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Mary Ghikas's picture

Annual Conference 2013: Change Roadmap

The attached document is the result of a collaborative process involving staff from across the Association -- including the executive directors of ALA Divisions, staff liaisons to the Round Tables and various ALA committees, as well as ALA Conference Services; and, with the guidance of the ALA Conference Committee.  Feedback posted to this page will be read by members of the ALA Conference Committee and others.  You are invited to join the discussion.


Anne Casey's picture

The roadmap looks like a very positive change to me.  As someone who is an active member of committees I struggle to find times to get to programs or discussions.  I think this new approach will go a long way toward making the conferences more productive and enjoyable.


Mary Ghikas's picture

We're still struggling to find the best approach to committee meetings.  Moving forward, we could experiment with a "committee meeting day" on Friday.  Alternatively, we could block most space in either the 1st/last time block of the day for meetings. Or.....

One of the complicating factors is that ALA policy allows members to be on multiple committees/boards/etc.  People seem to like that option -- but it does complicate schedules, for us and for individual members. 

I just did my annual response to the call for volunteers in another association.  Unusually, I applied for two things -- and was accepted for two things.  I promptly got a call telling me to choose which I wanted to do during the coming year:  one, but not two. So, I'll go into Annual -- in August, for this association -- do my committee meeting on Friday , then spend a couple of days in programs and discussions.  It's a simpler association, but....

Anyone with ideas about handling meetings, we'd love to hear from you!




Scott Muir's picture

I am one of those people who is on multiple committees so having them all grouped together on a single day might make it impossible for me to attend some of them.  Let’s not forget that there are also Board Meetings, Council, etc.  The simple bottom line is that most of us on committees have figured this out and we just find a way to get to these committee meetings.  A number of my committee meetings are doing more of their business virtually, prior to thel Annual Conference or Midwinter meeting.

I very much like the idea of all the programs being in the conference center.  It made it very easy for me to attend multiple programs, especially when they were scheduled close together.  

David A. Wright's picture

I look at the proposal as an excellent attempt to make the conference experience a valuable one for members of ACRL.  A number of sections have been in the co-sponsoring mode over the last few years  in an attempt to decrease the number of simultaneous sessions offered.  I hope that sections will continue to look for ways to involve other sections in the planning of conference programs.  I also hope that the new planning format will not "dilute" the interests of various sections of ACRL by not representing a broad spectrum of the interests/communities represented by ACRL sections.

Jason Griffey's picture

It will take some time to see all the ripple effects from a change of this magnitude, but my initial impression is that this will do very, very good things for the Annual conference. Bravo!

Follow me on Twitter! http://twitter.com/griffey

Brad Sietz's picture

Generally speaking, this roadmap makes sense: having a more centralized, easy-to-navigate conference, whenver possible, makes it better on everyone.

It will be interesting to see how many programs get cut b/c of this "all programs will be at the convention center" rule. In my quick review of the Anaheim scheduler, in certain instances, about 25% of programs are held in places other than the CC during certain slots.  And that's just those technically designated as "programs" - when I used the drop-down, a small number of events I thought were "programs" were actually "forums", so I'm not sure if labeling will become more critical in the future (i.e., can someone avoid this "program" rule by marking something as a "forum"?). I'm not saying 25% of programs will necc. get cut, b/c ALA 2012 was not scheduled with this rule in mind; just something I noticed.

Also, in Anaheim, the CC is withn one mile of the big conference hotels. In Chicago, where Annual is held in 2013, McCormick Place is 3-4 miles south of where many conference hotels were located last time we were in Chicago (at least in my limited experience; I spent all my time in 2009 at the Hilton Towers and Sheraton Hilton Towers and such, if memory serves). So perhaps this will help more in Chicago, as we won't be as spread out (though spending more time around McCormick Place, as opposed to the River North and the Loop, is not as scenic/fun a conference experience - but you can't have everything).

Mary Ghikas's picture

You have absolutely nailed one of the issues:  when is discussion/interest group or forum a program.   What will necessarily be the case is that we will not try to digitize programs that aren't in the McCormick Place (convention center)/Hyatt McCormick (the "core campus") in 2013.  We will cut the number of programs -- but we have a fairly large "core" in Chicago, which will let us ease into this. "Programs" will be in the "core" -- but how well this works depends a lot on how many other things we can also fit in there.... and that's going to take a lot of help.

The other issue we've been wrestling with is how to connect people more effectively.  Sort of, "if you like this program you'll also want to meet this discussion/interest group."   

Keith Stetson's picture

Reducing competing programs in the same time slot and having all programs in the Conference Center will eliminate the two major barriers to making the most of ALA attendance.

Melissa Gold's picture

I think limiting the number of sessions & holding them all in one place could definitely be an improvement. As well as shortening sessions. It would not only limit duplication, but if you were to decide that a session wasn't for you, it would be MUCH easier to go try another one! This is something that is very frustrating when there are 3 things I want to attend at once. I'm never quite sure which is best, and I seem to often choose wrong. But, since I'm in some random hotel, I'm stuck.

Lindsay Sarin's picture

This addresses many issues with the current ALA conference structure. I especially like the idea of setting aside space for “late-breaking” sessions. We should definitely give this a try. 

-Lindsay Sarin

Twitter: @lcsarin

Stephanie Michel's picture

I believe that co-locating all conference programs in the Convention Center may be a positive change, which may allow more conference attendees to participate in conference programs. I also agree that setting aside some slots for "late-breaking" programs is a great idea to provide a forum for current issues that come to light after the conference program proposal deadline has passed.
However, I have two concerns about this proposal:

(1) According to the proposal, committee meetings will need to conform to the same new schedule as conference programs, meaning that no committee meeting may be longer than 90 minutes.  Already, the two-hour meetings are not always sufficient to conduct all the business that it is necessary to conduct at conference; if committee meetings are shortened to 90 minutes or less, this will reduce the amount of time for accomplishing commitee work at conference. My organization does conduct significant work online between conferences, but some issues are more efficiently handled face-to-face rather than in an online environment.

(2) I am concerned that organizations that have  always offered programs at conference may find it increasingly difficult to offer conference programs, depending on the number of rooms available at each convention center.  It would be a shame if a major organization were not able to offer their historically highly-attended conference program due to capacity issues.

Penny Johnson (non-member)'s picture

The "core campus" piece is great. The amount of travel time between venues (especially in a spread-out location such as Chicago) has been a real frustration.

Penny Johnson Teen Librarian Baraboo WI Public Library

Lisa Hinchliffe's picture

I can see the real value in this approach but am sorry the first implementation will be in Chicago where the convention center is so distant from the meeting hotels. I fear this will not be the best test of the idea.

Eric A. Kidwell's picture

I think there is some potential here for addressing some of the persistent challenges with ALA Annual conferences, though there are some issues that simply will never be fully resolved due to the sheer size of ALA Annual conference.  A few things I wonder, though:  Will restricting all meetings and programs to the conventon center just make negotiating the convention center more complicated?  This change should reduce use of the Gale-sponsored shuttle buses -- a good thing or a bad thing?  Will it cost less for Gale to provide shuttle service?  Will it create longer waits for shuttles at certain times of the day (certainly an issue in Chicago where walking between the convention center and any hotel is simply not an option).   What impact will not using meeting facilities in conference hotels have --  Conference rates for hotel rooms?  Cost of technology? (e.g. Is the cost of technology generally less expensive in convention centers than hotels, and thereby saving ALA money?).  Just recently returned from Anaheim, I guess my mind gravitates toward some of the very practical day-to-day issues related to the change.

Mary Ghikas's picture

Good questions.  This is going to take several iterations as we work together on new work patterns.  Convention Center contracts are already plenty complicated -- and how we approach this will clearly vary from center to center.  In Chicago, we have a lot of meeting rooms -- but other centers may have fewer rooms, or fewer that we can use.  The initial thrust is to get all *programs* in the convention center -- and as many discussion/interest groups and meetings in the convention center as we can, knowing that it will not be possible to get them all in.  So, we will be using meeting rooms in some of the conference hotels -- and most evening events (as well as some of the breakfast/lunch events) will stay in hotels.  In most cases, hotels will be delighted to get some space back -- space they can use for everything from local meetings to weddings.    Gravitating toward practical day-to-day issues is good.  It's where Conference Services staff spend a lot of their time.


Dale McNeill's picture

I spent a good deal of time in Anaheim thinking about this and talking about it both in structured meetings and informally.  I'd like to share a few thoughts here as that seems more useful than just talking with friends.

My first ALA conference was Chicago, 1985.  Since then, I've missed only a few Annual conferences, a few Midwinter Meetings, and a couple of PLA conferences.  I've also been actively involved in planning the Texas Library Association conference and have spoken at several other state conferences.  I say that only because I'm sure my thoughts are somewhat different from those of someone who hasn't yet been able to be that actively involved.  I've also stayed with friends at other (non library) conferences.

It seems clear that we need to do something differently.  Other national conferences don't seem to be as spread out as we are.  That clearly requires a different sort of planning, but the benefits seem great. I will greatly appreciate not needing to spend as much time commuting between hotels.

I'm glad to see that award juries and so on have been considered.  They do vital work--work that often needs to be done face-to-face and that can take a long time.

The idea of standard times is an excellent one.  For some topics, that may take more planning; however, I've attended many panel presentations over the years that clearly needed more planning.  I've seen the final speaker have only 5 minutes, when other speakers had 25 minutes (and it was obvious that the final speaker wasn't expecting that).  Program attendees deserve (and almost always receive) excellent, well-planned programs.

I think I've missed something as I read this, though.  I understand that units will be encouraged to have business meetings before (or, one assumes, after) the conference.  But some meetings will still be necessary.  Round Table Coordinating Assembly is very useful, for example.  And (at least in Chicago) some unit bylaws require membership meetings (which can be quite useful).  Is the idea for these meetings to fit in the convention center/hotel campus? Or will they be at other, more remote hotels?  While at the GLBT Round Table Social in Anaheim, it occurred to me that we could have a sort of "pre-social" for people interested in speaking with the leadership of the Round Table to have a time to do that, just an informal opportunity to ask questions or see how to get involved.  That's probably the most important thing that happens in our meetings now that would be more difficult to accomplish before the conference.

I hope that the conference will still have space for smaller programs, such as those that have been offered by Library History Round Table and other small units.  However, I do very much like the idea of a smaller number of programs.  And clearly, there's tension between programs for every unit and a smaller number of programs.

My last point about Annual is that we, the Association, should also offer members some suggested or possible language to use when requesting funding to attend the conference.  I spoke with several people who described funding allocation formulas that take business meeting attendance, leading discussion groups, and so into account. Especially as/if there are fewer business meetings at the Annual Conference, it would be helpful for members to explain the benefit of attending the meeting to their employer.

And clearly enough, this document also raises logical questions about the Midwinter Meeting.  I know that Midwinter has been examined and discussed.  Personally, I would find a Midwinter with less business and more discussion a great deal more valuable.

I'm looking forward to the Chicago conference with the changes!


Dale McNeill

Texas Chapter Councilor

Mary Ghikas's picture

Thanks, Dale.  You are correct.  This is going to take openness and collaboration all around.  We're trying to learn -- or perhaps create -- a new dance together.  You put your finger on one of the critical considerations:  thinking about the "highest and best" use for valuable face-to-face time in a digital world.  Conversations are at the heart of that, I think. 

We did try to develop language around why employers should support attendance.  We'll keep working on this. 


Rudy Leon (non-member)'s picture

There's a lot about this that seems great, and I'm curious to see how it works. Brava dor being willing to try something new!

2 questions persist for me, however:
1) if the conference programs are to be spread evenly Sa-M, why are there 4 session slots clearly outside those times? If we say the conference will be Sa-M, we need the conference to *be* In those dates. Its taken me too many years to and screwed up flights in relation to conference to figure out that conference is now really Fri-Mon, not Sa-tues or Thurs-Mon. We need to stick with what we say.

2) comments continuously to refer to programs and meetings being in the CC/Core, but nowhere in the document were meeting locations prescribed, just their lengths. I'm not seeing that continuously repeated statement corrected anywhere. Please clarify: what is being shifted to the CC, only programs, or meetings also? If the goal is more recording of programs, I feel strongly that meetings should not cut into that space.

Finally Ii have one concern-- if people will be primarily at the convention center, i worry about the discussion groups being held out in the hotels. As someone heavily involved in discussion group leadership, i will say these are well attended groups that already are the most interactive of program types. In addition, i always get repeated requests for live streaming and blended participation opportunities for them. Please don't marginalize these groups in this re-imagining process

Mary Ghikas's picture

Rudy, let me take your questions in order:

(1) Correct.  There are *meetings* (and some discussion/interest groups) on Friday.  The Opening General Session is the only program scheduled on Friday.  The regular program days are SA-M.   I'll clarify that next time I work on a skeleton schedule. 

(2) The priority is to get all *programs* into the convention center -- in part so that we can approach the digital capture more economically.  We'll try to get as many discussion /interest groups into the center as possible, and likely some meetings.  Just doing the math, I know it will not be possible to get them all in.

(3) Which brings us to your question about discussion/interest groups... You are absolutely correct that discussion/interest groups are a vital part of the picture.  We've tried to focus there at Midwinter.  At Annual, because of the added programs, it's more complicated.  There are several issues that we're struggling with -- and any insight or help that you and other discussion/interest group leaders can provide would be welcome:

  - We often have no idea what discussion/interest groups are doing -- unless I happen to spot something on a discussion list -- and can't "market" them up front.  Ideally, I think we'd like to be able to say to people who've indicated interest in ....... that we have these programs being offered .... and also these discussion groups.... Figuring out how to cluster programs/discussion groups is tricky right now. 

 - When I look at the room requests -- discussion groups in rooms set for 200, theatre style -- it seems clear that these are not really being set up as "discussion groups" but as alternative programs.  That creates other problems.  Since they're coming in "under the radar" -- we don't officially know about them, can't market them, etc. 

  - At the end of the day, we just have too much of everything -- including meetings -- to reach an optimal solution, particularly in relation to space.  Most discussion groups do one meeting -- but some more than one.  Would groups be willing to schedule one only?

Anything you can add about how to make the discussion/interest group experience as strong as possible would be welcome.



Rudy Leon (non-member)'s picture

Mary; thanks for answering all of that!  (I wish I knew how to get email updates on this thread, so I could have been more timely in my thanks!)

I absolutely agree, it would be great to have the discussion group topics gathered in some formal way. I know my groups rarely have a specific topic at the time we have to submit, so we always do a generic one, with more focused topics announced a month or so out from event. I'll ponder this more. My first thought is to have something like a wiki space or a Connect group for announcing *all* interest and discussion group topics (someone with more technological wizardry than I could maybe turn that into something we tagged with the named streams that could be sortable or RSS feed-able....). That only solves a piece of the problem though, and not the logistical one....

I've only been in leadership in ACRL Discussion groups, so I don't know -- are these structured and defined similarly across all the ALA Divisions? I suspect the answer is no, which adds more complexity to the questions you proposed....

Bernadette Lear's picture

On behalf of the executive committee of the Library History Round Table, I am submitting the attached "statement of concern" regarding the content of future conferences, as well as the process of how conference planning takes place. We are supportive of ALA's efforts toward more sustainable and timely programing, but we have a number of questions that don't seem to be answered by existing documents. After e-mailing our statement directly to various ALA leaders, we were encouraged to post it here.

Not all members of our executive committee regularly use ALA Connect. We welcome you to to contact us at LHRTEC@ala.org if you want more information or would like to discuss the issues further.


Bernadette A. Lear, LHRT Vice-Chair/Chair-Elect

Bernadette A. Lear Behavioral Sciences and Education Librarian Coordinator of Library Instruction Penn State Harrisburg Library 351 Olmsted Dr. Middletown, PA 17057 BAL19@psu.edu (717) 948-6360

futureconfplanstatement.docx29.89 KB
Mary McInroy (non-member)'s picture

As the Round Table Representative to the ALA Conference Committee, I received a copy of LHRT's well-written "Statement of Concern..." from Bernadette last week.  I am pleased LHRT decided to post the document on Connect, and I encourage all of you to read the entire document.  While some concerns stem from specifics of what the LHRT does, many of the other concerns voiced get to the heart of what we probably all felt the first time we read about the changes coming in 2013.

In my attached response to LHRT, I tried to cover each concern separately.  As I told Bernadette and her group, I answered the concerns to the best of my ability with my own understanding of the Roadmap, and any opinions in there are mine alone. 

LHRT-response.docx30.68 KB
Mary Ghikas's picture

 Bernadette, first thank you for reposting the LHRT statement of concerns in Connect.  The ongoing conversation here has been valuable -- and it's important for the LHRT statement to be part of the ongoing conversation.  Second, as a member of LHRT, I am at least somewhat familiar with the work you do, even though I rarely get to any programs.  So, let me try to respond to some of your concerns -- and perhaps raise some questions of my own.

(1) The "content buckets" -- my inelegant term -- are simply tools for aggregating content that comes from many sources and covers a wide array of topics in a way that might explain to a potential attendee how this conference and the content offered responds to current changes and concerns.  The various topics related to transformation came out of a series of meetings with member groups around that new ALA goal.  They are broad -- very broad.  In my mind, each reasonably encompasses discussion of current practice, trends, the history that shaped direction, current research, issues of philosophy and ethics, etc.  Each, to me, reasonably requires reflection as well as "how to."  There was no intent to restrict content -- and if that was the impression, please attribute that to the inadequacy of my explanation and writing.

(2) Programs are currently contributed by more than 50 groups (a lot more, if you count the sections within divisions).  Each group has a process for soliciting and selecting content.  Nothing in the "roadmap" necessarily changes those processes or responsibilities.

(3) Someone (member or staff, depending on the group) from each group that contributes programs will enter their 2013 program(s) into a web-based form.  In doing so, that individual will be asked to (a) assign each program to a "content bucket" from among those listed and (b) assign each program (and each discussion/interest group session) one or more subject headings from a list of (currently) approximately 100 terms.  The current list of subject descriptors includes such terms as "foundations," "diversity," "intellectual freedom," "preservation," advocacy," and many more.  We can/will continue to refine that list -- though it would be helpful to keep it short enough to be usable.  The subject terms will enable attendees to organize content at a more granular level.

(4) Going forward, the ALA Conference Committee has reactivated the Conference Program Coordinating Team for each conference.  One of the charges to each successive Conference Program Coordinating Team is to refresh the "content buckets" based on feedback from members and attendees, as well as on changes in the field.  The Round Table Coordinating Assembly will appoint two individuals to each CPCT. 

(5) The issue of "quantity" is a tough one -- that must, nevertheless, be addressed.  Historically, ALA Annual included approximately 2500 "separately-scheduled events" -- including programs, discussion/interest group sessions, board/committee meetings, and other events.  That number has been dropping somewhat over the past few years, due primarily to the gradual decrease in the number of committee meetings.  The "roadmap" focuses primarily on programs.  For reasons outlined in the document, we are trying to put all programs in the convention center or "core campus" (in an "Anaheim-like" situation where we have a convention center and adjacent or connected hotel).  The "capacity" for programs will, therefore, vary from conference to conference, based on the space available in that "core campus," as well as on the likely attendance, since attendance also varies from year to year and site to site.   So, in Chicago, we are looking for a maximum of 300 programs.  Looking across all Round Tables, the average would be about 2 each -- with some higher, some lower.  Other sites will have slightly lower capacity -- based on both space and anticipated attendance.

Resolving the "quantity" problem -- and it is a problem -- is going to take collaboration and time.  This will be an iterative process.  We are trying to respond to feedback from conference attendees.  There is broad support for shrinking the "campus" -- but it becomes much harder when it's your programs or meetings at issue.  Still.... there is enough interest in creating the best conference experience possible for everyone that I think we have a basis for working together.   We do have to reduce the total number of "separately-scheduled events" and we do have to eliminate the "elephant moving through the python" effect of too many of those events scheduled in the midday time slots (10:30am, 2pm on Saturday and Sunday).  So, yes, we are asking people to compromise on both the total number of events and their scheduling.  The changes aren't necessarily huge -- and the commitment is to work with each group. 

(6) I absolutely understand your discomfort about the lack of a "step-by-step."  We are building this together.  Mary McInroy, the Round Tables representative on the ALA Conference Committee (standing), has made the excellent recommendation that we do a webinar or web-based discussion.  We will follow-up on her recommendation and develop something.  The web form used to enter information is being revised for 2013 -- though it will be fundamentally the same process that has been used over the past few years.  It would be helpful to have "web meetings" with planners / staff to walk through changes, deadlines, speaker "permissions," etc.  That would also be an opportunity to hear concerns and questions. 

Please let me share one concern with you.  In doing some of the background work for the "roadmap," I went through the preliminary program list (all the 2012 Annual programs that had been entered by Midwinter) in great detail.  While I knew that the LHRT programs had valuable content, there was nothing in the descriptions entered that told me what that content was -- "research," "invited speaker."  That made it extremely difficult to aggregate what I knew to be valuable programs into the "why you should come to Annual" messages being developed.  We want to be respectful of each group's "jurying" process.  At the same time, we are seeking to incorporate content coming through a wide array of processes into coherent messages about the value of the conference.  We are trying to expose the content being created by multiple groups to potential audiences -- and potential members.  Is there a way to get the specific research or invited speaker topics entered slightly sooner?  Any recommendations you have would be appreciated.

Thank you again for taking the time to thoughtfully convey LHRT's concerns.