ILA Best Practices

Rethinking Conferences

Posted on: January 22, 2013

Last month I attended the second incarnation of the Chicagoland Library Unconference, aptly named Chicagoland Library Unconference #2, at the RAILS Wheeling Building. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as I hadn’t attended the first (un)conference, and the notion of describing something that is what it is not was intriguing, but also a bit Magritte-esque.

The day began with a panel discussion (innovators from other industries to inspire us) but quickly evolved into an action-packed hands-on workshop. We were divided into teams and given the task of defining a big problem facing libraries today, and devising an innovative solution.

Teams then pitched their ideas to the group at large and were peppered with tough questions from the audience. As described by the Unconference organizers, the experience was similar to an episode of ABC’s Shark Tank, as fellow attendees eagerly, and quite effectively, took on various roles (library board members, members of the public, fellow librarians, teachers, parents, corporate partners, etc.) while challenging the teams’ ideas.

In addition to leaving with some good ideas, the experience was educational in two distinct ways:

1. The ideas themselves are only part of the story. It is vital to quickly and effectively communicate and sell your idea to a diverse audience, and to be prepared for inevitable critiques.
2. The “unconference” was a great way to flip a traditional idea on its head. Instead of passively watching standard panel discussions and keynote speakers, attendees better accomplished traditional conference goals of meeting new people and learning about cutting edge ideas in our industry through active learning, participation, and content creation.

What examples have you seen of flipping a traditional idea on its head? What works, and why? What else can we take a second look at that has just “always been done that way”?

Hilary Meyer
Chicago, IL

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