Event planning is hard, especially when unexpected things happen. It is also fun and rewarding when things go right. Either way it is definitely worth all the work because it is still, even in our iGeneration, the best way to learn, connect with colleagues, and have fun.
One of the main purposes for me to attend #MidwestMHSLA17 was to observe the details of planning a professional conference. I am on the Planning Committee for the next Midwest MLA Conference in Cleveland in October 2018. I am a member of the Publicity Committee, and the Webmaster for the conference site. The Publicity Committee is responsible for getting the word out to the Midwest MLA membership about the conference and promoting the host city and state. We have already been working hard since the spring and the 2017 meeting was our first big milestone in planning. Besides observing and meeting our counterparts at the 2017 meeting, the 2018 Planning Committee sponsored a table with promotional materials, and announced the conference at the MHSLA Business Meeting and the Midwest Chapter Business Meeting.
The 2018 Publicity Committee (consisting of Margaret Hoogland, Theresa Kline, and me) planned out our table and decided to give out buckeyes (chocolate and peanut butter truffles for those non-Ohioans), Cleveland pins, and chances to win a $50 coupon towards the registration cost of the next meeting. We made a banner and decorated our table with rock-n-roll paraphernalia. We encouraged visitors to take selfies and tag them with the official meeting hasthtag, #MidwestMLA18. We benefited from the 2017 Special Karaoke Event which got people thinking in a rock-and-roll mode. The video featuring our 2018 conference chairs Mary Pat Harnegie and Mary Schleicher, and the music of real life rock star librarian Cathy Murch put an exclamation point on our marketing efforts. In a happy coincidence, the NLM in Focus blog has been focusing on “rock-star” medical librarians all month – a gift of free marketing for us!
I am sure that all the 2018 Conference Planning Committee members were watching carefully and learning from the 2017 meeting. Stephanie Swanberg, the chair of the 2017 Publicity Committee, met with us and shared some pointers and volunteered to be available for questions. I spoke with Emily Ginier, the chair of the CE committee, when my CE instructor suddenly cancelled. Probably the most important thing I learned from observing this meeting is how to land on one’s feet when that inevitable something doesn’t go as planned. Switching gracefully to Plan B is a conference planner’s biggest challenge. But the 2017 conference planning committee did an excellent job of moving forward and rolling with the stormy waves. I told Emily that I actually enjoyed the substituted CE class very much as it ended up giving me a full day crash course on Research Data Management. Although I was disappointed at not getting to hear Curt Guyette speak, I did not mind the gap in the schedule as things just moved on gracefully.
In reflecting on my 2017 conference experience, I am very thankful for this opportunity. I am thankful to have received an NN/LM GMR Professional Development Award to attend the conference. I had hoped to take some CEs, and learn from the vendors, paper and poster presenters, and the keynote speaker, but what I learned most is how important personal interaction still is and how valuable physical attendance at a conference is. Even the “fun” sessions like the welcome party, karaoke night, and down-time are not just icing on the cake, but opportunities to really build relationships among colleagues, have some great discussions, and even establish some mentor and mentee relationships.
All in all I was very pleased with my conference experience – and that is the goal, after all, isn’t it? I realized that a tight schedule is important, but that just being with and learning from one’s peers is what is most important about conferences. If I want to learn about a topic I can just search for an article, or watch a video online. But there is no replacement for meeting people in person. Even with scheduling snafus, an annual conference still provides that in-person networking and fellowship time that is growing increasingly rare in our society. I will take this realization back to my 2018 planning work. I want to keep in mind that building collegial relationships is the most important thing in a conference, not the production of a perfectly smooth, clockwork event. In that spirit, we can almost guarantee that the Cleveland conference next year will Shake, Rattle, and Roll!!