For the past year and a half, I’ve had the pleasure of serving on Jim Rettig’s Presidential Advisory Committee. I honestly had no idea at the time what it would mean to be on this committee, but Jim seemed like a really cool guy with a vision for a more inclusive ALA, and I really appreciated getting the opportunity to help him with the initiatives for his ALA presidency. While I missed the first meeting in Chicago where the first discussions about initiatives took place, I jumped at the chance to help out with one idea that particularly appealed to me: an unconference at Annual. And the best part was the chance to work with my favorite partner-in-crime, Michelle Boule.

So, Michelle and I are planning what we hope will be an awesome Unconference at ALA Annual this year, and registration for the Unconference just opened today. The Unconference is a full-day event which will take place Friday, July 10th from 9am – 5pm. Registration is free and lunch is included (you do need to be registered for the general ALA Conference to participate though). The unconference is limited to 75 people only, and we’ll open up a waitlist when the number of registrants goes above that. The reason for the size was partially related to cost constraints, but was largely because we wanted to make sure the discussions at the unconference could be more intimate, giving everyone an opportunity to have a voice and participate.

Attendees will collaborate online prior to the Unconference to identify topics they’re interested in presenting to the group or facilitating a discussion about. Everyone will be both teacher and learner, discussing the topics they’re most interested in.

There will be two types of experiences at the Unconference:

  1. Presentations that last 7 minutes with 5 minutes for questions/feedback. Presentations will either be about a project an attendee has done that they think other librarians would be interested in or an idea they have for a library-related project that they’d like feedback on from the audience. There will be 10 of these presentations throughout the day.
  2. Group discussions that last 50 minutes. There will be 10 different discussion groups going on during each of three discussion periods and no more than 10 people can participate in any discussion. The goal of this is to allow everyone to contribute to the discussion.

Each individual attending the Unconference must either suggest a presentation they would like to give or a discussion topic they would be willing to facilitate. We will then take all of those proposed topics and have participants vote on them. This will take place approximately six weeks before the conference. Those seven presentation topics and thirty discussion topics that receive the most votes will be the ones offered during the Unconference.

There is no specific limitation on the topics that can be discussed at this unconference as long as they’re in some way related to librarianship. They can run the gamut from services to children to cataloging standards to issues in reference services to bleeding edge technologies and more.

I’m really excited to see how this model will work, especially within the structure of ALA Annual. I think it’s great to experiment with new participatory models within the framework of Annual and I still believe that positive change is possible within ALA. It just doesn’t make sense anymore for the topics discussed at a conference to be decided more than a year in advance (I think I was asked to speak at Annual 1 1/2 yrs in advance!!!). The Social Software Showcase has been an inspiring breath of fresh air at Annual and hopefully this will be too. I also love the idea of just about everyone playing an active role — whether they are speaking, facilitating a discussion, or just taking part in that discussion. The format for unconferences is so flexible and allows for a lot of variation in how it’s designed. Not only should it be a good learning experience, but it should be FUN!

If you’re attending ALA Annual and are interested in the opportunity to participate in discussions on topics you’re interested in (or maybe even present!), register for the Unconference. We hope to get a really diverse group of people at the Unconference, not only the folks who are into hot bleeding-edge technologies. This is truly meant for everyone.

We’re also looking for two people to help us make sure things run smoothly with the registration, voting for topics, and the Unconference itself (we already have one fantastic volunteer, Steve Lawson, who is an unconference veteran). Past experience with planning unconferences or conferences would definitely be a plus. I’m not 100% sure that I’ll be able to be there for the Unconference with the new baby and all, so we want to make sure to have other fantastic helpers just in case. If you’re interested, drop me an email.

Hope you can join us for this awesome unconferency goodness!