Annual Conference Report

After last year’s joint annual conference with the Midcontinental Chapter (MCMLA) – which, in a miracle of planning, was pulled off in just a few months – how could we, the 4 co-chairs of the 2021 conference, do better? I hope that we did! Once again COVID-19 made sure that we could meet only virtually. Thankfully, the Bloomington venue again agreed to move our dates forward, this time to October 2022, with no financial penalty.

This time we were able to collaborate with MCMLA on planning the conference from the beginning (6 months, not 3). Along with our committee chairs and committee members, we worked steadily throughout the spring, summer, and fall, sending out requests for participation (posters, papers, and lightning rounds) and to design the conference logo, discovering and solving problems with technology, creating a series of events to inspire more interaction with exhibitors in the virtual space and multiple levels of sponsorship, and so much more!. We decided to keep the cost of registration low as we did last year – $25 – and extended the invitation beyond the membership of our two chapters.

I’ll admit to having a bit more anxiety this October than I did several years ago when I was a co-chair for a previous Midwest conference – it really is different doing everything virtually. But we got through the planning, including the excellent series of presentations, 2 free CEs, the exhibitor events, and the keynote addresses by Nisha Mody and Ashley Ritter without any major hitches. People even came to our virtual social hours – Sam Hansen’s Barista Basics was especially fun. Another innovation at this conference was our use of live transcription (CART) for the two keynotes.

Because the virtual conference was more economical, more people were able to attend, though the number was down a bit from last year. This year, 224 people registered (last year, it was 249). In comparison, in 2016, when the chapters held an in-person combined meeting, attendance was 147. We also attracted people from outside our chapters – not surprisingly, money does make a difference. The accounting for the conference hasn’t been finalized quite yet, but Midwest Chapter should make several thousand dollars in profit.

We’re still working to make the recordings from the conference available to attendees, and the final report is being prepared. All of the co-chairs are happy with how well things went. We benefited so much from the experiences of those who created last year’s conference and expect to learn a lot from the evaluations from this year’s event. While next year’s conference will be in-person, we are looking at ways to create a virtual component in coming years. Watch this space (MIDLINE!) for more news on that front.

Krista Jacobson (my partner-in-crime co-chair for Midwest) and I were so amazed and appreciative of our Midwest Chapter colleagues, who stepped up to help organize all of the moving parts that make up an annual conference, and who worked long and hard to make it a success. They collaborated with members of MCMLA, turned on a dime to make things happen as necessary, and were a pleasure to work with. Based on our experience, we can highly recommend participating in a planning committee (minor slip ups and occasional panic attacks aside)!

Submitted by Carol Shannon, Co-Chair, Joint Midcontinental/Midwest Chapter MLA 2021 Annual Conference

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