Nothing flowery here—I will just cut to the chase….

As I evaluate my conference experience, these are the two essential questions I use to measure how worthwhile a conference experience is for me:

1.  Did I leave with meaningful and powerful takeaways that will inform my practice that will directly impact the services and paradigm I offer to my patrons (in this case, high school students and teachers)?
2.  Did my learning experiences push my thinking and challenge existing assumptions?  Did it create any kind of constructive disruption for me?


  • Participating on two panels and one YALSA preconference workshop with so many smart and talented librarians, including:  “”How Did This Happen” Independent Reference Publisher’s Group (IRPG); “Light, Cameras, and Booktrailers!”; and “Promoting Teen Reading with Web 2.0 Tools”.   I enjoyed not only sharing ideas from my own practice through these forums, but I appreciated the opportunity to learn from others in the publishing industry as well as academic, public, and school librarians.   I was especially thrilled to meet Sue Polanka, someone whose work informs my own and challenges my thinking.
  • Connecting with reps from my vendors and learning about new products that are rolling out for 2010-11.
  • The good vibes and super positive experience of our AASL 2011 National Convention Planning Committee.  I truly am proud to serve and to take an active role.
  • Learning about NewsTrust (this will be a resource we incorporate into Media 21 for 2010-11) and engaging in some productive conversation with Fabrice Florin.
  • Spending some real quality time outside of the conference at small group breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with colleagues and friends sharing ideas, discussing issues, and brainstorming new projects for 2010-11.   This actually was  the most meaningful aspect of  my first ALA Annual experience that will actually translate into my professional life and work.
  • Taking a day to see the historic landmarks of Washington D.C. as well as enjoying some local shopping!
  • While I heard some people complaining about wireless, it worked flawlessly for me the entire weekend at the conference center.
  • On a lighthearted note, I saw plenty of cute and comfortable shoes.

Constructive Criticism

  • I really do not need a five pound printed program—I am confident there is a way to condense the program to be more user friendly and better organized.    I also found the online program tricky to navigate (I heard others echoing this sentiment as well)—I’d love to see an easier and more searchable interface for 2011.
  • Develop more than just a mobile website for the event—if an actual mobile app was developed, I missed it somehow.
  • Don’t just privilege authors and author events—while these are certainly a draw for many attendees, I would have appreciated having an opportunity to have heard someone like Howard Rheingold, Clay Shirky, Michael Wesch, or other comparable voices speak and interact with attendees.
  • I would love to see committee meetings limited to just Thursday so that I have more time to attend other sessions; I found that the sessions that really spoke to me always seemed to coincide with my committee meetings  (as well as some of my own panel sessions).  Perhaps the committee meetings could be split between a virtual session prior to the conference and then a time face to face?  If not, maybe there could be a “no compete” time slot in which sessions aren’t scheduled against committee meeting times.  I’m not sure if logistically, these options are possible, but those are my solutions.
  • Redesign the ALA Annual site to better pull together social media streams for the conference and to better share information as the conference unfolds.   How about an ALA Connects site? (not to be confused with ALA Connect).

If we as a profession and organization say we value a participatory culture, collective intelligence, and the power of social learning (f2f as well as virtual), I think it would helpful to consider hosting fewer formal concurrent 90 minute sessions designed for 200+ people and provide learning venues that would provide more opportunities for engagement.   For me, I want a conference experience that goes back to the three Ps:  portable, participatory, and personalized.  How do  we do this?

  • Seize on the opportunity to make much better use of the Networking Uncommons and perhaps reinvent it as a Learning Commons or ALA Unplugged using the ISTE Unplugged as a model.   Rather than just a single  room, I’d love to see it as a space  (similar to what we had at ALA MW 2010 but bigger and more prominently positioned) where people can sign up to do informal presentations or just engage in spontaneous conversations about any professional topic or issue (and not just techie stuff!) much as we did at AASL 2010 .
  • Other learning opportunities I’d like to see take place at ALA Annual 2011:  events comparable to ISTE EdubloggerCon 2010 and OpenSource Con.
  • Space and creation of lounges like the Bloggers’ Cafe, Social Butterfly Lounge, Advocacy Lounge; we could even have lounges for “birds of a feather” sessions and conversations on other hot topics and emerging themes, such as division standards and ebooks/ereaders.  It might also be fun to have lounges for divisions where members can connect as well  or for people to learn more about a division and who might be considering joining a particular division (and more easily find your badge ribbons as a small bonus).

I think these suggestions related to learning and networking the conference experience would go a long way in taking what is a huge conference and giving people options for personalizing that conference experience in meaningful ways so that they can take advantage of the traditional conference elements while tailoring their learning experiences as well.  I think that by incorporating these elements, we can make “unconference” more than just a one day event and give people the option to participate in learning spaces of comfort and interest while providing a menu of learning spaces to help us all step outside the echo chamber that often pervades traditional conference.  In addition, I think these kinds of less formal events would not only be powerful learning experiences, but they would also provide a space for librarians from all kinds of library environments to interact on a more personal level and to crowdsource ideas on specific topic/theme while possibly helping us all to better understand how our corners of the library ecosystem matter to each other.

And yes, I am more than willing to be part of a team to facilitate these kinds of experiences at ALA Annual 2011.

Reflect and Share

If you are were at ALA, what did you enjoy most?  What were your highlights?  What suggestions do you have to build on the positives of the conference to help create an even better ALA Annual for 2011 in New Orleans?   If you were attending virtually, what ideas jumped out at you from someone’s blog, Twitter stream, or other form of social media?  Or what seemed to be absent?

If you are posting your own reflections, please also feel free to share those as well!


19 thoughts on “ALA Annual 2010 Reflections: What I Got and The 3Ps I Want for 2011

  1. Buffy these are some great suggestions and I definitely agree with you. I’m glad you wrote them I’m sure you said it with much more finesse than I could have. Specifically:

    “I really do not need a five pound printed program”
    — Amen! I did refuse mine. I was very nice & explained I already knew my schedule and preferred to save my back and a tree or two but the person behind the counter acted offended.

    “I also found the online program tricky to navigate”
    – me too, though I don’t have a suggestion on how to much such a huge program friendlier.

    “I would have appreciated having an opportunity to have heard someone like Howard Rheingold, Clay Shirky, Michael Wesch, or other comparable voices speak and interact with attendees.”
    – Oh my gosh! YES PLEASE!!!! I’m sure the authors were wonderful but I’d much rather see an engaging speaker I can learn from! And I’ll add danah boyd, Chris Brogan and Seth Godin to the list.

    “I would love to see committee meetings limited to just Thursday so that I have more time to attend other sessions”
    -I feel like ALA (and other conferences) are a choice I can either contribute ie present & serve on committees or I can be an attendee, but can’t do both. This is especially frustarting for me at ALA as I try to become more involved with the organization AND try to attend session outside my normal focus.


    1. Bobbi:

      I wish now I had refused the program! I probably should have added the totebag thing, too–I remember now us having that discussion!

      I was lucky to hear Danah at AASL 2010–she is incredible, and I’d definitely put her on the list. LOVE your suggestions. Add Henry Jenkins, too.

      Thank you for articulating the stickiness in trying to participate and serve–it is definitely a juggling act!

      Thanks for the feedback, and I am looking forward to reading your reflections!



      1. I heard danah boyd speak several years ago at Internet Librarian (maybe the same year H. Rheingold was there can’t remember) and they both have really stuck with me. Henry Jenkins definitely!


  2. I don’t take the program or the bag – I did discover the iPhone app on Friday. Text a Librarian is great for double-checking a meeting or session time/location, and I believe the event planner can be exported to a number of formats, if you build it online first. I just put stuff in my Google Calendar in advance. Then again, it felt, even more this time, that I was so heavily scheduled in meetings I missed out on a lot. I didn’t get to swing by the uncommons or tech petting zoo at all. I second Bobbi’s comment on being frustrated at having to choose to serve or attend.

    I love the idea of lounges – there might already be interest groups on some of those topics.


  3. Great post, Buffy! I’m going to work on putting a group together to figure out ways to implement many of your suggestions, so I’m glad you’re willing to help.

    I have a few questions for you to mull over before those discussions start so that we can hit the ground running.

    1. I’d have to check on this, but I think the reason we tend to get more authors speaking at Annual is that we don’t have the money to pay someone to present. Pretty much everyone you saw on the program was there because their publisher footed the bill or a vendor sponsored them, which usually happens because the person has a new book to promote. We love to get speakers like Cory Doctorow (he’s come a couple of times) because he doesn’t charge us. I tried to get Jeff Jarvis, but you wouldn’t believe how much his fee was, and apparently his publisher wouldn’t pay to have him speak at Annual.

    Given this info: do you know of presenters like Rheingold, Wesch, etc. who won’t charge to speak at ALA? As a follow-up, I’d also love to get speakers who would let us stream or archive online their talks. We haven’t been able to do this because the contracts have prohibited it, but perhaps some of the “tech” speakers (for lack of a better term) would understand and allow it. So double bonus points for helping us find someone who’s free and let’s us stream the talk.

    2. It’s physically impossible for us to schedule the 2000+ committee and discussion group meetings on one day. It’s one of the crazy things about Annual that makes it difficult for us to hold the conference in smaller cities. What most members don’t realize is that there is *no* requirement to have a physical meeting at either Midwinter or Annual (unless you’re on Council or a Board). Divisions like ACRL and YALSA are trying to move all of their committees to virtual work in between conferences, but the myth still persists.

    Rather than trying to wedge thousands of meetings into specific days, how do we accelerate the move to virtual work? How do we get members to recognize they don’t need to meet at Annual so that they can maximize that f2f time and participate in the fun stuff? I’d really love to get some help with this one.

    3. Redesigning the Annual site (and Midwinter’s, for that matter) are pretty high on my list, although I don’t actually have any authority or responsibility in that area. I can bring ideas back, though.

    Did you see the “American Libraries” site for #ala10, which was kind of like the ISTE site. We also have an archived event tracker of Flickr pictures and tweets at What else would you add to these sites? How can we make them better?

    4. I’m doing an internal write-up of my own reflections on Annual, and I came to the conclusion that the commons during Midwinter is different than the commons during Annual. At Midwinter, there are no real “programs,” although some interest groups do have panels or discussions that would otherwise be called “programs.” Giving attendees a place to gather for informal or impromptu discussions at Midwinter is valuable because those kinds of things aren’t already happening and attendees aren’t overbooked for every time slot.

    However, this isn’t true at Annual. There are already several programs for every time slot, and you’re lucky if you’re only double-booked for most of the time. Some folks never even make it to the Convention Center because they have so much going on within their division at a hotel.

    At Annual, the sign-up process was the same and the space was bigger and quieter, but no one did any impromptu programs. I think it’s because there’s just no time at Annual, so the space is more valuable for recharging, small group gathering (by small I mean 3-5 people), and taking a quick break. The vibe was very different this time, and I don’t think it was just because of the location or the curtains, although I understand how those were factors.

    I’d appreciate hearing your reaction to this theory, especially since the school librarians were so great about using the space at Midwinter but didn’t seem to have time at Annual. Were there other things we could have done in the Uncommons that would have led to greater use of it? Or was the issue that there’s just no good time to get a large group of people together during the chaos that is Annual?

    5. There are other questions we can dig into, but this seems like a good start. I hope everyone considers this an open invitation to help us make next year’s Annual even better. In fact, to help with this, I’ve started a new community in ALA Connect called “Improve Annual” where we can begin now so that ALA has time to consider how to implement the suggestions.

    Buffy, I’d love to post your points there to jumpstart the discussions. I’ll create individual forums by topic if that would work best. I could paste in your suggestions or you could – whatever works best for you.

    Thanks, everyone! I hope you’ll continue contributing your suggestions and ideas.



  4. Thanks for your honest reflections, Buffy and Jenny and Bobbi. I am still torn over having missed ALA for ISTE. One of the reasons we may have not made use of the impromptu space was that so many of us were in Denver. I am concerned that our organizational structure also presents some issues. Because so many of our programs have to emerge from official committees way far in advance of conference, with serious paperwork, and within division boundaries, I am afraid that we lose those more spontaneous opportunities. I am afraid that many creative voices are not heard. Is there a way for voices, not part of the ALA committee system, to make conference suggestions and/or decisions and to create new types of programs and opportunities on- and offline?


    1. Joyce, I’ve learned that unfortunately, many of the divisions close their program proposal process fairly early. However, “big ALA” has started a “grassroots program” track for general submissions from anyone.

      There’s more information about this, plus a downloadable form, at The current deadline for submissions for Annual 2011 is August 6. Still not ideal, but it’s a good opportunity for those who want to do something different.

      Also, the LITA Program Planning Committee has extended their process and is still taking submissions at through July 31st. You don’t have to be a LITA or even an ALA member to propose a program through LITA.

      *Please* take advantage of these opportunities, folks. You can submit general descriptions now and fill in the details later.


  5. @Jenny Levine,
    While at ALA I noticed top of the line video production tools capturing sessions. I believe I heard one presenter say in her quest to limit attendees bailing mid session that the session was being videoed by CSPAN, and for attendees to be cognizant of the cameras as they moved during the session. Where are these videos for viewing? I never saw any reference to the location of videos at conference or post conference. All I could wonder was that they would be made available only to members and at a cost. ISTE on the other hand has made many of their spotlight sessions and other concurrents freely available in video, even some live for the virtual audiences to interact with the real audience for backchanneling and socially interacting around the topic for the purpose of stretching our thinking. Even still the videos are available to be viewed, readily available at no cost on an online channel called ISTEVision. I opted for ALA this year instead of ISTE, but the air of proprietary content was strong in the air to me, a first timer at ALA.


  6. Cathy, nine times out of ten, when you see professional video equipment at Annual, it’s used to show the speaker on the big screens at the front of the room. It’s almost never recorded because the speakers forbid this. I learned about all of this last year when I wanted to watch some of the speakers I’d missed due to committee meeting conflicts. The “big name” speakers don’t let us record or stream their talks.

    I’ll ask about the CSPAN video, although I imagine it will be available from their site. Do you remember who the speaker was?

    I applaud ISTE’s video streams and archives. I’d love details about how they do it and how we could scale that process to the more massive ALA program. LITA members have taken it upon themselves to stream and archive individual sessions for free (Top Tech Trends, Ultimate Debate, etc.), and ALA does nothing to stop participants from doing the same with their own programs. In fact, we’ve had a webcam and digital recorder at the Uncommons we lend out specifically for this type of purpose that has yet to be used by anyone other than me.

    Individual groups plan the sessions at our Annual Conference. If they ask to be in the Convention Center, they’ll have free wifi, so they can stream whatever they’d like. If the content at Annual feels proprietary, maybe we part of the problem is that we need to educate our members to include online options in their planning processes. I know LITA does this, and they even created an e-participation matrix to help groups determine options.

    Unfortunately, ALA just doesn’t have the resources to capture hundreds of programs online right now (staff, equipment, or bandwidth), so we rely on our members to help with this. Do you have suggestions for how we can better reach out to help educate them? Are you part of a division where we could look for some experiments or pilots? Other ideas?


  7. Hello everyone!
    Jenny has opened up a new space at ALA Connect for all of us to participate and move the conversation forward at.

    Here are my thoughts on the networking uncommons space (cross posted):

    I think one factor that complicates everyone’s understanding of how the networking uncommons could work is the fact that most people outside of AASL have not experienced it as we have either at AASL 2009 (see ) or at ISTE (latest version in ) in the last three or so years.

    At AASL 2009, Joyce Valenza organized “The Geek Squad”, a team of librarians who helped promote and facilitate our version of the networking uncommons. Here are some thoughts on what might make the uncommons more succesful:

    1. I think heavy promotion of the commons as a learning space and essential aspect of the conference experience will put the learning uncommons (this is the term we are using for AASL 2011) on people’s radars. As a group, we did a ton of blogging and Tweeting ahead of time; I know they do the same for ISTE, and I think Steve Hargadon also hosted an Elluminate session on it in late May as well (was archived and recorded for those who could not attend live). I think it would be cool to do some promotional videos, too—again, your “Geek Squad” or whatever you want to call this team of volunteers could help with this effort. I think putting a direct link to it from the main conference site would also make it much more visible virtually, and then perhaps using a different wiki tool that is a little more user friendly, like Wikispaces, might encourage more people to actually sign up and post content online. Other than a few sessions, I saw minimal activity at MW compared to what happened at AASL, and while meetings/other sessions probably did impact participation in ALA Summer 10, I think the lack of promotion played a role in the lack of participation.

    2. Space wise—I still think open and in a prominent, easily accessible space is best. At AASL, we did not encounter problems with people adjacent to the our area talking over or interfering with our sessions, but I think we had a little more signage indicating the learning space than what I saw at MW. Maybe more signage designating the space and a quick overview of what it is there for? I will try and get some pics for you.

    3. This is the space where I think streaming would be helpful. I might have been misunderstood about my comments on my blog about streaming–I did not mean to stream every session, and I agree it is not practical to stream all 2000 sessions/meetings (!!!), but I think it IS possible to stream key sessions. ISTE also recorded and streamed all sessions from the ISTE Unplugged, but again, you need a team dedicated to doing this kind of effort.

    4. I would also say the use of Ning has been instrumental to inviting participation and sharing at ISTE I am very happy to say that we now will be using Ning at AASL 2011! It is also a great way to get people who can’t be there in person interested in the conference for 2012 or to participate from afar.

    5. I also like the idea of possibly borrowing the “lounge” ideas from I think this is the first year they’ve done this at ISTE, but hopefully, those who participated in it can better speak to it.

    Basically, I envision this space as one big crowdsourcing kind of effort where participation is the foundation. I hope these suggestions are helpful and constructive! I am happy to volunteer with this effort as I’ve had experience in assisting Joyce in 2009, and I will be organizing this kind of effort at AASL 2011.

    Thank you for opening this dialogue, Jenny, and inviting everyone to provide their wisdom to help grow this part of the ALA experience!


  8. I attended ISTE and would love to see some of their structures implemented at the ALA conference.

    It was very cool watching people meet up with members of their PLNs for the first time in person. I witnessed at least 6 such “reunions” as people who had been working together virtually were able to meet for the first time. Twitter, in combination with the Blogger’s Cafe and other social media lounges facilitated such meetings and I saw whole “side conferences” happening, often impromptu and on the floor, where people were sharing and collaborating and adding a dimension that I just haven’t seen at conferences before. The Second Life users had special avatar tags they used to identify each other and meet up as well.

    Another element I like is the “backchannel” – where conference participants can engage in online conversation through a moderator during a presentation. I’ve seen this done with the TED Talks. There’s a lot of resource sharing that happens with this, and there’s a record of the conversation for later, for those who don’t enjoy having both experiences at once!


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