A Reflection on Conference Programs

I'm just back from our WI state library conference.

I find all conferences valuable but I especially love our state conference. Like ALA, it brings together librarians from all sizes and types of libraries. But it's a more intimate atmosphere (800 attendees) that lends itself to deeper and yet wider networking and learning.

The impromptu hallway conversations, before and after hour meet-ups and catching up; and the promptu fun group activities like battledecks, cards (for and) against librarianship, gaming, dances and trivia make conferences a warm and inviting place to connect and laugh. On a small scale you get to meet and re-meet people for a couple of days of library-celebration.

Programs are often the meat - or tofu - around which the whole conference sandwich is made up. They attract non-members, sustain members and give us food for thought or content that spurs us to action.

Since the state conference is put on by a phalanx of volunteers that changes annually, you never know exactly what shape the programs will ultimately take. Not enough youth programs; too much technology; not enough academic library content - each year the winds of content shift.

And why? Because, like many conferences, outside of keynoters that the conference committee engages, programs are us. Content is dependent on those who come up with a plan and submit an idea. Anywhere from 95-100% of proposed programs get accepted.

This year, we had a boatload of youth content, from babies to teens, technology to hands-on. In terms of content, some of this stuff was as good as or better than what I see at national conferences (go WI!).

I always find panels of librarians from different sized libraries my favorites. Rather than an individual or a couple of people from one institution discussing "how I run my library good", panels from multiple library-size/library-type perspectives suggest how all libraries can find a pathway to change or better service, regardless of size or type.  It helps library staffers think, "How do I bring this back to my library?" and I think overcomes the feeling of "My library could never afford staff/budget/time of the speaker's library to do this marvelous thing."

I love hearing new voices too. Encouraging people who have never presented to be on a panel or join on a panel gives everyone a chance to lead and bring their insight to the table. We were so fortunate to have many many new voices join conversations and presentations this year (thank you iLead and DPI especially).

I also like perspectives from outside our state. I appreciate program planners who invite a colleague from MN, IA, MI or IL to border cross and share their passion and expertise. Our Youth Services Section is looking to do more of this. This year, IL's Jenna Nemec-Loise shared ALSC's Everyday Advocacy message and it was wowza!

For those of us who think about proposing programs for a national audience at PLA, ALA, symposiums and institutes, I hope we also propose great programs for our local and regional conferences. And I hope we look for new voices in our states and invite them to present with us - or instead of us. Everyone needs great CE and sometimes the gift of a great program is no farther than our own backyard.

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