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Clara Bohrer's picture

ALA Conference Remodel Proposal for Association-Wide Input

Dear ALA Leader—

The ALA Conference Committee is seeking your feedback as we work to remodel the ALA Annual Conference.  Mary Ghikas, ALA’s Senior Associate Executive Director, in consultation with the Conference Committee/Conference Program Coordinating Team and with input from ALA conferences services, division staff and roundtable/ALA committee staff liaisons, has developed a remodel proposal for our upcoming 2018 Annual Conference in New Orleans.

 As we worked on its development, we had the following objectives in mind:

  • Create a more manageable and more easily navigable Annual Conference
  • Provide high-quality continuing education in content streams relevant to individuals from different types of libraries and in different specializations
  • Eliminate to the extent possible conflict between programs in the same content stream or during the same time periods
  • Provide peer-to-peer learning and networking aligned with contract streams through discussion/interest groups
  • Continue to provide an exceptional exhibition of products and services for the library community, as well as an opportunity for authors and librarians to interact
  • Provide integrated content information—including programs and discussion groups, as well as interactions with authors and exhibitors
  • Support the governance of the Association by providing a venue for both essential governance meetings and collaborative work
  • Address attendee dissatisfaction with the spread-out campus by reducing campus size by approximately 50%
  • Control costs by reducing campus spread, eliminating or reducing room turns and increasing consistency in practice
  • Increase sustainability, both financial and environmental

The Conference Committee values your input.  We particularly encourage all units of the Association and affiliates who produce programming, hold discussion/interest groups, and/or hold meetings at Annual Conference to review the remodel proposal.  You may post your comments right here on the Conference Committee’s connect space. 

The Conference Committee feels this remodel provides a better conference experience for all participants, as well as long-term sustainability for our association.


Clara Bohrer, Chair

ALA Conference Committee

Jason Martin's picture

I have not read the proposal, but here are my thoughts on the ALA conference:

One yearly conference. We do not need to have two conferences. I understand the cost of registration would increase for one conference, but it beats having to spend money to travel to two conferences.

Everything (programs and meetings) should occur in the convention center. I do not see any reason to hold a committee or section meeting in a hotel.

No more programs. I get a lot of stuff when I pick up my registration, and most of it goes straight into the trash. This is the age of smart phones, tablets, and laptops. We do not need a giant print program and a print program at-a-glance. Just a good mobile site and/or app for the conference. On that note, please make the conference WiFi network and password easily and readily available for conference attendees.

Dr. Jason Martin



Marielle Veve's picture

I agree with Jason on hosting only one annual conference, instead of two. Many of the meetings and businesses that take place during Midwinter can be done online (either through email or online meetings), not to mention how expensive it is to travel to 2 places. For that reason I don't see the absolute need to travel twice annually for the same association, especially when this is not the only conference we have to travel to as many of us have obligations with other associations.  

Kathleen Kluegel's picture

Many of us may agree on the overall goal of making the Annual Conference more productive and less frustrating.  However, the proposal, as it stands, turns the Membership-Driven, Fluid nature of the American Library Association into a Top Down, Fit in the Box Association.  Instead of each unit of ALA discovering and identifying the needs of its members and conference visitors in proposing programs and discussion groups, 12 Juries will decide if they "Fit".  

In addition to the unpleasant scent of intellectual correctness in the "jury" process, there is the strait-jacket of ** 1 ** hour sessions for ALL programs, with the fairly opaque possible exemption for a President's Program.  In a program with 3 speakers, the introductions will take at least 7 minutes (1 minute for the program chair to introduce by reference the committee which organized the program, and 2 minutes for each speaker.) That leaves 10 minutes per speaker plus 7 minutes for the audience to get questions asked AND answered! How much learning / perspective-changing / greater understanding of complex topics does this time-frame allow? Not much, in my humble opinion.

In addition, the proposal lacks a visible mechanism for revising the Content Areas before they are approved at ALA MidWinter 2017.  Comments such as this one cannot be the primary communication channel for the Content Areas and their sub-divisions. Will there be a public hearing(s)?  Who will host? What would the capture strategy be?  How to get input from those who do not attend MidWinter?  How to weigh the various contributions?  I personally find the "Collections" Content Area to be woefully inadequate.   What might the avenues for others to share / disagree with that point of view?  Similarly, wedging Reference Service into the Content Box labeled "Changing Services" is a downgrade of an important facet of many many libraries today and tomorrow. 

I have other concerns but I will stop here.

Good luck to us all.

Kathleen Kluegel, Life Member of the American Library Association

Former President of the Reference and User Services Association


Kathleen Kluegel's picture

Many of us may agree on the overall goal of making the Annual Conference more productive and less frustrating.  However, the proposal, as it stands, turns the Membership-Driven, Fluid nature of the American Library Association into a Top Down, Fit in the Box Association.  Instead of each unit of ALA discovering and identifying the needs of its members and conference visitors in proposing programs and discussion groups, 12 Juries will decide if they "Fit".  

In addition to the unpleasant scent of intellectual correctness in the "jury" process, there is the strait-jacket of ** 1 ** hour sessions for ALL programs, with the fairly opaque possible exemption for a President's Program.  In a program with 3 speakers, the introductions will take at least 7 minutes (1 minute for the program chair to introduce by reference the committee which organized the program, and 2 minutes for each speaker.) That leaves 10 minutes per speaker plus 7 minutes for the audience to get questions asked AND answered! How much learning / perspective-changing / greater understanding of complex topics does this time-frame allow? Not much, in my humble opinion.

In addition, the proposal lacks a visible mechanism for revising the Content Areas before they are approved at ALA MidWinter 2017.  Comments such as this one cannot be the primary communication channel for the Content Areas and their sub-divisions. Will there be a public hearing(s)?  Who will host? What would the capture strategy be?  How to get input from those who do not attend MidWinter?  How to weigh the various contributions?  I personally find the "Collections" Content Area to be woefully inadequate.   What might the avenues for others to share / disagree with that point of view?  Similarly, wedging Reference Service into the Content Box labeled "Changing Services" is a downgrade of an important facet of many many libraries today and tomorrow. 

I have other concerns but I will stop here.

Good luck to us all.

Kathleen Kluegel, Life Member of the American Library Association

Former President of the Reference and User Services Association


Fred Reuland (staff)'s picture

Bravo!  We at ALA's Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA) are committed to serving our members by supporting these objectives.  Specifically, all of our content, including conference programs, preconferences, midwinter institutes, webinars, discussion groups, etc., is geared towards and open to all types of libraries.  Also, in order to minimize time conflicts at conference, we now only schedule only one program per time slot.  Thank you for all your work on this.

Fred Reuland, LLAMA Program Officer, Continuing Education

individuals from different types of libraries and in different specializations - See more at: http://connect.ala.org/node/261211#sthash.q9ibhb5l.dpuf
individuals from different types of libraries and in different specializations - See more at: http://connect.ala.org/node/261211#sthash.q9ibhb5l.dpuf

Sally Bryant's picture

Anything that makes the Annual conference in fewer spaces to navigate is wonderful. I miss so many things because I literally can't get from one thing to another.

Lauren Corbett's picture

  • In the proposed model:
    • hotel rooms being used for meetings will need to have wifi included, paid by ALA, since groups that are accustomed to wifi included in the convention center would be disadvantaged if being forced out to hotel locations and Division budgets cannot accomodate the additional cost.
    • Would joint program proposals from multiple groups be given more weight in the jury process?
  • Technology has significantly changed how we conduct business just in the last 5 years. It is time to raise the question again about having a single conference. Or alternatively, maybe one of the two conferences is dedicated to one aspect or one library type and the second to another (e.g. public services for one and tech services, the other; or public libraries for one and other library types, the other)?



Lauren Corbett

Melissa Hubbard's picture

What I most like about this proposal is that it offers the potential to create a more compelling and engaging program that is relevant to librarians of all types. I would love to have more opportunities to engage with librarians in different specializations and types of organizations than me, and an ALA conference like the one proposed here could offer that opportunity. I think we can all agree that creating a more sustainable and easily navigable conference would be wonderful, and this proposal moves in that direction.

However, it has been years since I have been able to attend much programming at an Annual or Midwinter conference, because I am very active in my Section. Committee meetings and necessary informal discussions about Section business occupy all of my time at both conferences, so I don't benefit from the programming. I don't believe my institution would pay for my attendance at Annual or Midwinter each year if not for the committee work, and I suspect I am not the only person in that position.

If ALA Annual is only going to hold committee meetings "within space limitations" does this mean that some committee meetings won't be held? If so, will ALA provide assistance to committee chairs who must make alternate arrangements for virtual meetings outside of the ALA conference? How will ALA decide which meetings get held in a centralized scheduling system? My apologies if I misunderstand what is meant by "meetings within space limitations." If I understand it correctly, and fewer committee meetings will be held at the conferences, I think the Committee should address that issue directly in the proposal.

My Section (RBMS) is large and complex, with a variety of committees. I know that our Section chairs work very hard to schedule committee meetings to avoid scheduling conflicts that would prevent our members from participating as fully as possible. I am concerned that a centralized scheduling system would limit options and create the kind of scheduling conflicts that we work to avoid.

I recognize that those of us who attend ALA for committee service alone may be a minority (I honestly don't know), but I hope the Conference Committee will consider our needs in any future decisions about the nature of the conference.

Finally, I want to extend my thanks to the Committee for wrestling with this complex problem. 

Susan Highley's picture

To me, the highlight of Midwinter is the Youth Media Awards.  I realize that is not true of everyone, but what would happen to them then?

I appreciate the attempts to make the convention more navigable. Annual in Vegas was ridiculous; one of the largest convention centers around, yet meetings were farmed out to far-flung hotels. A room way too small for Stan Lee when there were much larger rooms in the center. 

I am sure that the bottom line is still about ALA making $$

Ellen Spring's picture

I totally enjoy coming to Midwinter and Annual in the many cities in which meetings have been held.  Usually I mainly meet with whichever committee I am on, which I feel is the best professional development there is.  Virtual meetings are not the same, in my opinion.  I agree with Susan that the highlight is the Youth Media Awards, and these should be continued as they are.  Consolidating meeting sites does make sense and would increase attendance.  The Exhibits are another highlight.  Having to meet with my committees is a strong point in my being allowed to be away from school to attend, even though I am paying for all of my expenses.  Please seek wide input before making any changes.

Buddy Pennington's picture

Being relatively new to the ALA conference experience, I would welcome a more streamlined conference with less duplication of programs and centralized into a single location. The conference is too large and overwhelming with no sense of community from program to program. I am a current co-chair of an ALCTS IG so would be interested in how IG sessions work in the new model.

Mary Ghikas's picture

Thanks for the comment.  The proposal currently is that both programs and discussion groups would be tagged to specific content areas.  That way, members interested in programs in certain content areas could also see discussion groups focused on the same areas.  That combination of programs and peer-to-peer learning/networking can be very rich.  So, the intent is to integrate the Interest Groups/Discussion Groups/Member Initiative Groups to the greatest extent possible. Make sense?

James Rettig's picture

One of the bullets is "Support the governance of the Association by providing a venue for both essential governance meetings and collaborative work"

At the ALA level--i.e., the Council--in recent years the Council has completed agendas with a good deal of time left in the period allocated for meetings.  in conjunction with streamlining and compacting, there need to be a look at how to use technology and different scheduling for Council itself and meetings of committees that fairly regularly or always bring action items to Council.  This raises questions about the need for Council III on Tuesday; can it be accommodated on Monday in the latter part of the day?  These questions may affect more than the members of Council and chairs of Council and ALA committees; it may have implications for division and round table governance meetings and practices.  This one mention of governance addresses venues rather vaguely; meeting space is less significant than scheduling and effectiveness combined with efficiency.

Jim Rettig

Retired Academic Library Administrator

Happily living in Williamsburg, Virgina


Tina Shrader's picture

As the chair of a committee with meeting times that span multiple days and multiple time slots, I'm concerned about the idea that committee meetings will be relegated to very narrow time slots and within the constraints of space limitations.

The Committee on Cataloging: Description and Access (CC:DA) is the ALA body charged with representing U.S. library community concerns and perspectives to the development of our international cataloging code, RDA (Resource Description and Access).  CC:DA typically meets for 7.5 hours (including break times) in a Saturday afternoon session from 1:00-5:30pm and a Monday morning session from 8:30-11:30am. 

The proposal for remodeling the ALA conference would not accommodate the kind of time that CC:DA needs to accomplish the work of the committee.  Based on the document provided, the only committee meeting times would be 4-5pm Saturday and Sunday (2 hours), and 2:30-5:00pm Monday (2.5 hours).  Even if we met during every available committee slot, that only provides us with 4.5 hours of meeting time, which is three hours less than we have now. 

Additionally, CC:DA has liaison and reporting relationships with multiple other ALA committees and organizations, and if all committee meetings are scheduled for the same 4.5 hours during the weekend of the conference, there will be inevitable conflicts so that the liaisons have to choose between the committee they represent and CC:DA, or between CC:DA and the committee they report to on behalf of CC:DA.

I hope that there will be room within the 'one-size-fits-all' package that this remodel seems to promote to allow committees like CC:DA (and the Subject Access Committee, and the MARC Advisory Committee, to name a couple of others that I suspect won't fit into the proposed model very well) to continue to do their work.

Thank you.

Tina Shrader

Chair, CC:DA


Mary Ghikas's picture

A couple of clarifications may help:

(1) While it is proposed that the priority use for convention center space be (1) programs and (2) discussion groups -- i.e., sessions intended for the majority of attendees -- there will be some use of convention center space for programs -- though primarily in "off-peak" times -- and we also have a substantial amount of space in the 2-3 hotels closest to the convention center, throughout the run of the conference, from Friday through Monday, including Saturday and Sunday.

(2) In preliminary discussions with division executive directors and staff liaisons to other groups, we have tried to identify groups with unusual requirements -- so that we can plan with them.  The ALCTS executive director definitely made sure that CC:DA was on that list, along with "key conflicts."

(3) The primary driver in the expansive, spread-out campus -- which attendees do not like -- is the uneven distribution of meetings/discussions/programs.  I call this the moving the elephant through the python problem.   The "remodel" proposal is able to "shrink" the campus primarily by insisting on level distribution of events.  So, there would be, for instance, 100 meeting/program/discussion rooms available at 4:00pm on Sunday -- and also at 10:30am on Saturday.  

I hope that helps. 





Lisa Hinchliffe's picture

Is there a concern that the more ALA rations and centralizes access to conference resources, the increased tendency of groups to just schedule outside of/around it? At this point, almost everything I attend at ALA happens just before or just after the conference, with the exception of a few committee meetings. Once I am finished with those, I can imagine flying in for the pre-meetings and then leaving, never registering or attending the conference itself. This seems to have happened with IFLA quite a bit. Seems like it will leave the main event less vibrant than it currently is. 

Peter Coyl's picture

The proposal has a few areas that I am not clear on:

1) Will Units be able to select their own programs or be allocated a certain number of programs?  Or will they have to vie through this jury selection process?

2) The proposal says that times and dates will not be entered when the proposal is submitted--I assume this is refering only to programs and not to meetings of units?


Peter Coyl

Past Chair


John Overholt's picture

As my colleague Melissa Hubbard mentioned above, the Rare Book and Manuscript Section of ACRL primarily holds working committee meetings at Annual and Midwinter, with the regular exception of one conference program at Annual. Therefore, my primary concern is how this proposal affects the scheduling of committee meetings. I appreciate the clarification from Mary Ghikas above that committee meetings will have access to the full range of meeting times at hotel spaces. Mary, could you perhaps expand your response on the following two questions?

There are a number of RBMS committees whose meetings must be offset because of overlapping attendance. There'll be no one to attend our cataloging discussion group if it happens at the same time as our cataloging policy committee is meeting. The chairs of next year's preconference planning committee must also attend the committee that oversees all preconference activivities, etc. I'm concerned that central schedulers will have no idea how to avoid these conflicts.

My other concern is about the meeting slots. As with CC:DA, we have many committees that cannot complete their work in an hour or 90 minutes--will multiple timeslot meetings be allowed? I didn't see an explicit statement that that would be the case.

Erica Findley's picture

Thank you to everyone on the ALA conference committee for this work. I admire the goal to make ALA Annual and easier to navigate conference

I have the same questions as Peter Coyl and a few more to add. As a member of ALA Council, I am imagining that there will be exceptions made for committee meetings that are usually much longer than the time slots provided, but it is not clear to me in this proposal how those will be scheduled. 

Also, I would like more information on the jury process. How will membership of these juries be selected? Do they replace programming committees? What about programs that focus on topics outside of the 11 divisions or are sponsored by a Round Table? Can divisions continue to co-sponsor programs?


Erica Findley, MLS

Kathryn Oberg's picture

I'm very excited about these changes!   Good luck - I think these changes will take adjustment but people will be pleased with the results. 

One comment that is really something to think about that might be done while these changes are put into place.  Part of the most valuable part of ALA is running into people and talking about new ideas. Poster sessions are great but my poster session experience this past year was extremely disappointing.  It was juried, and I did a LOT of work. I was lucky enough to get selected.  However maybe 5-10 people saw my work at conference, which is very low. The reason for that is that the app does not list poster sessions as events, so people didn't see it.  This was true for ALL the poster sessions, not just mine, although mine was also off to the side.  Attendees sometimes know the poster sessions exist, but without the details in an event on the app, it just didn't get seen.  The Ignite or the 5 minute sessions that take place had hundreds of people watching.  They were listed as individual events, even though these people had just put five PowerPoint slides together.  I often walked in to what I thought was one session and there was another of interest actually going on, due to the problems with timing.  The poster sessions would be even easier for people to move between, because poster presenters are supposed to stay there for 45- 60 minutes.  I think there was some kind of criteria for being chosen, but these events, where we share new and interesting ideas together, really ought be unified. 

I am a public librarian - I was showing my library's ideas because I'm proud of them, not because it's needed for a resume.  Perhaps the app could add poster sessions into the regular events?  This would add a lot really interesting topics for people to go and discuss with others.  For people with short attention spans, they can go stare at a poster, ask a question or two, and then move on.  The ignite sessions didn't offer the same ability to ask questions, but MANY more people saw the ideas and had opportunities to contact the speaker afterward.  Hundreds of people might see more of the posters as opposed to only 5-10 people.

If you're going to reduce numbers of programs, adding poster sessions back into events will definitely show people the diversity of activities of librarians.  All sessions of any type as long as they are open to all, should be visible in the app. 

Clara Bohrer's picture

I am pleased to see all the comments coming in about the remodel proposal.  I encourage everyone to continue to provide input.  This input is very valuable to the Conference Committee.  Mary Ghikas has already addressed some issues raised.  After the holidays, Mary Ghikas and I will review all the comments received to date and post another document to address the other questions raised well before the Midwinter meeting. 




Larry Neal's picture

Thank you, Clara Bohrer, Mary Ghikas and the ALA Conference Committee for such a great job on the proposal. This looks like a really solid plan to achieve the stated objectives and reduce many of the things that have frustrated me about Annual Conference over many years. I'm excited to see that the goal is to try this in 2018 so there's time for meaningful input in advance but that it will actually happen. That said, with any change this major I hope there is ample communication with members before, during and after so we can learn, grow and build on a re-energized ALA Annual Conference together in a positive way. It may be helpful to design a satisfaction survey to measure changes between the 2017 and 2018 conferences taking into account the variables due to the location and venue.

Steven Bell's picture

Did the location of the conference come up in the discussions?

I favor keeping midwinter because it has appeal as a regional conference that moves around the country.

What about always having annual in Chicago. First, big savings because ALA staff does not have to travel and second, it's a central location that is easy to get to for most of us. People complain about the location of the convention center but it's certainly big enough for everything ALA could offer with a downsized program.

Then pick four locations for the midwinter (northeast, southeast, northwest, southwest) and go to the same city every four years  in January (e.g, boston/phila, atlanta/orlando, seattle, san diego/dallas) - that way we get long-term contracts for those four locations over the next 25 years. 

I think folks who can't afford to go to annual and midwinter - would appreciate being able to attend a regional ALA midwinter conference when it comes to their region.

Otherwise the proposals seem reasonable.

Steven Bell
Temple University Libraries

Steven Bell Associate University Librarian Temple University bells@temple.edu http://stevenbell.info

Denice Adkins's picture

I appreciate the commitment to making conference manageable and more affordable for both members and the association. In that vein, here is my feedback:


  • Reduced campus size means most programs will be accessible.
  • Centralized program submission makes program submission easy and transparent.


  • Reduced campus size and rigid control of content makes it likely that some sections will "go rogue" in the manner that Lisa Hinchliffe suggests above.
  • Centralized program submission forces all sections of a very heterogeneous organization into a box.
  • Centralized program submission with "target selecting group" suggests that some divisions/round tables/affiliates will not have access to program planning. This may reduce their likelihood of attending.
  • "Content buckets" need refinement, and will probably need to change as profession evolves.


  • I have no preference on one conference or two, but I definitely like Stephen Bell's idea of deliberately choosing a limited set of locations for Midwinter.
  • I appreciate the print program. Maybe give us the option at registration to decide which one we want?
  • And on the subject of registration.... I seem to recall, a long time ago, receiving my conference badge in the mail. I would LOVE to have that convenience again, instead of the registering, then standing in line to receive the badge that lets me in. If that were an option, I'd happily give up the print program.

--Denice Adkins, REFORMA Past President (2012-13), ALA Councilor-At-Large, 2014-17

Andromeda Yelton's picture

In re going rogue, it's worth noting that LITA's Top Tech Trends panel exists because LITA was hacking overly onerous requirements (the lead time for conference proposals was so very long we couldn't talk about the things we actually wanted to talk about, so LITAns found a way to write a proposal that could sneak through the letter of the requirements while actually leaving its entire content unspecified until later).

It's great that overly rigid constraints motivated creativity and led to one of ALA's most visible programs, but...it would have been better if LITA hadn't needed to hack the system in the first place. :)

LITA Board of Directors, 2013-2019; President-Elect, 2017-2018

Robert Holley's picture

I would suggest strongly that the process add one more jury for the round tables. The first reason is the fact that the collective membership in the round tables is 13,570 according to the 2016 figures on the ALA Web site. This is almost 3,000 more members than the largest ALA Division (ACRL). In fact, several individual round tables have more members than the smallest ALA Division (ASCLA with 805 members).

The more important second reason is that the round tables represent areas of great importance to ALA that may be overlooked in the current proposed selection process. Intellectual freedom is a core ALA value but is not well represented in the ALA divisions, some of which have eliminated their IF committees. The Intellectual Freedom Round Table has a tradition of providing excellent, well-attended programs that might not be brought forward for consideration under the proposed structure. The same is true for other areas such as library history, government documents, and international libraries plus others that I'm less familiar with. 

I'm not suggesting increasing the number of overall programs but only that this important part of ALA, the round tables, be given a chance to bring forward programs for consideration. 


Scott Walter's picture

There are many good ideas in this proposal, especially around trying to make the most effective use of physical space, enhancing digital access to conference content, and streamlining and standardizing the process (though not the content) of submitting programs to conference, encouraging collaboration across divisions, etc. Some specific comments:

1) as others have said, I believe ALA needs to look critically (and immediately) at the ongoing need for the Midwinter Meeting, as currently composed. If Midwinter is not completely eliminated (as I believe it could be), it should be re-envisioned, perhaps as a regional conference, rather than a second national conference. This would allow ALA members whose travel is limited to their geographic region to know that a meeting would be accessible, if desired, on a known schedule, but would eliminate the perception that Midwinter was a national program. This might also allow for greater focus on conferences maintaining the national draw, both ALA and in the divisions (PLA, AASL, ACRL, etc.).


2) as others have said, I believe that ALA needs to consider how all of its component parts are able to bring programs forward for Annual, not just divisions, but RTs, Chapters, etc. It is also relevant that some of ALA's components, e.g., some (but not all) Divisions, have access to their own annual meeting programs to ensure opportunities to access programs

3) the conference committee needs to better distinguish between proposals to coordinate the use of physical space (and accompanying costs) and the suggestion that content is being centrally controlled, or it needs to make clear that the latter is the goal. If, for example, the desire if for the Annual Meeting to follow a particular theme each year that has relevance across our diverse membership, this would allow for divisions, RTs, etc., to focus proposals on the selected topic, and make for a deeper (if narrower) conference experience. This may result, of course, in some people deciding to skip a conference when the overarching theme is not of direct interest or relevance, and that is the counterpoint to the free-ranging content that we see at conference now. Please note that I believe these goals can be achieved independently, just as they are on campus when the Registrar controls rooms (and schedules), but not academic course offerings.

4) In addition to these efforts to improve efficiency and streamline and standardize process, I believe ALA must look forward to a model for professional association engagement and member benefit that does not revolve around physical attendance at multiple conferences per year. As divisional programs expand and improve, and as funding for travel continues to decrease, I would expect more and more people to choose a division conference over an ALA conference, and this seems to relate to decisions about attendance at national programs as opposed to state and regional programs, as well (and, within the academic library community, at least, between attendance at "big tent" programs like ALA or the increasing number of high-quality, specialized programs that have grown up over the past decade, e.g., the Library Assessment Conference). 

The ecosystem of professional association engagement and funding for travel to national meetings has changed in fundamental ways over the past 15 years, and ALA has been slow to address this in the way its programs are designed, and its opportunities for meaningful member engagement and leadership are allocated. This proposal is a start at addressing the mechanics of the Annual Meeting, but there's a ways to go.

Scott Walter, M.L.S., Ph.D.
University Librarian
DePaul University

Dale McNeill's picture

I appreciate this thoughtful approach to the Annual Conference. However, I would like to see (and perhaps I simply missed it) at least one reserved session time for each unit of the Association. Part of the reason for Round Tables and Interest Groups is a deeper interest in a narrow topic (and, of course, many members of a Round Table or Interest Group are also members of Divisions). In my reading of the proposal, it seems that programs of deep interest to a smaller group of people may have a difficult time finding a place in the program. I think it is important (and I think this proposal gets at this) to focus on what those attending can benefit from by being physically present (social events, dialogue, lively question-and-answer, and so on). 


Dale McNeill

Texas Chapter Councilor

Kendra Skellen's picture

Thank you to the committee for all the work in putting together this proposal.  Here are just a few quick thoughts.

I would like to know what the timeline would be for implementing the changes.  Each of the divisions have a different timeline for when program proposals are to be submitted and we would not want to duplicate the efforts of those proposing programs by following a current timeline to only have it change midstream.  For example, RUSA currently has a deadline of May 1st for program proposals, but with the proposed schedule, the time for submitting would be open until August.  

I would also like to know whom makes up the Juries?  Would this be handed off to the divisions to handle and become the revised charge of the various division program planning committees?  This would give the divisions the opportunity to still have a say in the type of programming that they would like to see presented.  

I like the prospect of having one annual conference a year.  The cost savings for ALA as well as to the libraries and librarians around the globe would likely allow more libraries to send attendees to the one conference.  Much of the committee work can be done virtually, however I do enjoy the opportunity of face to face interaction and the dialogue that ensues.  Limiting the committee time at annual to just a few short hours will cause many librarians to have to choose between what committee they will be attending.  Especially if the librarian is a member of several ALA divisions.  Maybe more committees can meet on Friday or Monday.  Those tend to be quieter days.  At least for some of us.

Kendra Skellen, Emory University

Adrian Ho's picture

Thank you for the proposal, which offers many interesting ideas for consideration.  What follows are my thoughts and suggestions. 

Because of limited travel funding provided by their employers, some colleagues cannot attend the conference even though they would like to.  I suggest ALA consider accommodating attendance through real-time virtual participation, e.g., through live interactive Webcasts.  I think some colleagues would appreciate the virtual means to participate in the conference simultaneously. 

I think one effective way for colleagues to learn from each other is to host preconferences and workshops in conjunction with the conference.  Does the proposed program selection process cover preconferences and workshops?  If so, I must have missed it when reading the proposal.  If not, would there be a way to help prevent too much overlap between preconferences/workshops and accepted programs?  

Regarding the 10 content areas noted in the proposal, I suggest the topics in each area be reconsidered and reassigned as appropriate.  For example, it seems “Data curation & management” and “Data services” (both under Technology) as well as “Digital humanities” (under Books and Users) are more related to “Digital scholarship,” which is categorized as a topic of “Publishing & Scholarly Communication.”  I would propose the content area “Publishing & Scholarly Communication” be renamed as “Scholarly Communication & Digital Scholarship,” which would be broad enough to include publishing and content dissemination.  Also, it seems some topics in “The Library in the Community,” “Changing Library Services,” and “Books and Users” overlap.  Would it be possible to re-organize the topics to avoid duplication?  Meanwhile, there has been discussion about how libraries could organize events and host programs in collaboration with other cultural heritage institutions such as museums, archives, galleries, and historical societies.  As technology advances, the boundaries between cultural heritage institutions begin to blur.  I think it would be beneficial for the library community to pay more attention to possible collaborative efforts with other cultural heritage institutions when making plans for resources and services.  Last but not least, as the library field is diverse and dynamic, I would recommend the content areas be reviewed and updated as needed every year to ensure they remain most relevant and appropriate to the library community. 

“Updates & Briefings” and “101 sessions” offer much value to ALA members and would-be members, but I think they could be hosted regularly and virtually throughout the year instead, e.g., bimonthly or quarterly Webinars on updates or introduction to a particular division.  The Webinars could be recorded so that colleagues who couldn’t join the Webinars could view them at their convenience.  I think regular and ongoing updates and orientations would be more effective than going over a large amount of information in one session, which some people might find overwhelming.  On the other hand, colleagues would benefit from a stronger presence of the Placement Center and career development services at the conference.  Such services might help increase ALA membership, especially among iSchool students. 

As others have pointed out, the round tables form a significant part of the ALA membership.  I think they would appreciate opportunities for them to collaborate with divisions to host programs or to be directly involved in the selection of program proposals. 

On the whole, I think this remodel proposal is a commendable, long-overdue first step in the right direction.  If the annual conference in 2018 is remodeled as such, I would recommend there be rigorous assessment to determine what works well and what doesn’t.  The outcomes would be very helpful for the further remodeling of the conferences in future years.  Thanks.  

Adrian Ho 

Shanna Hollich's picture

First of all, thanks for the hard work that clearly went into this proposal. This was a massive undertaking, and, it seems, a much-needed one.

I have not attended any ALA conference as of yet (I'll be attending my first Midwinter in a few weeks; I have never attended Annual). I'm a public librarian who receives no professional development funding, so I cannot typically afford the travel costs or conference registration fees. I think a large segment of our membership is in circumstances similar to mine, yet the organization at its highest levels consists primarily of career academics. I'd like to see this imbalance addressed, and there are many ways to do this - making the Annual conference more accessible is one of them.

I agree with many of the comments above. I've never understood the need for 2 conferences per year when the vast majority of other professional organizations, some quite a bit larger than ALA, make do with one. Committee appointments can often be served virtually - I think ALCTS is a doing a great job on that front - which eliminates some of the need for physical meeting space and times at Midwinter/Annual.

I was surprised to discover that there is not currently a central submission site or process for Annual - this, to me, seems essential. Programs and meetings should absolutely be juried/curated, or we end up with the very large and disorganized sprawl of programs that I am currently trying to wade through in order to plan a schedule for Midwinter. There is a lot of unnecessary dross on that schedule - meetings and programs that could and should be taking place either virtually or outside the realm of the conference itself. Save the conference and the conference sites for conference-specific programs - groups that want to have more informal meetings or who want to have meetings/programs/discussions outside the realm of usual ALA and division business can use any number of the off-campus sites or the dates/times surrounding the conference itself. Many groups already do this, so this does not seem to me to be a particularly large hardship or change.

I love the idea of having a number of core content areas or "tracks" where like programming can be grouped together and individuals primarily interested in a certain area can easily find and attend programming relevant to their interests.

I think there are a lot of good things about this proposal. Certainly details will need to be ironed out over time and specific kinks will arise as changes are implemented. And certainly there will be those who feel left out or burdened by these changes; such is the nature of change. But I think these changes serve the majority of conference attendees and could make it easier for first-timers like me to attend and benefit.

Celia Ross's picture

Thank you to the Conference Committee for all of your hard work in putting this proposal together. I know from experience that this kind of work is challenging because back in 2009 and 2010 I chaired a RUSA Task Force where we investigated some of the same issues, albeit on a smaller scale.

If anyone is interested in looking at the final report, this link should work: http://connect.ala.org/node/101938  

The final report contains our recommendation to encourage shifting to a single, annual conference and the communication and event rescheduling and other issues that need to be considered. It also contains additional links to an earlier report from 2009 as well as a link to the results of the RUSA BRASS section's experiment in dropping Midwinter activities.

I think the conversation around a "more manageable and more easily navigable Annual Conference" will inevitably need to include a discussion of making ALA as an organization itself more manageable, streamlined and sustainable. I hope that these explorations continue and result in implementable changes over time, starting soon, and that the efforts and plans are communicated clearly and consistently to the ALA membership. 

Celia Ross--former BRASS Chair, Former RUSA e-Participation Task Force chair, Current RUSA Vendor Relations liaison


Heather McIntosh's picture

This is an excellent proposal. It is nice to know that people are working on improving the conferences.

As a public librarian who has to pay everything out of pocket, I must agree with the others who call for one annual conference. Many more public librarians would join committees if they only had to commit to one in-person meeting annually. I also like the idea of having more committee meetings on Fridays if possible. Another thing that would help with attendee costs is to bring back the roommate service. Being able to sign up to share a hotel or even dorm room with others and split the cost can make the difference between being able to go and not.

I agree with other comments regarding mailing of the badges. I wouldn't mind supplying my own badge holder if I could skip the registration line. I have missed sessions at every conference because I couldn't get from my hotel to the conference center to register and then make it to the hotel where the meeting is on time.

Finally, if the exhibit hours were changed so they stayed open later, attendees would be able to make it to more sessions.

Heather McIntosh


Botetourt County Libraries

Roanoke Valley, Virginia

Jeannette Smithee's picture

Congratulations to the Committee for the hard work in making recommendations for improving the conference experience. Simplification is needed.  I have read the comments and want to add a few of my personal thoughts. 

  • The conference has grown and new ideas for format and content are added as ways to get members involved.  I think each new innovation should be given a specific innovation period and evaluations used to determine if the innovation will be kept or if it will be cycled out.  The sponsoring individuals or groups should be thanked for the time, energy and enthusiasm for introducing new ideas. 
  • Consistent evaluations are important -- being sure to include subjective narratives as well as room counts and numbers -- AGAIN thanking the organizing individuals that worked hard to add programs, events and meetings to the conference. 
  • Online and virtual meetings are getting to be the norm and are a great way to accomplish the organization's business. There is a need for making connections face to face so the continuing virtual meetings more effective because you "know" your committee members. 
  • As reflected in the remodel report, discussion group sessions often have great content and an informal discussion opportunity.  I would love to see these sessions have short description sentences in addition to a descriptive title. In deciding to attend - especially a session sponsored by a group with which you are not currently affiliated, it would be good to know the format (s speaker, a panel or peer discussion) and some background for the session.
  • Printed programs at conference have a lot or redundancy -- I get program descriptions, room numbers and schedule online before the conference. At conference, I do rely on the maps of the venus with room locations at each site. At the conference, I do check the exhibitor ads and listing of exhibit area events. 
  • Programs are the heart and soul of conference. These take a lot of planning by the members and committees that plan, organize and facilitate these sessions.  The proposed online submission and jury prioritizing needs more explanation, especially about how the schedule will fit Division and other group program planning and approval timelines.  It will be good to see the details of how this will work.  AGAIN - thanks should go to the members and the planning groups that work on formulating programs for colleagues at conference -- whether the submission is accepted or not -- they should be thanked for their work. 

Again thank you for the thoughtful document and the many comments.

Andromeda Yelton's picture

Thank you to you and the committee for your work on this. Better user experience at the conference would be a great benefit to everyone.

* Having a single submission site is a great idea that will save time for lots of staff and member volunteers.
* For this site, may I recommend ALA consider http://openconferenceware.org/ . This is open source and has a strong track record of use in the real world.
* However, I strongly dislike the one-year process. LITA can't work with this; technology moves too fast and we can't offer relevant content with a one-year lead time. If scheduling remains decentralized (see below), each jury can set its own timelines, while still realizing the benefits of a shared conference management tool.
* I'm glad the discussion group management remains lightweight; discussions hosted by interest groups are among LITA's most valuable programming and lightweight management works best for them.
* Annual review of content streams is a great idea.
* Do we have significant resources to devote to centrally controlled scheduling? I have done large-scale organizational scheduling and it is extraordinarily hard and time-consuming. Decentralized scheduling is easier and lets decisions get made by people closest to the problems, who have the most relevant information. Keeping scheduling decentralized but adding a few expectations ('you must spread your activities approximately equally through the day' and 'identify which content stream your programs fit in'), and then having a lightweight central review to make sure the expectations are met, is likely to result in better schedules for less effort. If there are concerns about overall topic balance, different juries could be given rough targets for topics (or chairs could discuss this and come to a general agreement). Regardless - decentralized scheduling within parameters will produce better schedules with less effort than centralization.
* What about diversity? If we want our programming to include a broad array of speakers, we need to devote some resources to outreach - hand-soliciting candidates to submit proposals, and keeping track of whether our session speakers represent various types of diversity. (If there's going to be expanded central capacity for conference planning, I would *much* rather devote it to outreach than to scheduling.)


Andromeda Yelton

LITA President-Elect

LITA Board of Directors, 2013-2019; President-Elect, 2017-2018

Jason Griffey's picture

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, having been the Chair of the LITA Program Planning Committee, a member of the ALA Conference Planning Committee, a Director on the LITA Board, and other things I'm forgetting. Suffice it to say, I care a lot about both the programming at conferences as well as the user experience therein. 

First: Programming and process. There are many devils in the details of the proposed process. How are the newly-limited program slots allocated to the juries in question? If each ALA group (12? 13?) is given the program proposals identified for them by the submitter for jury, how is the decision made that the jury's decisions will go forward into the master program? Does the ALA Conference Committee have veto power? Or is each Division or Roundtable given "slots" to fill based on historical data? By size? By number of proposals? Each of these has benefits and drawbacks (and different ways to game the system) so the "how" needs to be carefully vetted and transparently implemented.

If the Conference Committee is doing the "scheduling" part of actually slotting the juried programs into timeslots, that has the potential to disrupt some Divisional planning that occurs (such as the Sunday Afternoon with LITA that is programmed at every Annual...other divisions have similar events, though). There is a balance to be found in the sort of "mini-conference-inside-a-conference" that this sort of schedule enables, and the potential for segregation of interests that prevents the happy coincidences that are enabled by being in the same location. 

As with any issue relating to programming a conference of this size, the biggest issue will be getting everyone to accept that in order for the conference to be more compact, there must in fact be less of it. Which means that everyone will have less...fewer spaces for meetings, fewer programs. 

To the user experience issue, having a more compact conference is a huge win for UX. It will make the thing far more manageable. Increasing the amount of digital capture and sharing of programs is also a huge win for the membership, esp from a historical perspective (seriously, the fact that librarians haven't been capturing and preserving the content of their main conference is baffling). 

One thing that I don't think anyone else has mentioned: while it's true that having fewer locations for Annual (always in Chicago, as someone above mentioned) would make some aspects of the conference cheaper to run, reducing the footprint of the conference as a whole also INCREASES the number of cities where it is possible to hold Annual. So as the number of meeting rooms needed falls, the options for where it can be held grows...which also means more competition for it, which hopefully means the ability to find cheaper locations. 

Finally: I love ALA, I really do, but seriously....you post a PDF of a hard-copy scan of a document? That someone in ALA created? Really? So I can't keyword search it? Or feed it to a screen reader? *sigh*

Jason Griffey
Fellow, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society
Harvard University

Follow me on Twitter! http://twitter.com/griffey

Mary Ghikas's picture

Jason, I posted the original Excel doc also.  Mg

Sent from

From: ALA Connect

Sent: Jan 5, 2017 2:25 PM

To: Mary Ghikas

Subject: [ALA Connect] ALA Conference Committee - ALA Conference Remodel Proposal for Association-Wide Input (New comment)

Ranti Junus-MI 72's picture

Mary, could you kindly point out where the post containing the excel doc you mentioned here? I couldn't find it in this thread. The posted PDF document is difficult to read for me. 


Thank you.



Mary Ghikas's picture


It's in this same stack/same Connect group -- but not pinned, so you'll have to scroll down.  I think I posted the direct Connect link about -   mg

Ranti Junus-MI 72's picture

Thank you, Mary. 

Nancy Everhart's picture

Thank you for giving this issue such serious thought.  I like it a lot.  One conference is adequate I believe with the technology we have to communicate virtually for committees, etc.  As many have mentioned, they must fund their own way and two conferences are a financial burden.  Another point to consider is that school librarians, even if they fund their own way, are often unable to be released to travel out of state during the school year (midwinter) for a conference. 


I really like the idea of "cross pollination" if we have one conference and making a concerted effort for all types of information professionals to attend broad-based programs.  Divisions like AASL, PLA, etc. have their own conferences where we can exchange more specific ideas, but it would be really beneficial to have broader based programs.  Fewer programs would also support the concept of no multiple sessions in the same time slot and perhaps this selectivity would benefit all members.

Nancy Everhart, PhD. AASL Past-President

Martin Garnar's picture

I appreciate all the work that has gone into making the conference a more manageable experience for both attendees and organizers.  I want to echo the concerns raised above about topics of concern to round tables and interest groups being overlooked when programs are selected.  I'm also concerned about how our core values will be considered in the program selection process.  The proposal notes that "sessions about core values are integrated into the various content streams ... and juried." However, 6 of the 11 core values (as enumerated here: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/statementspols/corevalues) don't seem to be represented at all in the proposed content areas, including intellectual freedom, privacy, and social responsibility.  I think it's important that the descriptions of the content streams be modified or expanded so that it's clear where programs on our core values would fit.  I understand that some of the existing language could be interpreted to cover programs on these topics, but words matter.  If I were proposing a program on privacy and didn't see an obvious slot for it, the message I receive is that privacy isn't valued, and I may not bother to submit my proposal.

Again, thanks for all the work on this, and I hope we can find a way to ensure that our core values continue to be represented in our conference programming.

Martin Garnar
IFRT Councilor

Suzanne Stauffer's picture

I echo the concerns about the process. These "buckets" were created with no input from the members of the divisions and round tables, and it shows. Others have noted that some areas are clearly in the wrong "bucket." I also notice that some areas are in more than one bucket or overlap significantly. What is the difference among "The Library in the Community" and "Changing Library Services" and "Teaching and Learning?" By what rationale is Library History in "The Library in the Community," not "Books and Readers?" 

Who is going to decide which programs are worthy? What is to prevent a few interests from dominating every conference? The strength of ALA currently is that it represents the entire profession. This method promises to destroy that, giving very short shrift to Round Tables and Interest Groups. 

Perhaps it is time for ALA to replace a single annual conference with smaller, divisional conferences and an electronic business meeting. 

Thomas Adamich's picture

Thanks for the thoughtful discussions which have ensued to date on this topic.

I am in favor of the streamlining of venues and logistics.

I also agree with comments considering consolidating two ALA conferences into one.

One theme I haven't heard discussed is virtual participation.

I'm happy to be founder and chair of the GODORT Government Information for Children Committee.

GODORT has set up an Adobe Connect account we will be using in addition to in-person participation for the first time at Midwinter. in Atlanta.

Not only does it accommodate those committee members who may have limited travel budgets (if any), but it also increases our participation opportunities in between meetings.

If there are similar efforts currently in place in other divisions to accomplish the same thing (using Adobe Connect or similar platform)?

Thanks again for moving forward with conference consolidation and streamlining.



Tom Adamich, MLS President Visiting Librarian Service P.O. Box 932 New Philadelphia, OH 44663 330-364-4410 vls@tusco.net

Clara Bohrer's picture

ALA Leaders,

I am posting a FAQ on the Conference Remodel Proposal which provides more details and answers/addresses some of the questions and comments received to date.  I thank you for all the input.  The Conference Committee is finding it very informative and helpful. 

Clara Bohrer

Chair, ALA Conference Committee

Diane Chen's picture

One area I do not see in the discussion involves the large grassroots meeting of the American Association of School Librarians called our Affiliate Assembly. This involves representatives from every state meeting together in regions for caucusing and sharing concerns and commendations. Because this is such a vital piece of the AASL experience at conference, I would not want to see it relegated to a hotel or limited to such an extent that the work could not be accomplished. With the suggestion that meetings might occur at hotels, there is a tendency to create silos where only one division's meetings might occur at a hotel. This would create greater barriers for participants to then be part of the larger cross-ALA experience.

I do appreciate the work of this committee to address the needs and I agree that we have the need to reduce the number of rooms for meetings and programs. Thank you for the transparent opportunities for us to share our concerns and make sure that the committee is considering all aspects.

Diane R. Chen

AASL representative to Council

Diane R. Chen

School Librarian, Stratford STEM Magnet School, Nashville, TN

Mary Ghikas's picture

Thanks for your comment, Diane.  We are very aware of the AASL Affiliate Assembly.  I am working with Sylvia Norton, AASL Executive Director.  The AASL Assembly will definitely be able to continue its good work.  mg

Doug Archer's picture

I greatly appreciate the committee's efforts to streamline and condense annual conference. It is a monumental task and long overdue.  That said, I am concerned that there will no longer be any guaranteed slots for any of the core values of our association. 

Specifically, my reading of the latest revised proposal guarantees programming for each "unit."  But core value Council committees such as the Intellectual Freedom Committee, the Committee on Legislation and the Committee on Professional Ethics are not "units" and will no longer be guaranted a slot.  I believe that at least some programming for each of our defined core values should be guranteed in every annual conference.  Hey,  they are "core" for good reasons.  

One way that this could be accomplished would be by assigning at least one program slot to each Council committee reponsible for each of our core values.  By the way, this would quite likely result in an actual reduction in the total number of such programs.  But it would assure their presence in the mix.

Best wishes and good luck




J. Douglas Archer Reference & Peace Studies Librarian 246 Hesburgh Library University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, IN 46556 574-631-6656 voice | 574-631-8887 fax archer.1@nd.edu | www.nd.edu/~jarcher

Barbara A. Macikas (staff)'s picture

I'm writing on behalf of the PLA Board of Directors, who discussed ALA conference remodel plans at their board meeting yesterday. While the board recognizes the changes may in the short term mean some disruption, overall, the board is very supportive of the work of the ALA Conference Committee. The Board recognizes the need to make the annual conference more navigable and manageable for our members. Library staff deserve the best content and conference experience so that they can return home and implement all they have learned. Asking them, particularly new attendees, to navigate our current complex schedules and multiple shuttle bus trips, while also often having to chose from among several overlapping programs, is overwhelming and does not serve them well. The suggested changes retain the member practitioner role in vetting conference content and will serve to improve educational experiences, reduce redundancy, and make attendee schedules more manageable.

Barbara A. Macikas Executive Director, PLA

Anna Neatrour's picture

As someone who does program planning for a technology-focused interest group (the ALCTS Metadata Interest Group), I want to echo the concerns that many of my LITA colleagues referenced above. The amount of time needed to plan a program will make it difficult to respond to emerging areas for the profession. Already in the area of digital librarianship there are many discipline specific conferences like Code4Lib or the DLF Forum that people find just as valuable or more valuable than ALA. I'm concerned if more barriers are put in place for the program planning process, it will eventually be less relevant for many of my colleagues to have ALA involvement.