from work.” A few mentioned struggling to keep track of the date or time. Others mentioned “ennui,” “brain fog” and feeling “fuzzy”. We’re, of course, going to feel distracted by a global pandemic. Your calendar, to do list, and other systems may be needed more than ever right now. Getting things out of your head and into a system can help relieve anxiety about forgetting things or missing meetings or deadlines. Doodle (doodle.com) and Calendly (calendly.com) are two tools that can help with scheduling meetings.
  7. Slow down. Breathe deeply. Pay attention to your mental and physical needs. Make sure that you get up from your desk frequently. Step outside. Do some mindfulness exercises. Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with numerous health concerns. Take care of yourself and encourage others to do so, too.
  8. Go easy on yourself. Go easy on others. People are dealing with a lot right now. You could be in a meeting that is focused on a specific topic yet meeting participants may be feeling stress and worry about their own health and the health of their loved ones. Feelings of isolation, depression, anxiety, and other emotional and financial stresses are common. Many of us are not sleeping well. Systemic racism and inequities mean that many people of color are facing greater risks and suffering disproportionally right now. Many of us in the library world have been working to adopt a trauma-informed approach to our work, which is a good fit for what is needed right now. Compassion. Flexibility.

Meetings are ultimately about connection, which is something we’ll never take for granted again. We’re not yet seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and a return to “normal” is not yet visible. I’m hopeful, however, that there are things we will learn and take away from this, even after COVID-19 is not a shadow over all that we do.

Labs and Equipment, Uncategorized

SWKLS Tech Day Presentation

The Conversation Business: Learning, Listening, and Connecting in Libraries Today (and Tomorrow)

2013 SWKLS Tech Day

Brenda Hough

There are many ways libraries can be at the center of conversation in their communities:

  • by offering programs that foster discussion,
  • designing spaces that encourage interaction,
  • providing tools for a “workshop of the mind”,
  • storing and sharing stories about local people, places, and events,
  • and listening to what community members have to say.

Technology is sparking new opportunities for enhancing and extending conversations. In this session, examples from libraries around the system, the state, and the country will be shared. Participants will have a chance to share their own successes and to think about the possibilities for the future.Pew Reports:


The Atlas of New Librarianship by R. David Lankes: The Mission of Librarians Is to Improve Society through Facilitating Knowledge Creation in Their Communities.  Knowledge is Created through Conversation.

Conversations: Connecting, Learning, Creating

Workshops of the Mind.  Hubs of the community.  Inspiration factories.



  • How are you already encouraging conversations?
  • What ideas do you have for more conversations?

Being Systematic:

  1. Mission
  2. Strategic plan
  3. Action
    1. Staffing
    2. $$
  4. Partnerships
  5. Outreach
  6. Advocacy
  7. Ongoing learning

Librarians who are masters of conversation:

  1. Understand their communities
  2. Have a strong vision
  3. Build relationships
  4. Think beyond the walls of the library
  5. Move toward opportunities
  6. Are willing to experiment and get feedback
  7. Make time for learning and reflecting

Path to becoming a master of conversation:

  1. Grit
  2. Learning Community
  3. Action

In conclusion:

  • Keep listening.
  • Keep fostering those conversations that are creating knowledge that matters in our communities.
  • Look for ways to use technology to extend or enhance the conversations.
  • And keep telling people about the workshop of the mind that’s right there at the heart of their community.

Thank you!


Week Two: Online Communities

This is my post for the second week in our 23 Things Kansas project.

  • What Online Community did you choose? What do you like most about it?
    I will talk about Facebook, since it’s the online community I use the most. I think the thing I like best about Facebook is photos. Another thing I really like is the merging of my world’s (people from high school, people from undergrad, people from different places I have lived, relatives, etc.). At first it was disconcerting, to have them all of those pieces of me together in one place, but now I think it’s cool.
  • How have you used this Community? How do you see yourself using it in the future?
    I find myself using it more and more to send messages instead of email. It’s easier to type in someone’s name in Facebook than it is to find their email address. I feel like I am more in touch with many people, too, because I can leave them a brief comment or even just like something they have posted.
  • Can you see your library using this Online Community? How?
    I work for the Northeast Kansas Library System and we’re already successfully using Facebook. Many of our member librarians are on Facebook. From our NEKLS facebook page, we can post about NEKLS events and happenings (it automatically receives feeds from our blogs).
  • Add a link to your blog to your Online Community profile so others can find you.

Brenda Hough

Create Your Badge


Week One: Blogging

I’m going to be participating in 23 Things Kansas, the new online learning program inspired by Helene Blowers. All participants will use a blog to track their progress.

Today, the program kicked off with lesson one – written by Erin Downey Howerton. It’s all about blogging. I’ve been blogging since 2002 or 2003, but have not been very good about keeping up lately (distracted by Twitter and Facebook). I’m hoping that participating in 23 Things Kansas will inspire me to post more regularly!

Good luck to all participants! Have fun with it 🙂


Summer Reading and Technology Learning

“Everything you need to know about training you learned in summer reading programs: what if technology trainers used some of the paths already forged by summer reading program planners?”
Computers in Libraries | September 1, 2003| Hough, Brenda

It’s 7 years later and I still am wishing for this. I still think we could benefit from more ongoing collaboration around tech training. The 23 Things style programs have done something like this for staff training, but I hear libraries wishing for something for public training, too. I have heard that a few libraries have adopted the 23 things model for public training. I think WJ would be a great place to centralize patron technology training resources.There are resources there for patron training, but assembling them into a program (a summer reading style program)… that would be exciting.


Home Work

I have worked from home for over a year now, so was very interested in Jonathan Mead’s Zen Habits post, “Escape the Cubicle Farm: Top Ten Reasons to Work from Home“. I agree with all of his points and really feel most productive with this lifestyle.

Here’s what I’m up to these days. I’m working on the book right now (manuscript due July 1st) and am also doing some independent consulting (for TechSoup, for the State Library of Kansas, for NEKLS, etc) and have some workshops and presentations scheduled, too (for SWKLS, for SWFLN, for Johnson County, etc). I’ll hopefully be doing some teaching, too,which would be great. It’s going to be interesting, juggling all of these different things instead of focusing on one primary job, so expect more posts about time management and project management over the next months. I’ll be learning as I go!

Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing. ~~ Yeats


Everything Zen

Thanks to Marianne Lenox and the MLxperience for pointing me to Kim Cofino’s blog and recent post, “Less is more — making your presentations zen-tastic!” and link to the Flickr group, Great quotes about learning and change.

Speaking of learning and change, I’ll be finishing my full-time gig with MaintainIT at the end of March and am going to be doing freelance consulting and teaching for a while. I’ll be staying in KC, but am trying to think big and broad as I imagine what this next stage of professional life will look like. Completing a book for Information Today and finishing my dissertation are at the top of the to-do list, but there’s room for more (there’s need for more to make this financially viable and to keep life interesting). As I approach these changes, I am thinking about a post from one of my favorite blogs, which really resonates with me. Hmmm… I’ll keep you posted.


Scheduling Innovation

Charlie Rose recently interviewed Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt. Here’s part of that interview.
Charlie Rose:
“You have this thing at Google where you can take a day off of each week or 20 percent of your time, say, out of 100 percent, five days, one day, and you can work on anything you want to. How much of that has led to interesting, productive profitable applications?”

Eric Schmidt:
“We think the 20 percent time is really the only way we’ve been able to maintain our innovation as we have gotten larger. What normally happens with technology companies is the initial founding team gets older, you bring in traditional management, and although it becomes a better managed company, much of the creativity and the flair and the joy did get lost in the process. By establishing the principal that engineers could spend 20 percent of their time working on whatever they found interesting, we created a culture where there’s this constant flow of innovation. Literally every day there’s another fun surprise. Now, before we get too excited about the 20 percent time, these are engineers. They don’t vary that far from their area of interest. But it gives them an opportunity.”

Imagine spending 20% of your time on innovation. What would you do? How would you spur your brain to think in new ways?