SLA 2012 conference debrief


I’ve been back for over a month now, and have been slow in writing this post. I’ve been spurred on to get this done having read others accounts, which SLA helpfully pulled together. Here are my reflections on my 9th SLA conference.

‘Vote early, vote often’ – the candidate experience

We were after all in Chicago so the phrase  ‘vote early,  vote often‘  was used several times each day. As a candidate, I’m standing for SLA’s Board of Directors for the position of President-Elect; conference is a great opportunity to meet members and to get an idea of their concerns and issues, as well as answering questions about what I’d do if elected. I attended lots of open houses and receptions and met many interesting people. The one night that stands out, was Monday as it proved to be a logistical nightmare with three receptions, in different places in Chicago, to attend in a couple of hours. But the up side of this was that I got to go to two receptions I’ve always wanted to attend but not been able to: the Canadian and American West chapters. Both lived up to expectations, underlining conference’s fabulous networking opportunities. I enjoyed them so much I’ll be sure to try and attend again in future years.

The conference attendee’s experience

I found Ian Wooler’s post on how to use knowledge management techniques of learning before, whilst and after, to improve your conference experience very helpful. Here are my takes on:

‘Learning before doing (pre-conference)’

I was attending conference with the following aims: as a candidate for President-Elect, to meet and greet voters, to understand their concerns and issues, and to tell them about myself. So I was aiming to attend all receptions, open houses and as many sessions as possible to speak with members.

As a delegate I wanted to ensure I got an idea of the key trends and concerns in the industry and ideas on innovations I could take back to the office. I was aiming to attend at least one session a day that covered a broad theme.

‘Learning whilst doing (at the conference)’

I kept notes online (using Evernote) and in my notebook of the trends and observations I picked up from sessions and networking events I attended and here’s a list of the key ones:

  • ‘unconference’ events, in particular the impromptu one led by Lee Ann Benkert, gave a new perspective on session format and seemed to fill a gap in terms of providing a way for people to mix and interact that was missing from formal sessions. Lee Ann’s session was also a great opportunity to seamlessly include vendors and delegates together.
  • Global or international perspectives – for the first time in 10 years I really noticed a desire from attendees to hear more case studies and speakers from outside North America.
  • More collaboration between divisions with more co-sponsored sessions that provided an opportunity to approach subjects from a more holistic perspective.
  • Demonstrating or measuring impact and value – this was a common theme in sessions and during networking sessions and it resonated with everyone regardless of their tenure in the profession. It felt like it really was the emerging issue for us all.

‘Learning after doing (post conference)’

My key aims for attending: to meet and greet members as a candidate, and as a practitioner to understand key trends were both achieved. In terms of follow up I’ve completed this blog post, and attended Scott Brown’s excellent post conference webinar on how to usefully follow up the conference experience (one of his suggestions is cited below). I have kept abreast and commented on various blog posts and kept an eye on #SLAChicago on Twitter. Finally, I realise there are a few things to add to my post about preparing for conference:

– remember to write your name on the back of your name badge at the start of conference, then if your lanyard moves around people can still see who you are (thanks to Bethan Ruddock);

– keep your pocket planner, refer to it and the online planner in the weeks after conference to catch up on the sessions you missed and to look for trends when you do an overview of conference (thanks to Scott Brown for this tip);

– take more business cards than you think you’ll need, they’re your best bet for making and keeping in contact with all the great people you’ll meet. Don’t forget to write a few words on the reverse of the card you receive to remind you of where and when you meet the person. This will prove invaluable for jogging your memory on your return home.

SLA’s strategic vision – what will you contribute to making it a reality?

How many of SLA’s members are aware of the work done by the Board last year to create a new strategic vision for the association?  Not enough would probably be a good guess. Cindy Romaine wrote a detailed blog post in Nov 2011 outlining the development of the strategy and the next steps in making it a reality. The vision is a bold one which provides a roadmap for activity over the next few years:

SLA is a vibrant, global association of professionals who are employed in every sector of the information and knowledge economy. Our members thrive where data, information, and knowledge intersect and our strategic partners support SLA because they believe in the association’s mission and the future of its members. The goal of SLA is to support information professionals as they contribute, in their varied and evolving roles, to the opportunities and achievements of organizations, communities, and society.

In making the vision a reality the Board is concentrating on five key areas. Each area is being led by Board members and there should be reports on all the activities at conference in Chicago later this month.

  • Annual conference – what should this look like in the future? Should there be more virtual activities?
  • Professional development – how do we integrate and develop professional development offerings using technology; what will the revised competencies offer us?
  • Creating a richer volunteer experience – what can we learn from the loyalty project and from our members’ experiences of volunteering following the recent survey?
  • New markets through collaboration – what new markets can we find through learning and networking initiatives and through non-traditional collaboration efforts?
  • Growth through diversification- how do we appeal to new members in allied fields?

I’d advise all members to review the helpful presentation from Anne Caputo (SLA past President) which was part of Leadership and Management division’s recent webinar on SLA’s strategic vision. Also ensure you attend relevant meetings at conference (such as Leadership Orientation and Cabinet Meetings on Tuesday 17 July from 4pm) to find out more about making the vision a reality and asking questions about how it’s implemented.

SLA is our association and we all need to contribute to making the vision a reality. I took part in last month’s survey on volunteering experience circulated by Liz Blankson-Hemans and Mary Ellen Bates, who are leading the work on ‘Creating a richer volunteer experience’. I was very impressed with the survey questions, they really made me analyse what I’d got out of my volunteer experience from both SLA and other associations. So I’ll be interested to see how my responses chimed with others and how these can be used to create a richer experience in SLA. I’ve also been thinking about what the future of annual conference could look like: would it work if it was every other year? I think it might just work, but only if supplemented by more use of technology to allow people to communicate more regularly. I see that ALA is changing the way it does its conference, is there anything we can learn from them or from others who are changing their conference model? And from the professional development perspective could there be some opportunities for partnering with an organisation, like the Open University, to offer discounted access to some of their CPD programmes?

Preparing for SLA conference in July

SLA_2012_Conference_logoI was prompted to think about getting organised for SLA’s annual conference in Chicago  by a combination of things this week: an email from SLA HQ announcing the leadership training session moving from its usual Sunday slot to a new slot on Tuesday; tweets from @Batty_Towers about dreams of missing suitcases and a realisation that it’s just eight weeks until conference starts.

So I need to start organising myself and creating a checklist of what to do between now and then. This will be my ninth SLA conference so I should be good at this preparation bit, but still find it helpful to review what others have offered as tips and hints to getting the best out of conference. Here’s a summary of what I found.

Background reading

Over the years many people have shared tips and hints: Stephen Abram in 2006, Philadelphia chapter (last year’s conference hosts), and this year’s conference website.

It’s also worth reviewing first impressions of others, here’s a selection of reviews of recent conferences from first-timers: Darron Chapman from TFPL on his first conference in Seattle in 2008; Ned Potter; Natalia Madjarevic; Sam Wiggins; Chris Cooper  on their experiences as SLA Europe’s Early Conference Career Award winners in 2011.

Hints and tips for all attendees (these are summary of what I’ve picked up over the years mixed with tips from the blogs mentioned above)

  • Pack – at least one pair of comfortable shoes (you will be doing lots of walking) and layers (it’ll be hot outside, cool and or cold in the air conditioned convention centre)
  • Conference planner use this to set up your schedule either online, or in Outlook. Choose all sessions that interest you and don’t feel you have to attend only those that your chosen division(s) run. I’ve always learnt most when I’ve gone to a session that has nothing to do with my daily work.
  • Sessions – for each session have a plan B in case there are no seats left when you get there, or you decide it isn’t what you thought it would be so you walk out early. Plan B can include visiting the exhibition hall, taking a break, getting something to eat or going to another session.
  • Session etiquette – means it’s ok to walk in late and to leave early (Europeans take note).
  • First-timers and Fellows session is an essential if you’re a first-timer as it gives you a chance to meet other first-timers and gain some tips and hints on how to make conference work for you from the Fellows.
  • Exhibit hall – plan to visit several times and take note of on how to get the best from vendor interactions from Sara Batts and Liz Blankson-Hemans
  • Ribbons – you’ll find there’s space for ribbons on your name badge, do take advantage of any that apply to you, and get them from the Information booth. If you’re a first-timer make sure to pick a ribbon up, it’ll be a great ice breaker. If you’re from SLA Europe don’t forget to pick up our special 40th anniversary ribbon.
  • If you’re interested in how the association works (and we should all be, as it’s our association) then attend the Board of Directors open session on Sunday 15 July at 9am and see the elected board in action. There’s a leadership orientation session from 4pm on Tuesday 17 July at which SLA’s unit leaders and those who might consider a leadership opportunity meet to consider key questions for the association: “If we did not exist, what association model would we build now?”; “Finding and Grooming Tomorrow’s Leaders – Tailor to Your Unit’s Needs”; “How to parlay SLA experience into a promotion, a new job … even your LinkedIn Profile”.
  • Days are long and busy, from breakfast meetings at 7:30am to parties that go on until after midnight. You need to remember to pace yourself, take a few breaks, even if it’s just a walk around the block.
  • Above all else enjoy yourself, immersing yourself in a wonderful bubble atmosphere where you’ll meet some great people, learn a lot and hone your networking skills.

Remember everyone attending has been a first timer at some point and is keen to network with you. You’ll make connections and friendships that will last a lifetime and who knows you might get sucked into doing lots of things for SLA. I never imagined at my first conference in 2000 that I’d be standing as candidate for SLA’s President-Elect in 2012.