Monday, July 17, 2017

Volunteer Life Highlights

Alternate titles for this post:
- Maker Events Post-Mortem
- Ups and Downs of the Volunteer Lifestyle
- Pay Some Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Done and done!
The first week of July didn't feel like a holiday to me because I was busy working - for free.
Let me tell you about three (what? 3? last week I mentioned 2!) major projects and how hard-core volunteering impacts your experience of an event.

1) MakerEdTO (July 5, 2017)

MakerEdTO was bigger and (dare I say) better than last year. The tickets were sold out just a few days after opening registration, and Toronto's mayor John Tory even tweeted about the event. We had a great turnout for the opening Ignite talks and we still had a solid showing at the end for our closing keynote. We had more people exploring and tinkering in the Playground than we did last year, which made me happy. The pacing of the day was wonderful and everyone that I encountered, from the food truck workers to the vendors to the participants were pleased with their experience. Here are just a few of the tweets and photos from the event.

Teresa shows Munazzah some cardboard tips

David, Arianna and Mark support some bridge building

Creatures from the loose parts station (manned by Denise!)

I loved Larissa's creature! So cute!

Tim, Mark and David prepare everyone for the day

Adding our handles to the Twitter wall

Speaks for itself!

Andrew's creature was as active as he was!

If you compare my reflections from last year's event to this year, you'll notice a distinct lack of detailed descriptions on sessions and workshops. That's because I really didn't get the time to sit on any for long! My assigned duties involved supervising the Twitter Wall and ensuring that the food truck lines went smoothly at lunch. I also presented a session on Cosplay MakerSpaces with my daughter, who was kind enough to take the day off from her volunteer stint at the ROM. There are always many "little" things to do at a conference that crop up, from distributing the stamps for the passports, to taking photos, to counting attendees for statistical reflection later on, to ensuring that fellow core team members eat and drink, that need doing so the day runs well.

I thought it was a brilliant idea to have the core team members wear red shirts for easy recognition (wait - don't red shirts typically die in Star Trek?). I especially want to call attention to the efforts of two particular "red shirts": Tim Cooper and David Hann. We held MakerEdTO at Tim's school and he was everywhere, doing everything. Because he knew the building better than anyone, Tim had the answers to many of our questions. He played the role of organizer as well as tech support and trouble shooter. David is the main man behind MakerEdTO, although you would never guess it because he is so modest and humble. David takes this conference seriously and his commitment shows. He is constantly reflecting on how to improve the conference, increase the networking, and make everyone's experience the best it can be. It was.

2) Maker Festival Toronto (July 8-9, 2017)

The dates for the grand Maker Festival Extravaganza at the Toronto Reference Library seem short - just a weekend - but in reality, days and days of planning went into this event. I've had weekly meetings with our subcommittee since May and the days leading up to the actual event are intense. I spent more time with the core team members (some of whom I wrote about here) than I did with my own family during the final days. (Don't worry - absence makes the heart grow fonder!) One of our volunteer orientation sessions had to be rescheduled at the last minute and so we created two options. Fellow Volunteer Coordinator Nathan and I spent time at Andrew's house building huge paper mache balls. Between Friday (set-up) and Saturday (first day), I only got 4.5 hours of sleep. Despite of (or because of) the super-human efforts, Maker Festival Toronto was a big success for the majority of attendees. I think these two tweets may be the only photographic evidence that I was at Maker Festival Toronto 2017!

We had specialized lanyards to indicate that we were on the core team (which we ran out of, but that was a learning experience) with nick names added to them. Mine was "Mother Hen", because I worried about my brood (consisting of over 200 volunteers, plus my own "baby chick" and another relative who saved my bacon by pinch-hitting at the last minute for a critical task). I also fretted about the core team's needs - were they eating and drinking? Did they get to go to the bathroom? Were they stressed? Thankfully, this was not a one-sided street. I remember our amazing core team member Paul asking if we wanted him to watch the desk while we at the Volunteer Desk got a chance to experience the festival. I turned him down - one, because that was right before a big shift change and we had to check people in, and two, because I found that it was hard to let my mind go "off duty" to take in the exhibits. It was important to take a break - I found that just a few minutes outside gave me some much-needed energy, although it was hard to "stop working". When I left my station, I caught myself scanning the crowds to examine the volunteers. Do they need a break? Are they doing their job? Are there enough volunteers here at this spot? Are volunteers needed elsewhere?

There were many areas where we can improve but there were also many areas where we triumphed. Two of the areas I wanted to focus on with my new role in 2017 as Volunteer Coordinator was high school outreach and inclusivity. Nathan and I personally phoned every secondary school in the TDSB and TCDSB to encourage guidance departments to promote Maker Festival Toronto as a fun way of earning volunteer hours, and we had many youthful participants. (I also want to add that we had a lot of teachers volunteer their time as well - thank you educators!) We also made a good start on supporting our volunteers with visible and hidden challenges, but this will take a while to develop. When I saw a super-shy helper find a way to assist that made them feel valued, or when I noticed a volunteer who may have been on the spectrum grinning as they partnered up with someone to complete a task, it made me so happy. It was the thank you notes Nathan and I received afterwards that really made it rewarding. (Thank you Peter! Thank you Nicki! Thanks everyone!)

I had some great volunteers taking photos (looking at you Chloe, Khush, Kat, and Nathaniel!) and that's why I have some wonderful pictures to share of the event.

Friday world-building

Behind the scenes as we get the globe out!

Our other-worldly blimp prior to lift-off

Catapult with lights, created during a workshop

Dozens of things to make and do at the Festival

Puppets like this one hung from above

Our globe made it out of the room!

Sailing boats made by kids in the TPL pool inside the Reference Library!

Making with a social justice stance - display for MMIW

Different view of our silver centerpiece

Whale puppet promoting the current ROM attraction

Famous face at Maker Festival Toronto

Scene from the Glowatorium
There are SO many people I need to acknowledge that it could turn this lengthy blog post into a book. Let me limit myself to three areas:
  • "The Big 3" = all of our core team members were incredible (Tarik, Amy, Andrew, Josh, Ceda, Trevor, etc.) but my hat goes off especially to Jen (our executive director), Aedan (our logistics manager) and Eric (our director of festival programming). Imagine a barrage of demands, requests, and queries blasted at you rapid-fire, non-stop. These three took it in stride.
  • Our Toronto Public Library liaisons = Ab, Ted, and Jonathan - thank you so much for all of your support and understanding. I knew that if I phoned one of them with a question or favour, they'd respond. These librarians rock!
  • My "partner in crime" = Nathan was absolutely incredible. He was yin to my yang. We made a great team, if I do say so myself. He was calm, cool, and organized. He was the one that found us the Volunteer Management System we used to track and sort our helpers. He knew when to object and when to acquiesce. He played interference and protector when I needed it. I am truly grateful and I hope he returns to Maker Festival as a core team member focused on volunteers.

3) The Teaching Librarian (Volume 25 Issue 1)

I don't write much about TingL on this blog (the last time I devoted a post entirely to The Teaching Librarian was way back in 2010 or a part of a post in 2013). It's not because it's unimportant; it's because it's been such a regular staple in my life that I practically don't notice it. I've been the editor since 2006 and recently the magazine celebrated its 25th anniversary. Usually we wouldn't be working on the magazine in July. Our fall issue often gets done by the end of June. This time around, more people needed writing extensions (especially me) and I got caught up in the end-of-the-school-year chaos as well as the Maker Events. Thank you so much to those who were able to do last-minute editing while on holiday (Derrick, Caroline, and Allison in particular) and to my very patient OLA liaison, Lauren. I'm going to quote myself from Volume 24 Issue 2 ("25 Years @ Your Library") about the highlights of volunteering on a project for as long as I have with the magazine:

There are many "best things" about being the editor-in-chief - the leadership opportunities, the chance to network with talented library professionals beyond your own school board, the thrill of seeing a project from start to finish and having the printed results in your hands, and the ability to reach out to fellow school library staff members so they know they aren't alone. Thank you so much Ontario School Library Association and Ontario Library Association for supporting The Teaching Librarian for all these years. [page 11]
 To conclude, I can see why high school students have forty hours of volunteer service to do prior to graduating. Volunteers make the world go round! It's also a habit that is worth cultivating. Volunteering can be very rewarding, especially when you can admire the end result. It alters your appreciation of an object (like a magazine) or an event (such as a conference or festival). It even changes how you experience them. Reading back on past issues of TingL remind me of how long it took to edit or how much nagging it took to obtain an article. Getting glimpses behind the scenes of how groups operate and how catastrophes get averted or dealt with means that your awareness increases. I enjoy those events but on a different, more complex level. Thank you to everyone (especially my patient family and my wonderful husband James) for making it possible.

1 comment:

  1. You are remarkable, and so is your family. You are hereby required to pour a cold drink, put on a hat with a floppy brim, get a great book from your pile, paint your toenails pretty and take a break! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I'm looking forward to lots of volunteering this fall!