ALA Conference Committee meeting with ALA Divisions: 7 March 1999

1 March 1999

Midwinter Review

During the course of the 1999 Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia, the ALA Conference Committee met with a broad range of member groups and representatives, including division presidents, individual division boards, the round tables coordinating committee, members of the ALA Council and program planners from ALA divisions, round tables and other groups. During the course of the week, significant "conceptual" support for the proposal emerged, leading to Council approval of a resolution expressing conceptual support and urging the Conference Committee to work with ALA divisions and others toward a 2001 implementation.

At the same time, there were several recurring concerns expressed by both ALA divisions and round tables. Those concerns may be reasonably summarized as follows:

  • Any "coordination" needs to be firmly grounded in ALA's highly participative culture.
  • Coordination must add value without adding excessive bureaucracy.
  • Member-leaders/program-planners must be reasonably assured that they will not be denied an opportunity to present a program in which they have invested significant time and which they have successfully shepherded through their unit's planning process.
  • Coordination processes must build on and integrate effectively with unit-level planning and implementation processes.
  • The schedule must accommodate programs sessions of varying lengths - including some longer, "in-depth" sessions.

To facilitate the process of addressing these concerns in a timely manner, ALA division presidents recommended convening a special meeting of division presidents, members of the ALA Conference Committee and a representative of the ALA Board to discuss concerns, seek resolution and consider implementation options. In preparation for such a meeting, the ALA Conference Committee committed to completing additional background work

  • To gather and analyze division and round table program planning procedures.
  • To attempt to put actual programs from one or more previous conferences into such a track structure.

Revised Track "Samples" and Observations

The attached sample track outlines were developed by taking first the San Francisco 1997 final program (and later the Washington DC 1998 final program) and sorting actual programs into rough tracks. We are calling these "background" tracks, since we believe that conference content will tend to fall into these broad categories. The specific, timely focus of the various programs will shift from year-to-year, as divisions, round tables and other groups respond to member needs, current events, new publications, etc. "Official" or "foreground" track titles would reflect those year-to-year changes in focus. This, then, represents one approach to organizing content developed and controlled by a broad range of member groups.

The "background" (vs. "foreground") tracks used were as follows:

(1) Issues/Updates - including legislative updates, technology & product updates, research results, current issues....

(2) Libraries/Community - including friends groups, marketing & advocacy, community and/or campus coalition building, cultural programming..

. (3) Information Resources - selecting, organizing, accessing, sharing, preserving...

(4) Management - buildings, fundraising, contractual relationships (negotiating, outsourcing, etc.), security, budgeting, signage...

(5) Librarians/Library Staff - human resource issues (performance review, team and other staff structures, etc.), continuing education/training, changing roles of librarians, staff organizations/unions, recruitment...

. (6) Public Services/Outreach - Reference services (general. Specialized), outreach to specific groups, literacy / information literacy, information & referral services...

(7) Libraries & Education - Learning styles, learner outcomes/standards, curriculum support, education reform, specific curricula...

(8) The Untrack -- writers, literature, association (e.g. chapter) management (marketing, publications, etc.), publication (how to) ..

... The Conference Committee started with the same basic assumptions present in the earlier document:

(1) We start with a finite resource - space. The distribution of that space will vary from year-to-year, but the amount may be held reasonably constant.

(2) Bringing together programs into tracks will facilitate marketing the conference. It may support librarians seeking time & other support from their institutions. It will also make the gaps - areas where there is little programming - more apparent.

(3) Physically bringing together groups of programs will facilitate attendance by those attendees who are primarily program-focused - particularly those likely to be interested in one general area. For those whose program tastes range widely over many areas, the associated "wear & tear" will be no greater than at present - and to the extent that ALA is able to contain campus growth, it may be marginally better.

(4) Eight tracks, with four concurrent sessions each, would provide a desirable level of programming and would not be less than - and might be marginally greater than - the current level of programming.

At the same time, the Conference Committee sought to respond to concerns raised at the Midwinter Meeting. For instance, the revised samples are built on a combination of 2-hour times slots and "paired" 1.5 hour slots - which could be combined for a single 3-hour slot (with a break).

In "sorting" San Francisco 1997 programs, the Conference Committee made every attempt to place programs on the same day as originally scheduled - and as close as possible to the originally-scheduled time. For each program in the attached samples, the original time is noted; an * indicates the program was shifted (a.m. to p.m. - or possibly to a different day). For each program, the sponsoring unit is indicated; for this brief listing, only the first of multiple co-sponsors is listed. (Obvious, an actual conference listing would have a different format, showing all co-sponsors and including more information.)

Some observations:

(1) The original estimate that 4 concurrent sessions per track would be both desirable (creating a "critical mass" of programming necessary to attract attendees to a track) and possible holds up reasonably well. In some cases, it is desirable to push a track to 5 concurrent sessions; others can be reduced to 3. Based on work to date (SF & DC), only one track - Issues/Updates - seems likely to consistently fill 5 concurrent sessions. The relative "weight" of other tracks seems likely to shift from year-to-year, depending on which units are programming more heavily, on internal/external trends, etc. Information Resources, Public Services/Outreach, Management, Librarians/Library Staff are all likely, in any given year, to need a fifth concurrent session - depending on the level of member programming in particular areas. Libraries/Community, Libraries/Education, The Untrack will all tend toward three concurrent sessions - again, depending on the level of member programming.

(2) The amount of "negotiation" required to hold to this schedule would be at a probably achievable level, based on *-marked sessions.

(3) The track-wide visit-the-exhibits period was maintained - rotating through the tracks with only one track impacted at any one time.

(4) To reduce the disruption to current programming patterns, the track-wide plenary session was moved to a concurrent series of track-wide "closing" sessions on Tuesday morning. This may also offer ALA an opportunity to test the "saleability" of Tuesday morning programming. Inability to market substantive programming on Tuesday morning would have other implications for conference structure.

(5) A pattern of either two successive 1.5 hour program slots (which could be combined into one 3 hour slot, with a break) or a 2 hour slot was used. This reasonably accommodates the current variety in programming.

(6) There is a 1.5 lunch break daily to accommodate meal functions.

(7) The "sample" schedule shows only "tracked" programs. It does not show presidential programs, meal events, fairs, poster sessions, orientations or "meet & greet" sessions - or business meetings (including discussion groups). All of these will be accommodated outside the track structure.

(8) Presidential programs were listed along the left edge of the schedule - to ensure that if a program was moved to facilitate development of a track, it was not moved to a time period in conflict with the sponsoring division's presidential program.

(9) There is very little Tuesday programming - three programs in San Francisco (1997), 0 in DC (1998). This raises other issues and questions, which the Conference Committee will need to consider. In the meantime, the present "track" sample assume three full days of programming - with the option presented for "closing" sessions on Tuesday morning.

(10) When you look at the tracks this way, you get a clearer sense of the magnitude and richness of the program - as well as the possible gaps. We can reasonably assume that programming is created by that core leadership group represented in the Handbook and likely to be present at the Midwinter Meeting. The Annual Conference paid (member) attendance - depending on location - will be 2-3 times that number. About 25% of Annual Conference attendance is regional. The question of what we offer that larger group of members is significant for both the Association and the individual units.

(11) While a program unit may tend to dominate a track - e.g. LAMA in Management, ALCTS in Library Resources - - no track is unit-specific. Most divisions have programming in three or more tracks. LITA seems likely to take the award for consistently hitting the most tracks.

It became clear in the discussions at the Midwinter Meeting that decisions regarding the program schedule need to address the concerns of at least three groups:

(1) For the active members who create, and often deliver, the programs, the process of thinking through member needs and environmental trends, defining program topics and planning a program is, in itself, a significant and valued continuing education. Significant resources - both time and expertise - are invested in this process and involved members have a well-justified sense of ownership and pride in their professional contribution.

(2) For a larger group of attendees, the result of that program development effort is a major reason for attending the conference - along with exhibits and networking.

(3) Still other members (and potential members) - even those in the region - do not attend conference. It would be useful to think through what it might take to attract them.

After working through the 1997 (San Francisco) final program, the same process was used with the 1998 (DC) final program. The "background" tracks and level of programming hold up. In general, DC programming was lighter than typical - a cooperative response to the below-normal inventory of meeting rooms.

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