By: Meg6 Jul 2010
So, how about that annual meeting? Law librarians have been talking, just a little. Here's the recap, followed by my two cents:
First, an observation: as I mentioned on Twitter after the first couple posts in the list above, I'm not entirely happy with the AALL annual meeting--content, process, and format--so I'm amused by the implication that we academic librarians love it just as it is. I know there's a longstanding assumption that AALL is academic biased, but that doesn't mean we don't have just as many suggestions on how the meeting could be better.
How many times have you heard someone say (or said yourself) the best parts of the meeting happen between sessions or after hours? After attending the meeting for just a few year (Denver will be my fifth), I know I was saying it as early as after my second meeting. And we usually say it like it's a good thing, although there is an element of putting down the programming sometimes.
I'm not going to say much about the content of programs other than to say I've been to good and bad sessions that have been both targeted and for general audiences. Some of the best programs I've attended have been those not in my general area of interest (if you go by my job description), or those that might appear frivolous (the fabulous program last year about comic books). So I'm not sure that changing the focusing or targeting will do much to improve the programs. My biggest complaint about the content has to do with accuracy in labeling of beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels, and wanting more intermediate and advanced programming--something I know is being worked on.
The process of proposing and coordinating programs is getting closer to where my concern is. First, proposals have typically been due within weeks of the previous meeting. The proposal deadline was pushed back this year, which is great, but not enough. Information, technology, and library trends are changing too rapidly to have the entire program save a handful of hot topics decided on so far in advance. When I go to a session, I want to hear more of what people are working on this year, and less about what they did last year.
The process also feels mired in a time when we relied on post office and the AMPC members meeting live to discuss it. It wasn't easy to distribute proposals to more than a handful of people. But that hasn't been the case in a long time. AALL did a great job of explaining the rating and weighting process in the program planning FAQ, but it's time to have more content decided on by direct vote of members. Others have mentioned and I have long (well, okay, two years) been a proponent of doing the selecting for, say, half the sessions by a system like SXSW's panel picker. Are there sound alike sessions? Let us decide which one sounds better. Are there trends or topics that the 7-member committee is missing? Let the membership find them. That said, if people are unhappy now, it might be complete chaos if AMPC didn't exist to provide some checks, but the balance in the process could nevetheless be shifted a few more notches from oligarchy toward democracy without danger.
The format of the meeting is where most of my concern is. Those in-the-hallway, between-sessions, after-hours moments when solutions are shared and new ideas are sparked? Let's figure out a way to have more of those during the meeting.
The majority of AALL presentations fall into the broadcast format: many people listening to one person or panel for the majority of the session, followed by a small question and answer period, but not much interaction among the attendees. I've seen intra-audience interaction happen during both main and feedback segments of programs, but it's rare.
If we're all going to the trouble and expense of getting ourselves together, wouldn't it be great if we could find more ways to facilitate more generative programs? Check Roger Martin's definition of generative meetings:
a meeting designed for the participants to generate through the dialogue something that didn't exist before the meeting and wouldn't come into existence except through the dialogue. Generative meetings have always been extremely valuable because, in a sense, they generate new intellectual property that comes about because of the real-time interplay between the minds of intelligent people.
That sounds a little like Lawberry Camp, doesn't it? The Camp is happening again this year, but I was disappointed when AALL decided not to accept it as an official workshop. Sure, the explanation that workshops require measurable learning outcomes makes sense rationally, but "learning outcome" is not the only valuable outcome. I appreciate the statement that the association believes the unconference and PLL summit should be held and supported, but as a member of the sponsoring SIS on the former, it didn't feel supportive when we heard how the program was accepted--especially when there was a snafu that initially led to it not getting a room assignment on the schedule or the requested AV equipment.
What would I most like to see change in the annual meeting? More open and practical support of non-traditional programming. Not just Lawberry Camp, but unconference sessions in other programming slots. More variety and creativity in formats. To toot the CS-SIS horn again, sessions like the Cool Tools Cafe that got people moving around the entire room. I'm not sure about everything that needs to change to make that happen, but I do know we need more support from AALL/AMPC and a willingness to be flexible on what constitutes an outcome. On the other side, maybe we need to do stuff like encourage Sarah and Jason to list outcomes from previous instances of Lawberry Camp as potential learning outcomes, or focus on the types of problems that attendees can expect to work on solving.
Here's what I don't want to happen: new, creative, innovative sessions just stacked on the existing, already overflowing program schedule to compete with the main stage(s). Like Tracy said, less is more. Many people are overbooked already. I'd love to see the dominant but deprecated broadcast format give up some space to opportunities to generate new ideas, solve problems, build relationships, and make the annual meeting a must-attend event. Here's Roger Martin again:
most meetings are still run on the tried-and-true broadcast platform and that is why the majority of people think that meetings are generally a waste of time. They don't have to be, but they generally are.
Need evidence that law librarians love generativity? Don't listen to the haters; check out the thriving law librarian community and conversations--serious as often as silly--that happen on Twitter.