Charles Wilt, ALCTS Executive Director
At the Midwinter Meeting in San Diego, the ALCTS Board approved a proposal to restructure the ALCTS preconferences beginning with the 2005 Annual Conference in Chicago. At the heart of the proposal was the desire to improve the educational experience of the attendees by creating a more flexible format, which in turn, creates more programmatic possibilities.
The current structure is a familiar one: individual preconferences are developed, up to three in any given year, on or around specific topics, individuals register for one of the choices, and attend that single preconference.
The educational experience overall has been satisfactory for most attendees. In some cases, it might be seen as a bit overwhelming or producing a staggering headache from information overload.
This format has been successful in the past, but in recent years, the ability of ALCTS to support complex preconferences with many speakers or many breakout sessions has become a logistical and financial challenge. Again, over the last several years, ALCTS preconferences have averaged about 50 attendees. Several have been cancelled due to poor registration numbers or registration numbers that can't support the budgeted expenses.
So why change a format that is tried and true and for the most part, works?
The "redefined" preconference structure is based on a two-day modular format. Each day will consist of two half-day modules. Preconferences can then be planned for:
The premise of this format is to provide attendees a broader educational experience by allowing them to attend any module(s) they choose on the day(s) for which they have registered. This means that an attendee will register by the day -- rather than for a specific preconference -- at a set registration fee. Attendees can also register for both days at a reduced rate and attend any of the modules they wish. The one requirement of planners will be that the modules be as discrete as possible, so someone attending in the afternoon will not also need to attend the morning.
Because of the inter-connectivity of the modules, the preconference "event" will take place in one single location. Having all modules scheduled for one location is really the foundation for the concept: ease of movement between modules. Having everything in one location also helps the ALCTS staff with its logistical arrangements. The office will have only one catering contract and bill, one AV contract and bill, one centralized registration area, and only one site to manage.
Attendees will receive the handouts for all the sessions on the day for which they have registered, probably on a CD. The increase in networking possibilities among attendees will be an added dimension. An optional lunch with a featured speaker might be yet an additional possibility to enhance the overall learning experience.
This structure gives ALCTS a flexibility that is not available at present, while not taking away the notion of the "traditional" preconference format. The flexibility comes in the development of the topics. With this structure, ALCTS can now support half-day preconferences. With this structure, preconference topics can be better coordinated across the modules and days and possibly, with some creativity, vertically within a specific module.
Chicago is a perfect site to begin. Chicago is always the largest ALA conference. Chicago is easily accessible to an even larger library staff population for preconference events. Chicago affords ALCTS the opportunity to launch this new structure with an assurance of success.
The most important concept for planning already underway is that proposals be segmented in half-day components or modules. If you are interested in developing a preconference for 2005 or 2006 in New Orleans, the ALCTS Program Committee will be reviewing proposals at the Annual Conference in Orlando. Contact Steve Dalton to arrange to meet with the committee in Orlando, and for more information about these changes.