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!