In the wake of the 2010 Midwinter meeting, there's been a lot of talk about unconferences and online conferences. A rough economy and the inconvenience of long-distance travel, combined with the proliferation of Web 2.0, VoIP and other tools for instantaneous online communication have led to a significant increase in the popularity of online events. Our own Tom Peters has written quite a bit about this topic on the blog and in Smart Libraries Newsletter.
WebJunction is right on top of this trend. They have been producing some excellent webinars for some time now, and with their Technology Essentials 2010 Online Conference, (presenter list and program descriptions are here) they've made the leap to hosting a full-fledged, online conference. The focus of this conference, according to WebJunction's page, is "practical and timely strategies for leveraging technology to help you in a wide range of library services and operations". The conference is taking place on February 9th and 10th.
I had a chance to talk with WebJunction's Jennifer Peterson and Sharon Streams about how this conference came to be, and what WebJunction is hoping to accomplish.
Dan Freeman: WebJunction has been doing Webinars and online learning programs for a while. How did the idea of doing a full-fledged online conference come about?
Jennifer Peterson and Sharon Streams: We’ve seen a real spike in webinar attendance over the last year and recognized that in these times of tight budgets, libraries are looking for travel and cost-free ways to connect and to learn with colleagues. We’ve attended some other recent online conferences and decided to pilot the model for ourselves, leveraging our expertise in webinar production and tapping the wealth of experience in our community to gather expert presenters around the theme of Technology Essentials.
DF: Can you talk about some of the events you’ll be having at the conference? The overall theme?
JP & SS: We always ask our webinar attendees for what topics they'd like to see covered in future programming. From that list a handful of technology related topics emerged, both peripherally and directly related to their library’s technology, hence the overall theme of Technology Essentials. We looked at the top set of themes and recruited experts from the WebJunction community and beyond (thanks to ALA TechSource for co-sponsoring the WordPress session!) to target technology facets within these themes:
- Staff training (Learning When There’s No Time (or Money) to Learn)
- Marketing (M&M: Maximum Marketing/Minimum Investment)
- Outreach, funding, advocacy (Library Grants 101 and Funding for Broadband: Indiana Connectivity)
- Services and programming (Helping Washington Libraries in Hard Times)
- Technology planning (The Planning Puzzle: Integrating your Strategic Plan and your Technology Plan and Technology Planning with TechAtlas for Libraries)
- Virtual libraries (Building Digital Community: Arizona Memory Project and Implementing Reliable Instant Messaging at Your Library)
- Your library's web presence (WordPress for Library 2.0 and Beyond)
We also looked at the post-webinar survey results to understand who attends WebJunction online events (their role) and where they come from (2/3rds work in public libraries and more than half work in communities serving fewer than 25,000 people). But we’re seeing that conference registrants represent virtually every library type and title and come from around the globe!
There are 5 presentations scheduled for each day, with a morning welcome time and ample breaks built in. By registering, one gets access to any or all of the sessions. We encourage folks to take the opportunity to make the conference a team learning event, dividing up sessions they can attend and bringing what they learn back to their colleagues in a follow-up discussion. We see all WebJunction programming as an opportunity for collaborative learning, whether it’s with your own staff or with others across the country. The synergy that can happen in an online environment is often more powerful than in a face2face situation, with ideas exchanged simultaneously via presentation content, the session’s chat feature or elsewhere on the Internet (#WJconf).
DF: There have definitely been some other library-related online conferences and events. What did you like about these that made you want to do your own?
JP & SS: Yes, we’ve learned so much from many of those we’ve attended (Handheld Librarian http://www.handheldlibrarian.org/, Idaho Learning Org http://libraries.idaho.gov/page/libraries-learning-organizations, OPALescence http://opalescence.wetpaint.com/, Iowa Small Libraries Online Conference http://www.swilsa.lib.ia.us/isloc/, Talentpalooza http://www.talentpalooza.net). Based on excellent attendance and outstanding engagement of attendees and presenters, we knew it was a next step in our online programming. We’re really doing much of what we do in our webinars (archiving, enabling chat, sharing of resources, etc.), but just taking it up a notch to see how it works expanding it to a 2-day session.
It fits right into the experimental spirit of online learning that WebJunction loves to support!
DF: What did you see that you think could be done differently?
JP & SS: We learned from watching a few of the logistical challenges that we wanted to keep it simple. For example, we’ll have no concurrent sessions or breakout rooms. And we made sure to provide a platform that could hold as many attendees as possible to reduce bandwidth challenges. We look to the conference attendees to experiment with us in this learning event and to tell us what they think! I’m sure there will be lessons learned, but that’s why we’re doing it!
DF: What do you see the goal of the conference?
JP & SS: The goal is to provide an affordable and accessible venue for library staff to share practical and timely solutions for their needs! Now more than ever, we need to band together to solve problems, and that we recognize that attending an in-person conference is completely impractical for many library staff. Looking at how online programming has changed over the past five years, I think we’re in for an exciting time of online conferences!
Conference Page: http://www.webjunction.org/conferences/articles/content/86891033
BlogJunction coverage (feel free to steal anything in the posts that are there now): http://blog.webjunctionworks.org/index.php/category/conferences/wj-online-conference/
Reminder: TechSource is co-sponsoring a presentation during the conference--WordPress for Library 2.0 and Beyond, featuring Joshua Dodson and Laura Slavin.