By: Emily S. Darowski, Conference Planning Chair, & Patrick Hoecherl, Program Board Chair
Every year the ULA Conference Planning Committee receives a lot of great feedback from the ULA Conference Survey. It’s our goal to take that information, apply it, and make the conference better the next year. In doing so, we build on the work of the previous year’s committee to make incremental improvements in practice and understanding. You can call that Growth Mindset, Jungle Tiger-ing It, or our new favorite – Leveling Up. With that in mind, let’s look at what we learned from the survey and what actions we are able to (or in some cases not able to) take.
When talking about conference feedback, what better place to start than the beginning? That means pre-conferences. Of those who responded to the pre-conference question, the percentage who said they were satisfied or very satisfied were:
- 93% for Learning Like a Jungle Tiger (Trevor Ragan) (58 respondents)
- 100% for Advocacy Bootcamp (James LaRue & Marci Merola) (34 respondents)
- 100% for A Joyous Way to Learn (Jim Gill) (21 respondents)
- 85% for Family History (13 respondents)
- 80% for Cooperation (10 respondents)
- 50% for Adventures in the Scientific Method (10 respondents)
Overall, we see this year’s pre-conferences as a great success. Of 136 respondents, only six said they were dissatisfied with the pre-conference they attended. The vast majority had a positive experience or at least a neutral experience. Of particular note is Jim Gill’s session. All but one respondent were very satisfied. The remaining one? Satisfied.
Some common themes from the comments included a desire for more “hands-on” or “workshop” pre-conferences as well as a desire for a youth services pre-conference every year. I have good news on the youth services front. Dan Compton, our fearless ULA leader, has already secured a youth services pre-conference for 2018.
There were also a few comments about how distracting the Jim Gill session was for adjacent sessions. We apologize for that, but lesson learned! In 2018 if we have any musical sessions they will be placed in a room on the end, rather than in-between two other sessions.
As you can see below, the general sessions were also well received. In fact, the third most frequently cited positive conference experience was the quality of the sessions. There is still room for improvement, especially regarding the variety and relevance of the sessions, but overall we are proud of what was delivered last year.
We received 67 responses about how we could improve the quality, variety, and relevance of the sessions. Many responses revolved around the mix of sessions. Some appreciated the mix and others said the mix was imbalanced.
“Too public and school library oriented.”
“The sessions seemed heavily weighted towards an academic audience.”
“The number of academic sessions really was appealing and attracted me to the conference. Many of them were quite good.”
We also received a number of comments related to the mix of sessions and overlap of themes.
“I was able to find a session relevant to my work in the children’s department of a public library during each time slot. This shows careful planning on the part of conference organizers. Thank you.”
“Please don’t schedule all of the same type of sessions at the same time. I understand it is difficult, but if a technical, juvenile, academic, etc. session can be all at the same time rather than multiple juvenile all at the same time, it would be helpful. Thanks!”
“I love that there was something academic represented at every session. You did a wonderful job balancing the program so there was something for everyone during every time slot. Well done!”
“Really great mix of programming. There was at least one program each session that I really wanted to attend.”
One of the struggles of planning ULA is making the conference relevant to all types of libraries and librarians. ULA serves everything from large academic libraries to small rural public libraries to very specialized libraries. We need to provide sessions for teen librarians, instruction librarians, cataloguers, and the list goes on. Each year is a balancing act trying to make sure that the needs of everyone are met (in just seven sessions per time slot). In the 2016 survey one of the trends we noticed was a request for more sessions of interest to children’s and teen librarians. At the 2017 conference we had at least one children’s session and at least one teen session in every time slot. We also had a request for sessions about career services and were successful in meeting that need. In addition, we sponsored a career services booth with HR professionals from a variety of libraries, which was found to be very or somewhat helpful by a strong majority of people who attended. Our other major focus area was on sessions related to technical services. We accepted the majority of session proposals we received that identified themselves as having a technical services focus, however in this year’s survey we still received a number of requests for more technical services sessions. To provide a greater quantity (and quality) of technical services sessions for 2018, Jessica Breiman, last year’s conference planning chair, has agreed to chair the Technical Services Roundtable. She will be looking to increase membership and participation in the Roundtable so if you are interested please reach out to Jessica <email@example.com>. We hope that this will result in a greater number of relevant technical service sessions at next year’s conference.
An important takeaway from the feedback is identifying what went well and trying to continue that on for next year. With that in mind we asked about attendee’s favorite sessions. Forty-five different sessions were selected as favorites (which is awesome), but only sessions that were mentioned five or more times are listed below.
- 16 Votes: Is it Time to Get Rid of Fines at Your Library?
- 13 Votes: Painless Staff Development: Using Microlearning and Gamification to Make Training Fun
- 8 Votes: Trevor Ragan Keynote: Learning and Mindsets
- 8 Votes: Trevor Ragan Pre-Conference: Learning Like a Jungle Tiger
- 7 Votes: Paws and Breathe / Workplace Wellness
- 5 Votes: James LaRue Keynote: Free Speech and Diversity
- 5 Votes: LDS Fiction Extravaganza
- 5 Votes: State of the State: Information Literacy Instruction Across Utah
- 5 Votes: So you Want to Work in the Library: Getting Hired in a 21st Century Library
- 5 Votes: STEAM in Storytime
- 5 Votes: No Really We Can Help with This: Librarians Facilitating Research Assignment Design
Our keynote speakers, Trevor Ragan and James LaRue, were the second most frequently cited positive conference experience. They were overwhelmingly found to be engaging, organized, and informative. The biggest takeaway from the comments was that some people prefer to have a speaker who is specifically focused on libraries and library issues and some people really like to have a speaker with a more general focus. Once again this is a balancing act and we feel like by having one keynote focused on library issues (e.g., James LaRue, Intellectual Freedom) and one on a more general topic (e.g., Trevor Ragan, Growth Mindset), we struck a good balance. In 2018 we aim to have a similar split.
The poster sessions were successful once again this year. Twenty percent of respondents even felt that the poster session should be expanded. On that front we have potentially good news for all of you. Last year, we accepted all posters that applied. We have the space and capability for additional posters if we receive more applications. The most frequent concern regarding the posters was their placement. We have already made plans this year to provide more space for the posters so they won’t be so tightly packed together.
This last year we tried a new session called the “Vendor Showcase” where Spacesaver Intermountain, Niche Academy, and EnvisionWare talked about their products as they relate to the library. Of the survey respondents, 45% indicated they didn’t know about it, which suggests we need to get the word out better this year. We also plan to have more vendors present in a lightning talk format. This session provides a “no pressure” way of learning about products and services that may benefit your library.
If you didn’t know, vendors are one of the major contributors to ULA’s revenue at the conference. We really appreciate exhibitors and their support of our local conference. From the survey, we learned that 18% see the exhibits of these vendors as irrelevant to their work (e.g., no purchasing power). While we recognize this might be the case, we still want to encourage attendees to visit the exhibit space and talk to exhibitors as a way of showing appreciation too. Another way you can show support for the exhibitors is to attend next year’s vendor showcase (see relevant section above).
Lunch is often a contentious subject and this year was no exception. We received a fair number of positive comments…
“Both lunches were fabulous–I’m vegetarian and they were delicious.”
“The lunch meals were lovely.”
but also a comparable number asking for changes or improvements.
“The lunch on Thursday was incredibly disappointing, to be honest…. If it was up to me, I would do away with the “fancy” setup with the waitstaff and table settings, and just do a Cafe Rio buffet or something of the sort. I would imagine it would be comparably priced and the food would be way better.”
“I did not like the salad lunch on Thursday.”
Lunch, unfortunately, is an area that we aren’t able to change significantly. We are not able to bring in an outside caterer or even have a significant impact on the menu. Conference venues require that if we serve food we use the conference center’s kitchen and wait staff. Our only real recourse would be to stop providing lunch on site, but that would have repercussions for how the day is structured, because ULA awards and speeches currently happen during lunchtime. For now, the lunch schedule will remain the same. However, we will continue to offer alternative dietary options (e.g., gluten free, vegetarian) when you register, and we will strive to take food feedback into account when we make selections from the catering menu.
We received several comments asking us to move the refreshment break to the morning. However, it looks like overall the preference is to keep refreshments in the afternoon. That said, the Thursday break may be impacted by some changes to the networking social.
Silent Auction & Networking Social
Our survey asked attendees to share their most positive experience at the conference. The most frequent response was…drum roll…networking with librarians across the state. This is great. It means we like each other and love to catch up and share ideas about our lives and our work. However, when we look at attendance at the networking social and silent auction, over 60% said they didn’t attend. So, if we love to network and socialize, why is attendance at the social so low? The main reasons offered for not attending were being tied to a carpool that left right after the last session, wanting to get home after a long day, and wanting to start the long drive back home. This tells us that it’s not for lack of desire, but for lack of time.
This year, we’re changing things up so you will have the time to attend the networking social and auction. First, we’re making this the last official session of the day on Thursday, from 4:00-5:00pm. For now, we’re calling it the Thursday Capstone. We’ll have a short speaker who will wrap up the day. We’ll have refreshments. We’ll have a fun game (with prizes) available that will facilitate socializing. We also plan to recruit roundtable leaders to be available in marked locations around the exhibit hall so you can talk to colleagues with similar areas of interest. Amid all of this, the silent auction will be open until the very end when bid winners will be announced. We hope this new approach will help you see this as a key session of the conference where you can participate in our major service project, network with colleagues and develop professional collaborations, and have some fun at the same time.
By shifting the Thursday schedule to move the Thursday Capstone earlier in the day, we’re going to lose a session block that day. Never fear, we are going to add a session block to the end of Friday. This means we’ll end at 4:20pm that day instead of the typical 3:20pm.
While not fully confirmed, we are working with the Provo Library to coordinate another social that would take place later in the evening (e.g., 5:30-7:00) on Thursday. There would be more refreshments and possibly a meet and greet with local authors.
The blood drive has been a service opportunity at the conference for three years now, with varied success.
- 2015 St. George: 23 pint goal, 28 presenting donors, 25 pints of blood collected
- 2016 Layton: 34 pint goal, 33 pints of blood collected
- 2017 Sandy: 17 presenting donors, 12 pints of blood collected
Survey respondents shared many valid reasons for not donating, such as not having enough time between their last blood donation and not meeting eligibility requirements. Others indicated that they were getting paid to attend the conference for professional development and didn’t feel it was appropriate to participate in the blood drive. This last point made a lot of sense to the planning committee, so for now we’ve decided to forego the blood drive. We will focus all of our service efforts on the silent auction, a worthy cause that helps our fellow librarians attend conferences for professional development. In the future, it is possible we’ll take up another service opportunity that does not take away time from conference sessions (e.g., food/book drive).
We also received a few comments about conference venues.
“Why isn’t Salt Lake City or Ogden on the list of possible cities for a conference?!”
“Check out the Uintah County Conference Center in Vernal.”
ULA hires a professional conference planner to handle logistics and coordination with venues. She has identified the Davis, South Towne, Utah Valley and Dixie conference centers are the only options that are appropriately sized and costed for ULA. The other options are either too small or in the case of the Salt Palace, outside our budget. We will continue to revisit venue options in the future and always appreciate hearing about new developments.
For the past few years, we’ve included survey questions that ask about your satisfaction with the conference facility. We see common themes: the venue is too cold and the seats are uncomfortable. We will pursue ways that we can get this feedback back to the appropriate individuals at the venue. Unfortunately, these are two items we have little control over. We suggest wearing layers and possibly bringing your own chair cushion.
A lot of work goes on behind the scenes for the print and online program. Survey respondents were generally happy with both and want both versions to continue. When it comes to the online version, if you ever have a question about content or a correction to suggest, please contact Patrick or Emily. Many are neutral towards the conference bags and their contents. This year we tried something new where we asked attendees whether they wanted the print program or not and whether they wanted a bag or not. We will continue this pattern so you have a choice about what you carry around during the conference.
Far and away the most frequent comments were thank yous, kudos, and other expressions of appreciation. Thank you so much for saying that! It’s always gratifying to hear that the work we do for ULA is appreciated. We also want to thank you for making it to the end of this pretty lengthy report and for being invested in ULA. You are big part of the conference being a success. Don’t forget to mark your calendars for our next conference:
May 16-18, 2018
Utah Valley Convention Center