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An Open Letter Concerning ALA Conference Proposals

  • 1.  An Open Letter Concerning ALA Conference Proposals

    Posted Nov 14, 2018 08:39 AM

    My proposals for D.C. 2019 were not accepted this year. That's ok; I've presented before and I will again. At least, I think I will. I'd like to talk about the process itself and request one transformative change. I had the same frustrations with the process last year, and this year, it's time to say something about it.

    Before I propose a conference topic, I ask myself some basic questions: is this relevant to anybody besides me? Is it worth knowing? Is it replicable? (I personally stopped attending presentations where an IMLF Grant and a team of programmers are required to make it work a long time ago). Does it seem interesting?

    I then begin the submission process and here let me say I understand it must be incredibly challenging to solicit proposals at a national level. There appears to be a complex routing process worked into the form. Undoubtedly this was created to help out the volunteers who make up the committees. But here's what it looks like on the other end when you're trying to submit.

    Who should attend? I always choose almost everyone because I select fairly wide topics. Should I be more selective in determining groups? Does it really matter, since attendees will search through their programs and attend whatever they want anyway?  At least, I hope they will. I'm an interdisciplinary humanities person to the core. I don't like to see any topic put into a box, nor do I like to be put into one.

    Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion:  It's hard to come up with wording for inclusivity and equality but I stumble through, secure in the knowledge that literally anyone who wants to listen to this topic is welcome. People from outside the building who have not even passed their eyes over the word "library" in decades are welcome to hear me talk about something I selected because I thought it would be applicable to as many people as possible. Do I have a diversity component to "personal time management" or "self-marketing," two topics I've presented at ALA in the past?  No, because the same principles apply to everyone. Should I attempt to concoct something in order to pass through this section of the proposal? I guess I have to because it's required, but It's a leap and I feel like if I say "no, it is not diverse," a popup will appear that says, "Thank you for your submission, you [racist/homophobe/etc.]. Goodbye."

    Instead of requiring that all proposals state how they embrace inclusivity, equality, and diversity, how about stating that proposals which specifically address the following topics or groups will be given special consideration because you want to be sure that X% of the conference talks about whatever is currently deemed to be underrepresented topics? I fully support that. Although you can argue that the reverse of this would be to corral these issues, thereby designating them as "other" instead of integrating them. I'm sure others will be more lucid than I and will have valuable suggestions on this point.

    ALA Strategic Direction (How does this support ALA goals)?  SIGH. At this point, I have multiple browser windows open, and I'm searching through ALA pages like a freshman with a paper due in the morning. I guess my goal here is to prove that I've recently visited the strategic goals?  For many years, I have honed the academic skill of unleashing a lyrical flow of utter B.S. when required, and here, too, I try, but frankly, I can't imagine my efforts here are giving those volunteer committee members anything beyond an eye roll and a headache.  

    At last, here's the request for transformative change: I have been teaching on and off for 30 years, and the one thing that helps people progress is feedback. A team of reviewers took the time to read every conference submission. They had a rubric, made an evaluation, and then did not pass on that information to the one person who could benefit: the author. For accepted proposals, this could be a line or two, but for those not accepted, this is a classic teachable moment. What was lacking here, underdeveloped, banal, off the mark, etc.? If you want conference topics to be strong, help out those who are willing to present. I think I can hear in the far distance someone saying, "Should we offer an ALA online class on how to write successful conference proposals?" You could, but this is overkill. Look at it very simply: you wrote a paper for my class. I gave you a B- or worse. Wouldn't you like to know why, in my own words, I gave you this grade? Would you not be interested in reading the comments written on it? Peer-reviewers (who would still remain anonymous), wouldn't you like to know the effort you put into reviewing these was passed on and might result in better proposals next year?  I think closing this circle is a win for everyone.

    Let me conclude with two good things: to everyone presenting at D.C., you will be awesome and undoubtedly you will make us all proud. And to Alicia Avarro, who I don't know, I am impressed every year to see you've survived another round of this process.

    Thanks to all who make the conference happen and thanks for reading,



    Wendy Doucette, PhD, MSLIS

    Graduate Research and Instruction Librarian

    East Tennessee State University





  • 2.  RE: An Open Letter Concerning ALA Conference Proposals

    Posted Nov 15, 2018 06:57 AM
    Sigh.  As someone who is contemplating submitting my first proposal at the national level, I feel both discouraged and validated at the same time.  My assumption is that my proposal will be rejected despite the overwhelming response I received from my audience 3 weeks ago when I gave this presentation at my state conference. Like you, I will continue to submit proposals but I'm not feeling optimistic.


    Amy Hermon
    Elementary Library Media Specialist
    Grosse Pointe Public School System

  • 3.  RE: An Open Letter Concerning ALA Conference Proposals

    Posted Nov 15, 2018 10:27 AM
    I really like the idea of sharing the rubrics with proposal writers. As our colleague shared, it's a win for the proposal writer and for the people who took time ranking it/commenting on it. I write/think this as both someone who has ranked for ALA and who has proposed sessions.

    An area I wonder about on the proposal form is the "collaboration" section. I like to think that all of our work is in collaboration with others, perhaps our community and/or colleagues, but I recognize this is an assumption that I am making because I have a teaching and public services identity/job.  

    It seemed that this year the collaboration had to be with an ALA affiliate...? Do I have that right? For early career librarians (who have brilliant ideas), this may be a challenge. They typically aren't as connected to the ALA bodies (yet); and for others, they might not have the $ to be affiliated.

    If ALA really wants diverse voices (and I believe they do), then scoring "insiders" (those with collaborations/connections/finances to mingle with ALA groups) higher than "outsiders" is problematic. Could a collaboration with a homeless shelter, prison, senior living center, or early childhood school be just as transformative (if not more) than something done in collaboration with an ALA SIG?

    From a different angle, is it possible that some of our innovative, solo-flying colleagues did something without a formal collaboration at their own institutions or with ALA? For them, presenting at ALA could be the collaboration piece that is needed for us all to be stronger. After all, not all of us work in public services and all of us don't have ample opportunities to work directly with the public or multiple colleagues on our projects.

    Another thing that challenges me in drafting proposals is not having an easy-access full version of what is required for submission. For folks who want to draft something and share it with colleagues for feedback before submission, we should make it easy to find the requirements/form. 

    As we watch for ALA to make tweaks to the proposal requirements and the process (because I do believe they are committed to continuous improvement), I strongly suggest that anyone who wants to be a better proposal writer for ALA serve as a reviewer. It's great to see the amazing ideas and work in our profession! And it helps to understand the proposal formula and the range of interpretation on each of the categories.


    Julie Marie Frye, PhD

  • 4.  RE: An Open Letter Concerning ALA Conference Proposals

    Posted Nov 15, 2018 04:46 PM

    I have felt your frustration as well. I have spend weeks formulating conference proposals only to find in one year that I have no proposal acceptances and in another year, three.

    I see the equity, diversity, and inclusion area of the application as the part that puts many really good proposals in the rejection pile. The language of diversity is an evolving one that requires awareness, understanding and skill.

    Awareness: what exactly are they looking for me to say about equity, diversity, and inclusion?
    Understanding: Do I know how to display a concern for equity, diversity, and inclusion?
    Skill: How do I employ my understanding of equity, diversity, and inclusion issues in my presentation?

    I have found that if I attempt to answer questions in this section, I can usually find what I should say about my presentation that addresses equity, diversity, and inclusion. Here are some questions that I use:
    --How does my presentation incorporate consideration of all classes, races, nationalities, cultures, disabilities, and genders; and support fair treatment and equal opportunity for all?
    --How does my presentation foster understanding and treat interface between diverse people as the norm?
    --How does my presentation foster a climate of inclusion that integrates the best ideas from many varied voices? Do I provide equal opportunity for participation?
    --How does my presentation encourage cross cultural interaction?

    I totally agree with you that if we could receive the rubric of feedback on the proposal, we may all begin to write better conference proposals for better presentations.

    I hope you find your name on a program soon.


    Vandy Pacetti-Donelson
    Director of the Library
    United States Sports Academy

  • 5.  RE: An Open Letter Concerning ALA Conference Proposals

    Posted Nov 16, 2018 09:19 AM
    Thank you for sharing your journey with us.  I have similar concerns and thoughts about this process.  I'm also wondering why "new comers" are not given the opportunity to present.  Time and time again, its always the same names that pop up in the scheduler.

    Elizabeth Joseph


  • 6.  RE: An Open Letter Concerning ALA Conference Proposals

    Posted Nov 16, 2018 09:24 AM
    I appreciate all the comments being expressed regarding conference proposals.  All the comments will be shared with the Conference Committee as we continue to refine the process.
    Clara Bohrer
    Chair, ALA Conference Committee

    Clara Bohrer
    West Bloomfield Township Public Library

  • 7.  RE: An Open Letter Concerning ALA Conference Proposals

    Posted Nov 16, 2018 10:57 AM
    ​Hi all.

    This has been a useful discussion.  I am one of those people whose name pops up a lot in the conference schedule, usually speaking at an event someone else is organizing.  I have also proposed my own events, some accepted and some not.

    Clare, than you for taking these concerns to the committee.

    When the program submission process was revamped two years ago, part of the idea was to make it easier to navigate and more available to individuals who want to submit independent of the various ALA agencies.  It seems like we are still struggling here.  Would it help to include information on the process in the new member orientations that ALA and the divisions do?  Would making an overview of the process in a document or webinar be useful?

    I was fortunate enough to get feedback on a failed proposal along with a suggest of people to working in the future.    It was very helpful.  I too would like to see that as part of the process.

    Finally, I do think it is important that our programs reflect the goals and priorities of the organization and am pleased that they are a part of the process.  Clearly not every goal has to be part of every program but we do need to keep them in mind.  The issues necessitating the call out of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion are a part of the daily lives of many of us. I have disabilities and identify as female; equity, diversity and inclusion are a consideration every time I interact with the world.  A workshop that tackled self marketing that did not help me think about how, where, when and why I disclose my disabilities would not be helpful.  I need to know that information in order to make an informed decision about attending.

    I hope this helps.

    Carrie Banks, Supervising Librarian, Brooklyn Public Library
    Designated Director, Special Populations, ASGCLA Board
    Supv Librarian
    Brooklyn Public Library

  • 8.  RE: An Open Letter Concerning ALA Conference Proposals

    Posted Dec 06, 2018 07:45 AM
    Edited by Kim Sigle Dec 07, 2018 08:37 AM
    Hello.  Based on this thread, it seems that people have had confirmation on whether or not their ALA proposals were accepted.  I haven't yet heard from anyone.  I would greatly appreciate some kind of notification so I can let the others involved (who had agreed to serve on a panel with me if the proposal was accepted) know that they could make other plans in June.

    Kim Sigle
    Fairfax, VA

  • 9.  RE: An Open Letter Concerning ALA Conference Proposals

    Posted Dec 06, 2018 12:37 PM
    Hi Kim,

    You should have received a response today regarding your proposal.

    I'm currently sorting through all the submissions to verify that responses have been sent and following up with any messages I have received over the past few weeks.

    Hope that helps.

    ~ Alee

    Alee Navarro
    Conference Services Content & Technology Coordinator
    American Library Association