ALA 2015 Annual Conference: When Being Left Behind Is Not an Option

Kudos, once again, to our colleagues in the American Library Association (ALA). Where many professional associations that offer onsite conferences focus their attention almost exclusively on the paying members who are physically attending, ALA’s commitment to use social media tools to include those who would otherwise be left behind is again on display this week.

ALA_San_Francisco--2015_LogoThe efforts Association staff makes are well worth citing and quoting as an example to other associations or organizations—particularly any that are seeing membership numbers plummet for lack of engagement. ALA Marketing Director Mary Mackay reached out to all Association members a few days ago via email and a LinkedIn posting (which you can read here if you’re on LinkedIn and have joined the ALA LinkedIn group) to explicitly offer a variety of free opportunities to engage virtually with the 19,000 onsite attendees expected to be at the ALA 2015 Annual Conference, which formally opens here in San Francisco tomorrow. Here is part of what Mary offered:

“You can get insights into library transformation, future thinking, the hot book and author news, and more from hundreds of programs, conversations, events, and the 900+ exhibitors by following American Libraries coverage at http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/tag/alaac15/ and the show daily, Cognotes, at http://alaac15.ala.org/cognotes/.”

Mary notes other ways to keep up:

This is clearly an association that is interested in long-term relationships with all its members even if not all of them can support the Association through payment of conference registration fees; expenditures for food, travel, and lodgings; time spent preparing for and participating in conference activities including countless hours of work on committees; and other volunteer efforts that contribute to the strength of the Association and its work.

It’s tremendously encouraging to see the various levels at which conference attendees and Association staff members work to support their offsite as well as their onsite colleagues. Dozens of onsite participants set aside at least two or three hours to volunteer as Ambassadors in the Annual Conference program I manage for ALA Membership Development. Available side-by-side with ALA staff members in the ALA Lounge onsite as well as in a variety of conference areas as “Roaming Ambassadors,” they work enthusiastically to answer logistical questions (e.g., where events are taking place, where conference shuttle buses arrive and depart, where coat check and first aid stations are) as well as deeper questions about the Association’s numerous divisions, round tables, sections, and other opportunities for involvement in sustaining the Association and preparing it for its future. A few also contribute resources available to first-time as well as experienced conference attendees.

Live #alaac15 Twitter feed on display

Live #alaac15 Twitter feed on display

But it’s not just the organized efforts that make this work. Hundreds of onsite participants will reach each other and their offsite colleagues through tweets ranging from whimsical observations to solid 140-character reports summarizing content from many of the more than 2,400 sessions that will be offered while the conference is underway—in essence drawing offsite colleagues into the room and encouraging offsite colleagues to participate through responses as well as questions that occasionally are passed on to presenters so the size of the room extends well beyond what we see here in Moscone Center. And there are always signs of new innovations: large electronic boards displaying the latest tweets from the conference Twitter feed were, for the first time, spread throughout the conference halls today as if to remind us that part of the conference is happening in rooms housing individual sessions, part of the conference is happening though interactions via Twitter among onsite participants, and part of the conference is happening via the interactions between onsite and offsite colleagues.

There seems to be something for everyone, and those of us lucky enough to live here in the city that is hosting the conference are the luckiest of all in that we have already been reaping the benefits of having much-cherished additional time with friends and colleagues who arrived a few days early. Our conversations are magnificent opportunities to share information and to catch up with friends and colleagues we see all too rarely. Our conversations are also the individual moments that, like the bricks in an enormous and attractive structure, serve as the raw materials shaping the vitality of the entire Association itself.

I’m looking forward to contributing—via tweets, blog postings, and other online offerings—to the continuing strength and growth of this professional family, and hope onsite and offsite colleagues will do the same so no one will be left behind.

N.B. – This is the first in a series of reflections inspired by the American Library Association 2015 Annual Conference in San Francisco.

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