Virtual Participation on a Shoestring - LITA Rocks the House!

By Cindi Trainor |

My table at the LITA Town Hall meetingMy original intention was to write about LITA's Top Technology Trends Round Table at the recent ALA Midwinter meeting in Denver (I'm on the committee) and our integration of technologies. I intended to make the session available to remote viewers and engage our in-person audience, then I went to the LITA Town Hall meeting and sat at a table of the most amazing people who, working together, set up many different ways to share the content of the meeting with those not in the room as well as integrate comments from those watching from afar.

The TopTech Round Table has been written up very well by Library Journal bloggers Josh Hadro (Part 1  and Part 2) and Roy Tennant (also a TopTech Trendster) and at the AL inside scoop; I won't recap here. During the weeks leading up to the conference, several TTT committee members tested the live blogging freely available from coveritlive, its twitter integration, media uploading, simple reader polls, and comment moderation. The session's hashtag, #ttt09 was also aggregated into the LITA & BIGWIG Friendfeed room. We were nothing if not prepared. The final stroke of luck was the unwavering wireless connectivity in the room; without it, there is no way that we would have been able to upload photos and stream live video of the session.

The session went very smoothly; it's my hope that now that we have the technology nailed down (assuming reliable wireless at Annual) that we can think about how to shake up the talking-head model, one of things that has not changed about these sessions in a good long while. I don't think it means merely changing the speaker lineup, though the smaller panels at Midwinter were definitely more well-received than the much larger panel at the 2008 Annual conference. There is something more we can do, here; it's just a matter of figuring the best way to put the time and knowledge graciously offered by our Trendsters to good use. The Top Technology Trends Committee also had a business meeting at Midwinter and talked about this and other plans for our larger session at the ALA Annual meeting in Chicago.

The live blogging and other virtual participation at the LITA Town Hall meeting, by contrast, was completely unplanned. Folks at the table in the back--the one with as many laptops and iPhones as people--were already sending messages about the session via Twitter; setting up a live blog and adding the hash tag to friendfeed, then advertising the lot of it only took a few minutes. The live blog garnered comments from LITA members elsewhere in Denver, and members and non-members alike outside Denver who were interested in the proceedings. I think that soliciting outsider comments--something reflected in the session itself by representatives from other ALA Divisions and information associations such as ASIS&T--is vital to planning LITA's future. There are a huge number of librarians working with technology who are not members of ALA at all, who are members of other organizations, or who call another division of ALA their primary division.

What could we have done differently in the Town Hall Meeting? Since the live blog was completely impromptu, it began after the breakout sessions had already begun, did not include a description of the meeting's agenda, didn't sign off at the end and didn't give any explanation to remote followers of what would happen next. Since I was typing into the coveritlive console, and the free version allows only 10 twitter users to be integrated, there is really not a complete picture of the session.  With a tiny bit of coordination (and maybe having the idea about 20 minutes earlier), these things could have been prevented. LITA President-Elect Michelle Frisque wrote a nice follow-up post on the LITA blog and also posted photos of all the room's flipcharts to flickr, and blogger surfer blue captured the questions and answers quite succinctly.  I agree with fellow TechSource blogger and LITA podcaster Jason Griffey that every important ALA meeting should be broadcast live in this way, that relying on in-person meetings, particularly in tightening economic times when travel funding is being reduced or cut completely, is a dying model at best. All of the tools that we used were free--free wireless access in both venues, free live blogging service, Twitter, Friendfeed, UStream, Audacity, and while there will be obvious problems in scaling this to an association level (has anyone looked at the list of people who signed up to blog LITA-sponsored events--or more correctly, didn't?), it's something that other ALA divisions and ALA itself must experiment with NOW, if only to capture some of its content and involve as much of its remote membership as possible.