Keeping Our Conference Vibrant & Viable – Jill Strand, Candidate for President-Elect

Having had the honor to serve as chair for the 2013 Annual Conference Advisory Council, I know how much work has gone into making sure that this year’s conference meets members’ expectations. Feedback from post-conference surveys and a task force evaluation of CE sessions were factored into the decision to try a few new things this year.  (See “A New and Improved Conference in 2013”.)

As a candidate for President-Elect, I invite members to think “further up and further in” about how we can keep the conference vibrant and viable for the future.  According to the “Cents and $ustainability” presentation by Treasurer John DiGilio and SLA CFO Linda Broussard, the annual conference is our biggest source of income (63% in 2012.)  When you consider that member dues were 21% of our revenues last year, it is clear that the conference is central to SLA’s financial health and keeping member dues low.

To that end, Past-President Brent Mai formed a Conferencing Re-Visioning Task Force that is looking into a wide range of conference trends: from member and vendor engagement to global issues, content, logistics and what kind of virtual/online options to offer.  This year will also introduce the Feedback Pack, a group of early-career conference attendees deployed to experience as many sessions and events as possible and share their insights in a focus group following the conference.

Both as conference chair and candidate I’ve been reaching out to a wide range of members asking what changes they think should be considered.  Below are just a few of the ideas they shared:

  • Co-Conferences – Partner with a popular conference such as Computers in Libraries to hold adjacent events and offer attendees a flavor of both.  We could even share a keynote speaker to save expenses.
  • Where Do We Want to Be? – Some suggested rotating the conference between a few travel and conference-friendly cities (for both vendors and attendees) that provides amenities that members and vendor partners’ value most.  Doing so may mean a cost-savings from having multi-year contracts with convention centers and hotels.
  • Local Speakers and SponsorsThis could be a great way to tap fresh talent and help units save on travel costs for speakers. For example, SLA Europe member Geraldine Clement-Stoneham suggested recruiting speakers from Harvard Business School for 2015 in Boston.  We could also offer single-day booths and day passes to small and/or local vendor partners. Members would be drawn to the INFO-EXPO to see some new players while vendors could experience the diversity SLA has to offer.
  • Visualizing the Virtual – Continue exploring ways to offer a selection of top sessions and speakers virtually, whether by live streaming or repeating popular sessions via webinars at a later date.  Kim Silk, President of SLA Toronto also suggested inviting technology and social media companies to showcase tools that librarians use.   “Social networking tools connect people with information,” she says. “Special librarians do this every day.”
  • Beyond the Usual Suspects – Several expressed interest in hearing from people outside of the profession in sessions.  “It’s always nice visit with colleagues who get our value,” says Geraldine Clement-Stoneham.  “Yet it shouldn’t stop us paying attention to all the changes happening in the world and figuring out how to adapt and participate.”

The conference is a unique source of professional rejuvenation and personal inspiration.  Many of us are working to be creative about how to attend, whether making the case for partial funding, applying for grants or saving throughout the year.  As a member, I admire how SLA is being creative in re-envisioning the conference.  As a candidate for President-Elect, I look forward to building on the task force recommendations and collaborating with members on their suggestions for how the conference can offer more value for attendees and their employers.  Please share your ideas with me here as a comment, in San Diego or via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter (@jillinfopro) or email!


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