Thursday, July 02, 2015

Innovating Professional Conferences, Part 3: Can we bring remote participants into a conference?

Tile ceramic steps in Lincoln Park (32nd and California)After I started this series (part 1 & part 2), I spoke to Paul Signorelli about it and he sees the innovation needed as being different and I want to capture that idea here.

While I think that we need to move our professional development from conferences to the online environment, Paul believes that we need to use our online technology to bring remote participants to a face-to-face conference. Before the ALA Annual Conference, Paul outlined a myriad of ways that he thought it would occur. Near the end of the conference, Paul hosted a session to talk about and experiment with bringing remote participants into the room. They tweeted - and colleagues tweeted back - and they tried doing Google Hangouts with lots of people (and it worked).

Some conferences will not want to open their face-to-face sessions to virtual participants. They will see that as losing income, because they are giving away content. Others might charge for the privilege of attending virtually, so they can setup reliable technology in the conference areas to facilitate that interaction. Others will open the doors, by letting participants be the gateway on their devices and data plans for that interaction. You'll recognize that the last option is occurring at many conferences, but I don't know of a conference that has wired itself so remote participants are seamlessly included in every session.

While I like the idea of bringing remote/virtual participants into a conference, they would also need remote access to the exhibit hall or to information about what is in the exhibit hall (and more than just a short description). There would also need to be a way for ad hoc interactions, which happen at conferences. Paul and I discussed the idea of having kiosks or cameras where people on-site could interact with whomever is online. It would be a version of those random interactions that occur in the hallways or standing in line.

Are there other problems with conferences and other solutions? Yes. In fact, there are likely as many problems and solutions as there are conferences and conference participants. The key is being willing to change...and for some conferences, those changes a long overdue because their number of participants and exhibitors are dropping. If they believe that professional development is important, then now is the time to do it differently, before their audience is completely gone.

Innovating Professional Conferences, Part 2: How can librarians improve every conference?

ALA Exhibit HallIn part 1, I laid out some of the changes that are needed in professional conferences.  Now I want us to consider one way that librarians can help improve professional development opportunities for everyone.

If we decide that in-person conferences are no longer the the correct vehicle for professional development and we want to be more creative, there is one problem that we need to solve - copyright and/or content licensing.

If we move more to an online format for professional development, then we need to ensure that the supportive materials are there too. This is not difficult and some conferences are already posting handouts online. However, it is frequently done without advising the presenters about the rights that they have to their work and how the might protect those rights through a license (e.g., Creative Commons). To me, this is an area where librarians can have an impact on every conference.  Librarians - hired by the conference organizers - could work with conferences to understand what rights they want to the presenters' work and for how long. Imagine that handouts, and other materials, are clearly marked with the rights that the participant has to them. And imagine that questions about items in those handouts around use/copyright clearance are answered by someone (a librarian), whose job it is to ensure that the materials are properly using and acknowledging the work of others.

Can an organization actually afford to hire a librarian to do this work? Yes, if the organization is serious about creating new/different professional opportunities, which includes moving face-to-face conferences to the online environment. Is this a full-time position? That I don't know and it might depend on what the organization is doing. If an organization that normally holds a yearly conference of 18,000+ people moves to offering online professional development sessions once a week, including several online conferences per year, that could justify a full-time librarian focused on the copyright and licensing of materials for use in those sessions.

I'd like to see librarians, who are knowledgeable in copyright and licensing, begin to approach conference organizers about ensuring proper licensing of their presenters' materials.  Librarians might also consider giving conference sessions geared to the other presenters that focus on copyright and licensing of presentation materials in an online learning environment. This could be the start of us creating new positions for ourselves and for others appreciating our skills even more.

Finally, in talking to a colleague, there is one more innovation to discuss. That is in part 3.

Innovating Professional Conferences, Part 1: What's the problem?

SLA Info-ExpoI began attending conferences in the late 1980s. I'm now able to attend several conferences a year and have been able to do so for several years. What is interesting to me - and a bit sad - is that conferences and exhibit halls have not changed in all that time in a major way. There are still many sessions, including some that are delivering old content, others that delivering content to only a few people, and a few that are forward-thinking. There is a large exhibit hall with many organizations displaying their products and services, and likely too few people visiting the booths. There are workshops, which are an additional fee, and a host of receptions, which are sponsored by someone who hopes to gain some marketing advantage.

Those who want to attend a conference need to decide which conference to go to out of the myriad of opportunities. The person has to review the conference program, understand the total cost, and then make a decision.  We should note that conferences are expensive and many employers are being selective in the costs they will cover.

Small Changes to the Status Quo

Yes, conference organizers have tried to innovate. For example, once unconferences became popular, some conferences included unconference-like sessions, but did that last? Did that innovation have a larger impact on how we organize conferences? Seemingly the answer is "no."

We used to rely on conferences to provide continuing education opportunities, which could not be done locally.  However, we now can learn via webinars and other means, which makes us less reliant on conference sessions (as well as other face-to-face training events). In addition, those unique meetings which used to occur at conferences, where people from different geographic regions come together around a specific topic, can now occur using online meeting services.

We now have the ability to view and test new products almost instantly. We can talk to a company by phone or over the Internet, and view a demonstration using Internet technology. We can even negotiate with the company without a face to face meeting. We are no longer reliant on conference exhibit halls in order to see the latest innovations. In fact, the exhibit hall likely contains tools, technologies and services that we're already aware of.

If you look at the number of people, who are attending conferences, you'll notice that the numbers are decreasing. Yes, that is partially due to the economic downturns, but it is also due to people becoming reliant on other means of gaining professional development.

In all these years, we've innovated in other areas which impact conferences. For example, it is now easier for someone to locate and book a place to stay without going through the conference housing bureau. This lessens the conference organizer's ability to negotiate conference space and increases the cost of rooms for those that do use the conference housing service. Conference participants are using Airbnb, VRBO and a variety of other services to rent rooms and apartments at a lower rate than the rate charged by the conference hotels.

Changes Need to be More Dramatic

I think we need to dramatically innovate our conferences.

First, we must meet people at that point where they have a need for professional development. That means using different delivery mechanisms for professional development, including webinars and other tools. It might even mean the development of specific tools that don't exist now.

Second, if we are delivering professional development that gives library and information professionals the training that they need when they need it, then we need to understand what the new role is for conferences as the exhibit halls that go with them. What do we need to come together in one spot to learn? What - in terms of what someone could learn - would justify the cost for attending such an event?

I believe that there is a role for librarians in helping to change how we receive professional development.  In part 2, I'll give you the details.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

SLA2015 : Trust, Loyalty & Initiative: What does it mean to be a leader?

Speaker: Commander Benjamin "BJ" Armstrong (US Navy), @wwatmd

Armstrong noted that his opinions are his own and not those of his employer or the U.S. Government.  He is here a a civilian.

Leadership is not about school solutions or equations.  It is not about scientific perfection. 

Trust can be difficult for some leaders. It can seem ineffective.  However, it is a key component of leadership. One of the things that distinguished Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) was the trust that he put into his sailors.

Nelson also trusted the voice within himself. 

A.T. Mahan (1840-1914), reseacher and author, believed that trust was important to leadership.

William Sims (1858-1936) examined whatittookto be a good junior leader. He looked at "mission command" style of leadership. What does the junior office owe his boss? (1) Loyalty. (2) Initiative.  These two things are in conflict with each other.  Loyalty without initiative works if both sides are operating the same way.  The balance between loyalty and initiative is key to a junior officer/manager success.

Subordinates must trust as will.  For example, they must trust that the leader sees the bigger picture. They must know when to trust the leader and when to take initiative.

Self-reflection is an important part of maintaining the balance.  Trust comes through thoughtful reflection.  

All of us - including librarians - can benefit from being better leaders.

Nelson, at dinner every night, received input from his officers about what the ship was doing.  He believed in receiving input.  

Sims recognized that he didn't have the perfect right answer and so crowdsourced some answers and processed.

According to Sims, the trust in those that work for you should be implicit, until they prove you wrong.  For those that you workfor, be more circumspect.  They must earn your trust.

How does an organization's leadership rebuild trust? People need to demonstrate initiative in creating trust. 

There is a difference between giving personal opinion versus professional opinion of your office.

Can leadership be taught?  Do you need a foundation of information? Yes, there are some practical elements that we all need to learn.  You need to encourage those that have some leadership skills to become better and to improve upon what the know. People need to keep developing their skills.

Learning what people have done in the past can help us understand what questions we need to ask to help us move towards the future.

Monday, June 15, 2015

SLA2015 : Let Freedom Ring

In case you wonder, yes, I've gone to a couple of sessions that are very much related to the consulting work that I used to do.  The sessions have been good reminders of the wisdom that I need to pass along to my students.

Quick take session by Jennifer Burke on being an independent information professional (IIP). Her web site is

Being a librarian was a second career for her.  She came from a marketing background.  She then combined libraries + marketing consulting into being a independent Infomation consultant.  This allowed her a sense of freedom.

Her question to us is "what will your trail be?"

Top tips for being an IIP:

  • Think like a business person.  It's not just about the research.  Don't under value yourself.  You'll spend more time on administration and marketing, then on research.
  • Don't under estimate the amount of time that you will need to spend on marketing.  From the very beginning, focus on this.  Learn how to talk about what you do.  Marketing is a constant.  You need to network with your potential clients.  Create a target market or niche. Being a generalist is too hard to sell.  Do test your target market.  Recognize that your target market will evolve over time.
  • Time management is critical.  Your clients are your boss and you need to work their hours.  You need to work out the time management balance.
  • Recognize that you can select the projects you want to work on and the clients you want to work with.
  • Recognize that you need support. You may need a supportive partner.  You'll need a cash reserve. You need clients that will rave about your services.
  • And you'll need more support because you cannot do it all.  You may need to outsource some of what you do or find subcontractors.  Remember that you can barter.
  • Remember that you are part of a community that can help to support you, perhaps just moral support.  Yes, there are other consultants and information professionals that can be part of your community.