24:2 (2009:05) New Adventures in Continuing Education: The First NASIG Regional Unconference

May 15, 2009 at 12:51 am | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Char Simser

Perhaps you are like me and hadn’t even heard the word “unconference.” Apparently, unconferences have been around since at least 2006. My first exposure to the concept was in early 2008 when librarians in this region organized the first Library Camp Kansas, http://librarycampks.wetpaint.com/page/Library+Camp+2008. I didn’t attend that event but dropped in since I knew several of the organizers and it was happening in my own backyard, right here in Hale Library at K-State. The unconference was public service oriented but I could immediately see the benefits of this type of venue and cornered NASIGer Dalene Hawthorne who was an attendee. The two of us talked about making this work as a NASIG event, grabbed Mary Bailey who also works at K-State, and began our plotting. I followed up with e-mails to several NASIG colleagues to gauge their interest in coordination and planning, presented the idea to the NASIG Board and then to the Continuing Education Committee. We were off and running!

The unconference wiki went live in November, though our committee of five started its work a couple of months prior to that. (Planning information and division of responsibilities is on the wiki!) Registration opened in early January. We used national and state listservs to publicize the event. Sponsorships were also solicited and we had generous help from four organizations: the Technical Services Round Tables of both the Nebraska and the Kansas Library Associations, BCR, and Swets.

Forty-one individuals (including the five coordinators) registered for the event. We had representatives from publishers, vendors, consortia, and public, private, state, special, and academic libraries. We had two library school students and ten paraprofessionals! Considering current economic woes and stripped travel budgets that are plaguing our organizations, we were delighted with the turnout, especially in the central plains region of the U.S.

For those interested in considering a regional unconference, I will admit that there is some work that goes into the coordination of even an event this size. Though the idea is to have attendees suggest the topics, we experienced the same “silence” that my Library Camp Kansas colleagues reported. About 80% of the topics were suggested by our planning committee. The responses to serve as session facilitators weren’t overwhelming either. We had four individuals sign up for three of the topics and the planning committee split the other topics. However, none of that appeared to matter to the attendees.

Five areas of discussion were identified: electronic resource management, acquisitions, cataloging, basics of blogs and wikis, and professional development. Because of the high interest in some topics, we chose to repeat a few sessions so individuals could attend as many as possible. (See the agenda for details: http://nasigunconference2009.wetpaint.com/page/Agenda.) We asked for reporters to summarize sessions and some of those have been completed and linked from the Discussion Topics page: http://nasigunconference2009.wetpaint.com/page/Discussion+Topics. We even managed to take a few pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/nasigunconf/.

With NASIG’s Evaluation & Assessment Committee (E&A), we set up a brief evaluation that was sent out after the unconference. Twenty-six responses were received, with 24 of 26 indicating that the overall quality of the unconference was a 4 or 5 on a 5 point scale. One individual commented that “it was a great networking opportunity. The topics were of interest and there was much more interaction than is found at a traditional conference.” Another wrote: “very encouraging environment for newcomers. Wonderful to be around such knowledgeable people who were willing to share their knowledge.” [Ed. note: See the unconference evaluation elsewhere in this issue.]

We heard many positive comments as the day progressed. An e-mail from one attendee certainly brightened my day. Jennifer Sauer wrote, “… let me say what a great event you and your colleagues put on for us on Friday. It went a long way in reassuring me that I have some idea of what I’m attempting to accomplish here at Forsyth Library!” Gaele Gillespie, one of our committee members, wrote, “It was a day full of wide-ranging discussion on relevant topics chosen by the participants, plus the kind of networking that NASIG’s famous for. The range of attendees and sizes/types of institutions they represented was as varied as the regional topography, and that participant mix helped to make the day’s exchange of ideas and information far more relevant and meaningful.”

Many, many thanks to my NASIG colleagues and co-planners who saw that everything ran like clockwork: Norene Allen, Meg Mering, Gaele Gillespie, Dalene Hawthorne, and Mary Bailey, and to our CEC liaison, Steve Shadle, who offered advice and solicited feedback from CEC. My own department staff and others here at K-State were invaluable in setting up the registration and snack tables, leading building tours, and also helped tremendously with the clean-up efforts. And finally, many thanks to Dean Lori Goetsch for providing us a venue free of charge.

[Ed. note: For some additional background, see the informal Q&A that the Newsletter editor and Char exchanged.]


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