Candidate Question #2
Candidate Q & A
The candidates will be asked a series of questions by President-elect Jill Strand. Read their candid thoughts about the future of SLA and the information profession.
Question 2: What changes, if any, do we need to make to keep annual conference as a vibrant, well attended event?
Candidates for President-elect
A vibrant conference depends on attendance. In my experience, and judging by the findings of the recently released report on re-envisioning the conference, networking is the primary benefit our members see from attending Annual. That means our first priority is to make sure the annual conference is accessible to as many members as possible: the quality of networking and peer-to-peer learning is enhanced simply by bringing more of us together. We also need to make sure the programming we offer is unique and excellent.
Making our conference more accessible means many things, one of which is making it more affordable: many of you who filled out the survey for the re-envisioning task force reported that if you weren’t attending, it was due to cost. We need to acknowledge that and provide the support you need to overcome that obstacle. We need to select locations for future conferences where food and lodging are available at reasonable rates. Travel cost is more difficult to consistently reduce because we’re an international organization, so we should undertake a more thorough data and/or persona analysis of member distribution and travel costs, with the goal of establishing a 10-year plan for locations that will bring the conference within reach of as many members as possible, in as many years as possible.
Registration is a more controversial issue, and a more difficult one due to how interconnected it is with the Association budget, but it cannot be ignored when finding ways to reduce the cost of our conference. A reduction in registration fees would send the clear message that SLA listens to and supports its members, and in combination with some of the other measures described above could increase attendance enough to offset any negative impact on revenues. If necessary, we can revisit and reorganize our budget to make sure that such reductions are sustainable, but it seems increasingly clear that the status quo is not sustainable.
Accessibility has other meanings, too: we are a diverse organization, and that’s one of our strengths. I’m proud of our Code of Conduct and anti-harassment policy, and hope that you share that sentiment. That we adopted it reflects that SLA can, and must, embrace changes that acknowledge the realities of members’ lives and offer those members the support they need. It’s in SLA’s best interest; doing so will improve the quality of the conference, make it a more attractive venue for our business partners, and ensure that potential leaders will not be prevented from serving because they’re unable to attend events. As the Board looks for ways to act on the recommendations in the report, it is imperative that they focus their efforts on bringing the costs of the conference in line with the financial restraints of our members.
We can also look for ways to improve the conference programming, but our focus needs to be on providing support to those of us willing to contribute and serve as conference planners. That means as members, we need to acknowledge the work done by our peers who put together content for the unit sessions and work with them to improve that content. As an organization, SLA needs to provide support to conference planners in the form of training, facilitated collaboration, and guidance on content selection, especially if we act on the report’s recommendation to embrace more strategic management of conference sessions.
I hope to talk with as many of you as possible about these issues, not just in Vancouver, but through email, social media, and other venues. This is a conversation that’s too big, and too important, to limit to a single blog post, a single report, or even to a single conference. Especially since those of you who can’t make it are likely who we need to hear from the most. But the conversation’s begun, so if we’re dedicated enough to move it forward, then together we’ll build future conferences that will be the best we’ve ever had.
The annual conference is the association’s largest source of revenue (more than 50%); revenue that helps to fund numerous programs and initiatives throughout the year (not just conference). Keeping the conference vibrant and well attended is essential for maintaining not only the financial health of the association, but for the continued offering of services/programs/benefits to the membership.
One way to ensure continued success is to challenge the status quo, to imagine an even better future. The diversity of our membership is one of the real strengths of SLA and our willingness to share our collective experience guarantees a steady stream of out-of-the-box thinking and idea generation. Every year SLA seeks and uses feedback from the membership to re-envision and strengthen the conference experience to create more value for the attendees and their organizations.
So, what needs to change? Here are a few ideas that may be worth exploring:
- When (and where) do we want our conference? – Does June still work? We could consider moving our conference to a different time of year (and different locations) where less expensive, “off-peak,” conference rates apply.
- Do we need a stand-alone conference? – Teaming up with another related association could result is significant cost savings: shared meeting space, shared exhibit space, shared keynote speaker, etc. Of course, this would mean shared revenue as well, but it might be worth a look. This cross-pollination of conferences could actually help with member recruitment as well.
- How do we reach more of our members? – We need to continue to work on expanding some form of a virtual conference for members who are unable to attend the live event. By leveraging existing technology, social media, webinars, etc., we can still provide some of the content at a reduced cost right to their desktop, mobile phone, or tablet.
- Does the programming content offer something for everyone? – Programming should span the whole range of members/attendees from student to expert. There should be introductory sessions geared toward beginners/new professionals, intermediate sessions geared toward those who have been in the profession for several years, and advanced sessions geared toward the truly seasoned/experienced professionals. For value-added content, programming could be tied to the Competencies for Information Professional of the 21st Century.
The bottom line: keeping the conference affordable will provide the greatest incentive for attendance growth. With the less than robust economy, and diminishing employer support to attend (financial or otherwise), cost remains a major reality affecting many members’ decision on whether or not to attend conference. But you are worth it; take the step to invest in yourself.
It’s time to engage! Join me on this journey to a new SLA. A journey where the value is seen, understood, and sought; a journey worth taking, regardless of the cost; a journey of investment: in ourselves, in our development, in our careers, and in our profession.
Candidates for Chapter Cabinet Chair-Elect
I continue to find the annual conference vibrant with my attendance always necessary. After each one has ended and I have spent time chatting with my colleagues and attending sessions, I feel as if my professional core has been re-invigorated. I enjoy speaking with and learning from my fellow professionals and finding out how they are succeeding, thriving, or strategizing until they can make it through a difficult time period.
But I’ve long been sold on the value of the annual SLA conference, and stepping back to have a more objective view of making the conference consistently appealing to those who attend infrequently or not at all. And we should look towards SLA’s Conference Re-envisioning Task Force (CRTF) for guidance as it has closely examined how to resolve the challenge of offering the right mix of timely professional development programming and opportunities to network with colleagues and business partners, as well as considering locations, length, and other issues that would make attendance at any SLA conference a necessity.
As the Academic Division’s program planner for the 2013 conference, I found great value in collaborating with other units interested in similar programming as a way to broaden the appeal of program topics while also reducing cost. Encouraging further collaboration can only enhance this cross-disciplinary appeal which speaks to the diverse types of positions SLA members hold. Business meetings and board meetings, in which attendees often have limited interest, could possibly be reconfigured to also include a topical speaker or networking opportunities. If attendance is quite low, such meetings could also be removed from the conference schedule altogether and be presented instead as webinars following or preceding the conference. Tracks of conference sessions, used at conferences such as Internet Librarian, could prove useful to attendees but might be somewhat labor intensive to organize.
At conferences, there are regular non-conflict times during which attendees are encouraged to visit the Info-Expo, though if programs, such as poster sessions, open talks, etc., were somehow integrated into the Info-Expo, there might be more interaction between the attendees and those exhibiting. There are also numerous times for socializing with some informal networking going on, yet these times can be intimidating to newer conference-goers. It might be worth exploring joining these times with actual programs so that there is time to learn while also allowing you to get to know your fellow professionals. And those with more experience in SLA and with attending the conference could act as informal ambassadors for the association and engage those new to the profession or association.
There are numerous possibilities to keep the conference vibrant and increase attendance, and following the recommendations of the CRTF is the most logical first step. And as members of the association, we need to be open to new changes that will both enhance our conference experience while making it a “must-attend” for those currently unaware of the energy and importance of the SLA annual conference.
Working Hard, Playing Hard – Why SLA Annual Conference Matters – Kim Silk, Candidate for Chapter Cabinet Chair-Elect
The SLA Annual Conference has become an event that I hope never to miss. Since attending my first conference in 2009, where it was held in Washington, DC, I’ve been hooked on all the goodness I get from attending conference: learning from my colleagues, reconnecting with vendor partners, discovering new solutions, and of course, strengthening the friendships and camaraderie I’ve developed with fellow members. As a good friend and SLA-er says, “I’m going to a conference to see thousands of my closest friends.”
As we all know, in recent years SLA has been struggling financially; with the annual conference being our most important revenue stream, all of us have been working hard to make our annual conference the best possible experience while curbing our costs. Here are a few suggestions for your consideration:
- Invite Vendor Partners to Share their Research. Vendors conduct a great deal of research to prepare and support the products and services they offer, to understand market trends, technology, and the changing professional landscape. Sessions dedicated to vendors presenting this research would be valuable to the members, as it would help us learn about the market we work in, and strengthen the bond between practitioners and vendors. I would like to recognize more clearly that our vendors are important partners in the work we do, and I want to learn what they know about our industries. We have a lot more in common than we may think.
- Small Cities are Fun, Too. Part of the lure of the annual conference is getting the chance to travel to a fun city. Given SLA’s need to reduce costs, I suggest considering smaller, second tier cities as potential conference destinations. Recently, Livability.com ranked the Top 100 Best Places to Live, all of them smaller cities across North America. Many of these can be reached via a direct flight from major North American airports – let’s give them a try.
- More Time, Please. A few years ago, SLA made the decision to reduce length of the annual conference by one day, with the intention of making conference travel more affordable so that more members could attend conference. While I would need to consult the evidence, my gut tells me that it has not made the impact we hoped it would. I would like to suggest we return the conference to its original length; we have so much to learn, and so much to discuss, and so much to see, that I find the current structure too tight. Our conference is our most important event, and I would like us to invest more in it to build on its success. At the very least, let’s look at the data to help make this decision.
These suggestions are made with the best of intentions; thank you to SLA for inviting me and all my fellow candidates to weigh in on this important question. We are all one SLA.
Candidates for Division Cabinet Chair-Elect
Two of the things I’ve learned over the past few years, between being PAM Division Chair (and conference planner), working on the 2013 Annual Conference Advisory Committee, and being the IT Division Professional Development chair (responsible for CEs), is just how far out Headquarters negotiates contracts for the annual conference, and how expensive it is to cancel those contracts. This has given me a lot of additional insight relating to the conference feedback I’ve received from members. All together it leads me to three potential areas of change to increase the value and improve the perception of the Annual Conference.
One of the major complaints I hear is about cost. Headquarters does its best to mitigate the fees members pay for conference, but a lot is driven by the conference center location, which is chosen as far as five years out. Perhaps we can start looking at smaller venues. We’ll never fit into the local Holiday Inn, but there are smaller conference halls that are ideal for 5000 attendees, versus ones that can handle 25,000. A smaller venue translates into a lower cost for Headquarters, and thus a lower fee for members. It would also open up more cities to being hosts for the conference, which could affect hotel and transit costs. If we can make the fees more attractive to the members, we can increase attendance.
Another area that could be addressed is session time at conference. Many units are challenged to fit everything their members want in a smaller number of sessions. Perhaps we could shorten the non-conflict times in order to add another session or two to the schedule. I know it is important for our members to visit and meet with our business partners and other exhibitors, but it’s also important to have plenty of interesting sessions; with the recent limits on session numbers, that’s become challenging to provide. Increasing the number of engaging sessions can only increase the appeal of the conference.
This leads into the third area of potential change, that would directly affect the vibrancy and timeliness of the conference, and that is slipping the schedule for session definitions. Right now, we are setting conference sessions almost a year ahead of conference. On the one hand, it’s always good to nail down a slot on the calendar for a good speaker; on the other, it limits units from having more timely programming topics. Surely there is a middle ground that would allow both early selection of topics and speakers as well as later topic definitions? This would require a lot of coordination with Headquarters, relating to the conference planning & scheduling software and convention center deadlines, but if it could be done, it could increase the appeal of conference sessions to members.
Our equation for change becomes “lower fees + more, and more timely, sessions = increased energy and participation.” I’m looking forward to seeing what other ideas are presented to keep Annual Conference the must-attend conference of the profession!
I am Valerie Perry and I am a candidate for Division Cabinet Chair-Elect.
SLA Annual Conference is one of my favorite events of the year. Ever since my first SLA Conference in Indianapolis in 1998, I have learned from the excellent programs, enjoyed catching up with colleagues and meeting new people, participated in unit activities, and checked out new products and services on the exhibit floor. For each SLA member, the primary reason for coming to conference varies, but a key ingredient is always the powerful networking that occurs throughout the conference and the sense of community.
SLA recently shared a comprehensive report from the Conference Re-envisioning Task Force which explored six key areas: member engagement, logistics, content, business partners, international, and online. Their recommendations are based on volumes of data collected including member feedback, staff interviews and more. The 2014, 2015, and 2016 SLA Annual Conferences will be shaped and molded based on these valuable, data-driven recommendations. For more information, check out the full report at http://www.sla.org/governance/board-of-directors/mtg-info/conference-re-envisioning-task-force-full-final-report/
However, improving future annual conferences does not end there. Instead, each of us can individually and collectively work to optimize the annual conference, making it a vibrant and well-attended event. First, make a commitment to invest in yourself by spending the time and money needed to attend the conference. With fewer employers supporting professional travel, it is becoming increasingly important to expect you will need to support some or all of your own professional development. If this is not possible, then begin as soon as possible each year to make the case why your employer should support your professional development. Also, pursue additional methods of funding including scholarships and travel grants offered by SLA units and other sources. If this is new to you, then seek out more experienced members for advice on securing funding and/or employer support. Remember that many units pay at least partial officer travel, so consider volunteering for your chapter or division.
Second, become actively involved in the conference. This can range from serving as unit program planner, serving as a speaker or volunteering in another capacity. Most divisions appreciate having extra volunteers to help conference programs and events run smoothly. They also appreciate member feedback on past and future programs. If you like the programming, then say so and ask for more. If you would like programming to focus on different topics or formats, then again say so and provide examples. None of the program planners is omniscient though they work very hard to provide excellent programming.
Third, share your conference experiences with others. Become an advocate for SLA and for SLA conferences. There is nothing stronger than a personal, focused recommendation from someone you trust. In the Kentucky Chapter, we talk about the important of conference attendance year-round. Everyone should be sharing their story with their colleagues, near and far, about the importance of becoming involved in SLA including participating actively in SLA conferences.
Candidates for Director (Two will be elected)
I have been attending the SLA conference since 1996, so what changes would improve the conference experience and make it better attended? First, try to involve more members of the units (divisions/chapters) in areas of the conference. At present most units are run by a small, dedicated group of individuals who have been to/run sessions etc. for a number of years. We all struggle to get new members involved in boards etc. Members who become engaged with the organisation of conference events feel more involved and despite the increased work I feel they get more out of conference. Furthermore try to get your international members involved and here I am probably talking more about divisions. I know this can be difficult due to cost and logistics but again speaking from personal experience my involvement with FAN and other divisions has been a very worthwhile thing. I know a number of divisions/chapters have travel grants, so where possible target your international members.
Secondly I believe the issue of sponsorship of unit sessions at conference needs to be looked at. This year one of our major sponsors decided to change the way it sponsored unit sessions at conference. Instead of receiving requests for sponsorship from various groups, they asked all divisions/chapters to send their requests to a central point and the decision on whom to sponsor was made. While I can see benefits to both the sponsor and the divisions/chapters I also have issues with this method. There is also a possibility that other major sponsors may move to this type of sponsorship model.
I can see benefits to this model however there are downsides to this way of sponsoring divisions/chapters. Many of the divisions and no doubt chapters have relationships with certain sponsors that are well developed. If they all move towards this model what happens to this relationship? Also smaller divisions/chapters rely on these relationships for funding and while they do compete with other divisions/chapters what happens to them in a centrally funded model
One solution is that SLA needs to think outside the box with regard to sponsors who for various reasons cannot exhibit at conference. At present these organisations can only sponsor events outside of the conference centre. This means they may not be able to provide sponsorship to the level they would like nor in some cases at any level. As with the major sponsors some of these organisations may have strong links to divisions/chapters and while they may sponsor events outside of conference, such as webinars, SLA needs to try to find a way to accommodate these companies. It could also lead to other organisations sponsoring divisions/chapters if they knew there were not such strict rules surrounding how they could sponsor events.
Thirdly we need to think creatively about how to involve our vendor partners. How can divisions/chapters and the association as a whole work with them to provide a better experience for the vendors and also attendees? Yes we all go to the expo hall and talk to our vendors, and the vendors do have social events in the evenings but what ways can we ensure that both attendees and vendors get both a valuable and worthwhile experience out of conference. One way would be to try to change how the expo is organised and run. Since my first conference the format for the vendor area has not changed at all. It has shrunk, as budgets, have retracted but we still have the same structure of how to view the expo hall. Perhaps a new structure is needed so that the expo hall experience is made better. We also have the lunch time sessions where attendee’s can go to see a specific product demonstrated and the vendors themselves do hold them in the expo hall, but can this be expanded? Also do our vendors still see the expo hall as a valuable experience and how might they view a change in the way it is done and how can we get them involved in changing the Info-Expo to make it exciting and beneficial to everyone?
Conference for me has always been a very positive event, however if it is to continue this way then areas such as the exhibit hall, how we sponsor sessions. and participation by members need to be looked at in a new light so that we can continue to have a vibrant and well attended conference.
Dr. Saif Al-Jabri
Since I joined SLA, attending the annual conference is an event I look forward to every year.
In my opinion, I will say that, first of all, the location of the conference plays an essential role in my decision to attend, and I’m sure it does so for other professionals from the US and abroad. It affects accommodation and transportation costs as well.
Second, providing opportunities to individuals to present at the conference will attract a good number of presenters and attendees, especially if the papers are pre-refereed and the proceedings are indexed in well-known indexes.
Third, more activities will lead to more attendees. We can increase the activities at the conference by encouraging chapters, divisions and caucuses to plan more activities of interest to their members and other SLA members. Units can be encouraged to do so by helping them keep costs to a minimum and by rewarding the most active unit at the conference.
Fourth, I think SLA could establish an award for the chapter, division or caucuses that has the highest number of its members at the annual conference. This award should be announced and presented at the closing session.
Fifth, the Annual Conference Advisory Council and the Board should work closely with units, sponsors and exhibitors to increase the number of scholarships for members to attend the annual conference and present an award to the unit or organization that offers the largest number of scholarships.
Finally, SLA could give preference or discounts in the registration fees for the attendees from the surrounding area where the conference is held to encourage local professionals to attend even if they are not SLA members.
Elaine Lasda Bergman
My first SLA-wide conference was Seattle in 2008, after I was appointed to my current position at the University at Albany. For me conference represents many opportunities for learning, leadership, networking, conviviality – in a different city every year. How fun is that? Not to mention productive and useful!
To enhance in-person attendance, nothing works better than word of mouth. We need to be “SLA evangelists” — let our colleagues, managers, and top level executives know exactly the value we get from coming to conference; how we’ve applied what we learned in sessions; and how our new connections (and friends!) in SLA bolster our commitment to excellence on the job. For those of us that mentor students and other newcomers to the profession, emphasize the importance of an organization like SLA and what it has done for our own careers.
Any way that SLA can make the conference affordable for people to either secure employer funding or make this investment themselves is welcome. In the past, we have relied on sponsors to offset the cost of conference programming. I am very interested to see the result of vendor partner ProQuest’s model for sponsorship and the possibilities it may hold for future conferences and SLA events. Many other vendor partners are looking at other ways of reaching their clientele aside from trade show/conference sponsorship. As an organization we need collaborate with vendor partners on new strategies, and work with them to incorporate these new models into our own thinking and plan activities that align with those strategies.
Finally, we need to consider that SLA is becoming increasingly international. Use of web conferencing technology can help us reach everyone from all corners of the globe. Why not create “satellite” conference locations on continents besides North America? This could be done in central locations to facilitate regional face to face networking and contacts. In addition to broadcasting conference programs as webinars from the main conference, why not have other SLA units across the globe submit webinar-based sessions that are presented at the main Conference and INFO-EXPO? This could create some real global synergy and connections by providing a hybrid of face-to-face and virtual attendance.
So, let’s talk up our SLA conference experiences to others. Let’s think about investing in our own professional development opportunities and seek ways to align with vendor partner marketing strategies that will be mutually beneficial. Finally, let’s leverage webinar and remote conferencing technology so that we can bring our activities to those who have travel challenges but also so that they can bring their own professional development ideas and speakers to us! We can preserve and improve conference attendance and vibrancy in a way that everyone benefits.
This year I’m excited to see how many people will attend the inaugural meeting of our newly established Data Caucus. There are many sessions that look interesting and will provide valuable takeaways that I can apply in my day to day work activities. I’m curious to see what latest, greatest resource our vendor partners have to show us in the INFO-EXPO. Most of all, I look forward to the opportunity to meet as many people as I can. I hope to see you there!
I’ve had to opportunity to read the very detailed report by the Conference Re-envisioning Task Force. This committee can only be commended for the tremendous amount of work they put in surveying members and partners, analyzing data and making recommendations.
I’ve attended the Annual Conference since Nashville, in 2004. I’ve always enjoyed my experience. I generally come back exhausted but invigorated. And I’ve met new people with unique jobs and interesting points of view.
Here are some recommendations I would make:
- Reconsider having continuing education sessions. They’re difficult for smaller divisions to organize, general attendance appears to fall yearly and more are canceled than take place. Is it because they’re seen as an additional expense on top of what some attendees consider an already expensive conference?Let’s offer more webinars: That way members across the world can easily attend and revenue will increase for the divisions.
- Promote an online component to the conference. Streaming during the conference, or after, as was done in 2013, will boost SLA awareness.The lower price will be more affordable for smaller budgets, the best sessions will get a second boost, international exposure will be increased, and local group viewings will give Chapters the opportunity to be more involved in the conference.
- Bring in speakers from outside the librarian/information professional world. Diversity of thought and experience will only make us better. For example, LMD held an excellent session on leadership in 2013 with the San Diego Naval Base commander.
- Rethink meeting time. Being very active in the association, on division boards, as a speaker or as a candidate means that, over the years, I have spent a fair amount of conference time in association business/board/cabinet meetings instead of sessions.Thanks to the SciTech Division, I’ve recently attended my first online division annual business meeting and it was a success. Every member could attend, participate and maybe even get the bug to become involved. Plus, it gives more time to attend conference sessions or the INFO-EXPO.
- Strive to offer more varied programming. Generate new insights, more exchanges and networking. Offer different formats and session lengths (hopefully this year’s Quick Take sessions will turn out to be as popular as the Spotlight Sessions have become.) Building a sense of community will create an over-the-top conference experience. That leads to attendees who want to return yearly.
- Continue to work with our business partners. A new model might be emerging, where partners work with the association and units as a whole, instead of piecemeal. We’ll see later this year how this worked, or didn’t work.
- Be especially welcoming to First Timers. I would like that every “veteran” would take a moment to say hello and introduce a First Timer to people they know. The Fellows and First Timers Meet is a great event for any new attendee to unveil the mystery of the conference experience. Several Divisions also have conference mentors to achieve that goal.
I’m a firm believer of lifelong-learning and professional development. I encourage my staff to read professional publications and attend trainings, seminars and conferences like SLA. Professional development is a sound investment. It not only betters individuals, but co-workers and organizations as well.
Catherine Lavallée-Welch, candidate to the position of Director
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