2017 ULA Conference Survey Report

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.

General 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 <jessica.breiman@utah.edu>. 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

Keynote Speakers

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.

Poster Session

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.

Vendor showcase

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.

Refreshment Breaks

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.

Blood Drive

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).

Conference Venue

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.

Print and Online Program

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.

Wrapping Up

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:

Level Up
May 16-18, 2018
Utah Valley Convention Center
Provo, UT


We Survived!

We survived the ApocEclipse! I am truly amazed at the response level we received from the public about this rare event and have to give a shout out to all of the Utah libraries that provided programming around the Total Solar Eclipse. I heard some had up to 2,000 people attend their events!

I’m excited for the call for session proposals to go out soon for our Annual Conference next year. It’s so fun to see what everyone has been working on. I encourage you to submit even if it scares you. A presentation at Annual Conference equals at least 1000 experience points and will help you Level Up!

Valerie Buck and Erin Morris have been working hard to organize the ULA Fall Workshop at the Park City Library on Friday, September 29th. The theme is “Mining the Library Motherlode.” We’ll have the privilege to hear from Salt Lake City Public Library Director Peter Bromberg who I like to call “The Librarian Whisperer.” There will also be presentations about Health Information in Libraries and STEAM in Libraries. In addition, we’ll get to hear from authors Shannon and Dean Hale! Plus you’ll get to see the amazing Park City Library if you haven’t had the opportunity. Full program information and registration is now available here.

Lastly, ULA is partnering with ALA to be part of their Rebel Reader Twitter Tournament for Banned Books Week (Sept. 24-30). Complete at least one of the activities below during the week and use the hashtag #RebelReader to have a chance to win an array of literary prizes. Tag ULA (@UtahLibAssoc) as well so we can follow what our members tweet.

#RebelReader Activities:

  • Take a Selfie with a banned or challenged book
  • Share a Video of yourself talking about censorship or reading from a banned or challenged book
  • Post a Quote from a favorite banned or challenged book
  • Share a Story about an educator who helped you learn the power of words
  • Take a Photo of a completed ALA Banned Books Week coloring sheet
  • Take a Photo of yourself with any Words Have Power swag
  • Share a Link to your local library’s homepage or book selection policy
  • Tweet Some Love at a banned author from this list: twitter.com/OIF/lists/banned-authors/members


Dan Compton

President, Utah Library Association

Extending the Learning – ULA Conference 2017

As the trainer for the Salt Lake City Public Library system, I love conferences. They are a great place to learn, grow and meet new friends. One dilemma I always face though, is how do you transfer what you learned at the conference into daily practice? And how can you share the information gained across the organization? At SLCPL my solution has been to encourage our staff to present a “spark talk.” A spark talk is a short (4-6 minute) recorded presentation summarizing one great session they attended. The spark talk helps the presenter gain a deeper understanding of the topic, because it requires that they spend time reviewing their notes and further researching the topic. In addition to sharing knowledge with colleagues, the videos also serve as a call to action to anyone else at the library with interests in the topic. But why describe Spark Talks when I can just share examples? Here are two that cover some of the great session from this year’s conference.

Allied at the Library

Book a Librarian

Shout out to Michael Cox, Spring Lavallee and Salvador Oregon who were the original presenters of Allied at the Library at the ULA conference and also to Dory Cochran and Alex Sundt who presented Book a Librarian 2.0. Thanks to all of you for inspiring us!

From the Desk of Patrick Hoecherl: 2 Weeks to Choose Your Own Adventure!

It’s nearly here, ULA 2017, Choose Your Own Adventure!  Those who know me, know I’m excited about pretty much everything and this year’s ULA Conference is no exception. In particular I’m excited about the theme. I grew up reading Choose Your Own Adventures Books. I still vividly remember the feeling of awe and accomplishment I felt the one (and only) time my choices in Journey Under the Sea (Choose Your Own Adventure #2) let me escape Atlantis alive.


Hopefully none of our choices at this year’s conference will be quite so life and death as those young Patrick faced in Journey Under the Sea, however it is my hope that this year’s conference will be full of tough choices for you. For example, look at the very last time slot of the conference, Friday at 2:30. Your choices include sessions about: librarian’s favorite apps, ways to keep your library relevant, tips for getting hired at a library, transforming spaces and environmental branding, teaching tech, how to host a teen movie party, and the new Beehive Books. As far as I can tell the only bad option is going home early!


Don’t worry you’re not the only one with tough choices. The conference planning committee had to make a ton of them. We had 129 sessions submitted this year, but only 72 spots available. We combined sessions where we could, but ultimately some great sessions were declined for want of time in the day. Making those choices wasn’t easy, but because of that abundance of choice we have a great conference. When making our selections we focused on the feedback we received from last year’s conference. You requested more Children’s and Teen sessions? There is at least one Children’s AND one Teen session in every time slot – seems appropriate for the Choose Your Own Adventure conference, right? You requested career and interviewing sessions? We’ve sprinkled some sessions throughout the conference and have put together a career services booth in the exhibit hall that will be staffed by HR professionals. Technical services sessions? Check! Digital libraries? Ditto.


You’ll have lots of choices at this year’s conference, I hope all of yours are good. Just don’t surface too quickly, you’ll get the bends and have to start the book over again.


Make sure to plan your conference online at https://2017utahlibraryassociationconfer.sched.com/ (you will need to create a free account). Or you can take a look at the PDF  of the full conference sessions!