The 2019 Instruction Section has chosen two recipients for a Special Certificate of Recognition and Appreciation. Brad Sietz, LOEX Director for the LOEX Conference and LOEX Quarterly, has received one of those certificates. LOEX is a self-supporting, non-profit educational clearinghouse for library instruction and information literacy information. Brad’s work on LOEX for over a decade has made it the premier information literacy conference for librarians, nationally and its reputation is growing internationally.
Tell us about LOEX and your involvement in it over the years.
LOEX was started in 1971 at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) in Ypsilanti, MI. Its official name used to be the LOEX Clearinghouse for Library Instruction (now it is just LOEX) and that’s a pretty good jumping off point to describe its original purpose—a place where librarians could find & exchange both library instruction resources (physical materials, such as mimeographs and video tapes, in those pre-internet days) and ideas (through an annual conference and a Quarterly newsletter). LOEX has member institutions (currently about 675) who pay a small annual fee to get discounted registration fees to the conference along with a subscription to the Quarterly and a Currents e-awareness newsletter.
Over the years, LOEX has stayed true to that purpose while broadening it—the conference used to just be held in Ypsilanti, but for the past 25 years it has moved all around the country; we also now offer a selection of online breakout sessions after the conference. The Quarterly has evolved from a newsletter to a journal focused on short, practical articles. Physical materials are no longer exchanged, so LOEX now has a website where online materials can be accessed.
I started at LOEX in 2006, right after getting my MSI at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. I am the LOEX Director, the sole employee of the organization and I spend my time managing the membership, editing & producing the Quarterly and Currents, and planning & coordinating the annual conference. LOEX also is now separate from EMU, becoming an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit five years ago, though we are still based in Ypsilanti.
The LOEX annual conference is well-attended and even revered by academic librarians. What do think accounts for its sustained success?
Yes, I was very fortunate to come into a situation with a well-attended, well-liked conference already in place, so my main job was (and still is) to not screw it up and build upon its long-history of success.
I believe what accounts for this success is it has a clear focus (library instruction for academic librarians) while still having breadth (a wide variety within that focus–not just assessment, online learning, etc). If you’re a librarian who does instruction and cares about information literacy, you can get a great feel for what is going on across North America (and a few other parts of the world) by spending just a couple of days at LOEX.
Additionally, the culture of the conference is a big plus. We work really hard to make it a welcoming, collegial event that is not only packed with great sessions, but plenty of opportunities to talk to fellow librarians in more relaxed, yet often structured settings (e.g., numerous dine-arounds on Friday night) on a personal and professional level.
Finally, we made it bigger (when I started, the typical capacity was around 275; now it is around 400) in order to allow more people who want to attend to do so, but not too big. Thus, it can still be held in one hotel/place, which makes it easier for attendees to take everything in and not get “lost.”
What was a really notable moment in LOEX’s history?
LOEX has been in existence for almost 50 years and, for most of that, it was wholly a part of EMU. Then, about five years ago, EMU went through some organization planning changes and we all decided that LOEX needed to become an independent entity. This was both exciting and scary, as it would allow more independence for LOEX, but we would also need to take over all administrative functions and there would be no backstop if something unexpectedly bad happened, especially monetarily.
But this change gave LOEX the opportunity to really examine its mission, and create more opportunities for people to contribute to the direction and work of the organization—for example, now LOEX has a Board (previously it just had an Advisory Council) that drafted bylaws and oversees the entire organization. While it hasn’t always been fun learning how to properly follow all the rules & regulations of federal & state non-profit agencies, make a payroll, setup a retirement plan, etc, it has given us a great deal of freedom—if we think something is a good idea and will work for LOEX and its members, there is no need to run it by a much, much larger organization or have to go through a more complicated financial approval system.
It has been very gratifying to realize LOEX can stand on its own, which gives us confidence LOEX—with smart planning, hard work and a little luck—will be around for another 50 years, whether LOEX decides it is best to stay completely independent or partner with a larger institution.
What are you most proud of about your work with LOEX?
To pick just one: LOEX’s role in developing and providing opportunities both for new librarians and for librarians that have recently transitioned into an instruction-focused role at their institution.
For those who make LOEX the first national conference they attend or where they conduct a national presentation (either as a student poster presenter or as a breakout session presenter), because their institutions often are members, it makes it easy to notice those folks as they advance in their careers, and I am glad LOEX played a small part in that.
In addition, my conversations with department heads and my review of conference evaluations makes it clear that library schools are, unfortunately, still not generally doing a great job in preparing new graduates for library instruction, so LOEX plays a vital role in helping develop those who need to get a broad-based “education” in library instruction and information literacy. Additionally, with the Quarterly (particularly the Book Reviews), I often work with many first-time authors (including occasionally students) and I take a lot of satisfaction in helping them through the writing and editing process.
What do you want the library community to know about LOEX that you haven’t addressed already?
That I’m the only employee of LOEX, so while I play a key role in its success, the drivers of that success are the volunteers—who serve on the Board, the Advisory Council, and the local committees for the conference—and the presenters and authors. LOEX is reliant on volunteers (e.g., each conference has a local committee of about eight people; each section of the Quarterly has an assistant editor) to make LOEX “work”, and I am very appreciative of their contributions. It really is a community-driven enterprise and there are plenty of opportunities for folks to contribute and grow, no matter what stage they are at in the career.