ALA Rethinking Annual Conference

Editor’s note: The following is a message from ALA Conference Committee Chair Clara N. Bohrer.

The ALA Conference Committee is seeking your assistance as we rethink the ALA Annual Conference, looking at member experience, conference-based collaboration and networking, learning and sustainability.

As an ALA Committee, we appreciate that the ALA Conference offers significant benefit to members:

  • It brings together librarians and library staff (across types of libraries and specializations), authors, editors, library trustees and friends, and library suppliers to share their best thinking, explore common issues from their distinctive perspectives, discuss emerging trends, and challenge assumptions that might otherwise stifle innovation.
  • The Conference provides an opportunity to showcase for new audiences the best work of ALA’s divisions, round tables, committees and partners: the latest research, the results of outstanding projects, successful models, innovative practices.
  • It offers a powerful platform to speak to the communities that our libraries serve, through conference-based advocacy work.
  • While ALA’s work goes on year-round, Annual Conference offers the face-to-face engagement that is often essential to addressing critical issues or resolving problems.
  • Regardless of type of library or specialization, the Conference offers an opportunity to develop and nourish each member’s unique national network.

Right now, the ALA Annual Conference offers 2,400-2,700 programs, discussion groups, meetings, and events in 350-370 concurrent meeting spaces. While this shows the vitality and amazing span of this field, we believe that it is necessary to do this in a more structured and efficient way. We know from post-conference surveys that attendees do not like the expansive, spread-out campus which requires running back and forth between multiple venues, consuming both time and personal energy. We know that attendees have a difficult time finding the most relevant content for their current needs because it gets buried in the volume and complexity of the Conference. We also know that using 350-370 rooms across a large campus is ultimately not a financially sustainable practice for our Association.

Our focus is the best possible conference experience for all participants, forward-focused innovation, and long-term sustainability for our association. So, we are seeking your collaboration with the ALA Conference Committee as we examine what we are currently doing, think about possible new opportunities, and explore new ways to collaborate. We will end up doing less of some things. We may end up doing some things we don’t currently do  — but would like to do.

The Committee has asked Mary Ghikas, ALA’s Senior Associate Executive Director, to develop a couple of different models, looking at three inventories:

  • The things we do at conferences – programs, discussion groups, meetings, special events.
  • The places we use at conferences – meeting rooms at both the convention center and hotels.
  • The conference schedule – the designated time periods for programs and other conference activities.

We are looking at reducing the “places” inventory from 350-370 to 200, which would have a significant and positive impact on the time that participants spend going from place to place. It will also require collaboration, imagination and open communication with each other. How can we more effectively coordinate and collaborate in conference content development? How might we coordinate discussion group schedules and improve access to these vital venues for peer-to-peer sharing and learning?  How can we reduce the schedule conflicts between meetings and programs and between programs and discussion groups within a related content stream?

It will be the task of the ALA Conference Committee to examine and discuss the models presented, to share and obtain input from across the Association on the models, and to select or modify a model for implementation at the 2018 Annual Conference in New Orleans and future annual conferences. The Committee’s structure is an asset in this process. The ALA Conference Committee has a representative composition, bringing together various stakeholders – from the broad ALA membership, from ALA Council and Executive Board, from Divisions, from Round Tables. The annually-appointed Conference Program Coordinating Team (CPCT), a subcommittee, is also representative, including someone from every division, as well as the Round Tables Coordinating Assembly. The CPCT will participate in rethinking the Annual Conference with the ALA Conference Committee and assist in obtaining feedback across the Association. Work will be done through space on ALA Connect, where proposed models will be posted, as well as at our face-to-face meetings at the ALA Midwinter Meeting and Annual Conference.

In the future, we will be asking for your feedback on models. We value your input. If you have any questions feel free to contact me.


Clara N. Bohrer, Chair

ALA Conference Committee