Dollars & Sense #28: The Unconference

Looking for a fresh approach to staff development? Suffolk Cooperative Library System tried an “unconference” format and found that sometimes the best ideas are the least expensive. ‘ http://campya.pbworks.com/

The plans for this conference were an adaption of the June 2009 LibCampNYC sponsored by METRO and Brooklyn College Library. http://libcampnyc.pbworks.com/

“LibCampNYC was a participatory user-generated “unconference” focusing on libraries and library technology; attendees were expected to share their work, skills, or knowledge as active participants. Participants determined the day’s offerings in the opening session, and all sessions were summarized in the closing session. This collaborative environment presented unique opportunities for learning, sharing, and relationship-building that can be elusive at more formal conference.”

What made this program successful?

Input from attendees

After a selecting a date, venue, and discussion leaders, a CampYA wiki was created. This allowed attendees input into the planning and organization of the event from the onset.’  An online registration form allowed each registrant to publish library affiliation, email contact information and areas of interest. As registration progressed, changes became evident in the wiki.’  All registrants were always aware of any changes made to the registration roster. As certain topics began to emerge as topics of interest, all could view changes in the list. Some registrants would think of additional topics of discussion or refocus their interest list after viewing other entries. When librarians were aware of the registration of other colleagues, they also chose to register.

A variety of librarians with diverse interests, experience, and skills

A healthy mix of attendees improves discussion and promotes the exchange of new ideas. We actively recruited librarians outside of our library system. Our registration roster included public librarians from adult, teen, and children’s services, school librarians, librarians from nearby public systems, as well as students and staff from local schools of library science.

Ability to connect with other attendees before and after the event

While the wiki was our primary vehicle for connecting with attendees, we have found the spill over affect in subsequent training programs and newsletters. Teen librarians have been excited about positive changes in library service, which have been a direct result of CampYA. They have been happy to share their successes with their colleagues in formal and informal settings.

Focus on what attendees considered important

A few days before CampYA, the topics listed by registrants were collected and organized into possible topics for discussion. We found these groupings of topics useful as a starting point to arranging and planning the day.’  This template was projected in a large screen for the entire group to view. It became immediately apparent that changes would need to be made to suit the needs and interests of the participants. The audience pointed out conflicts in scheduling, as well as overlaps in some discussion topics. Topics were combined, new sessions were added, and some topics were reassigned to a different time slot. The final program plan was one in which all attendees helped plan.

Experienced discussion leaders

A key to the healthy exchange of ideas is discussion leaders who can keep the discussion focused, allowing room for ample participation by all attendees. We were fortunate to acquire the expertise of three librarians from New York Public Library. They brought a level of experience, knowledge of teen services, and an understanding of group dynamics which resulted in quality group discussions.

Selection of a venue which could accommodate programming needs

Because this was a “no frills” program, we opted to hold CampYA at a local library, which had recently opened a beautiful new facility. The rooms were equipped with wifi, as well as being spacious and well-furnished. The library was located in a community with many local eating establishments within easy walking distance.’  This way, lunch was “on your own.”’  The director and the head of Youth Services of the host library worked to accommodate our needs, providing coffee, tea, and bottled water throughout the day. Local businesses provided a delicious continental breakfast.

This “unconference” was our most successful 2009 staff development event. Instead of organizing an elaborate workshop with guest speakers, managing a complex registration system, making arrangements for meals, etc. this program allowed participants to be actively involved in all aspects of Camp YA. ‘ We learned that an effective staff development program can be arranged with a minimal cash outlay but can have large benefits in terms of involving teen librarians, meeting their needs, and resulting in positive changes to library practices. We would definitely do this again!

Bookmark the permalink.

5 Comments

  1. Love this idea — thanks for sharing it. I’m fascinated by the collaborative nature–even of scheduling the day. Does anyone know of other library-related un-conferences that can share their experiences? Thanks in advance.

  2. Thanks Maureen,
    ALA hosted an unconference in Chicago.http://wikis.ala.org/annual2009/index.php/Unconference

    It was quite different from the format we used. But that is the great thing about an unconference. It can be whatever you and your constituents desire.

  3. Gretchen Caserotti

    At Darien Library (CT), we hosted an unconference we called a KidLib Camp and also had an absolutely wonderful experience! We had a great turnout and we had really focused conversations about the changing nature of youth librarianship in public libraries. http://darienkidlibcamp.pbworks.com/

    If it is helpful to you Maureen, you can see a glimpse of the voting method we used to decide on our small groups in this remnant of the day: http://darienkidlibcamp.pbworks.com/KIdLibCamp-Topics The links are to the notes from the sessions the voters decided on.

    We plan to continue this annually and hope more youth librarians from the Tri-State area will join us again in August, 2010!

  4. Gretchen, I would LOVE to attend in August 2010. How do I get on the mailing list?

  5. Gretchen Caserotti

    Barbara, shoot me an email at gcaserotti at darienlibrary.org (nice post btw!)

Comments are closed