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Chapter Topics ~ Spring 2021

Best Practices

New Jersey Chapter

By Alyssa Valenti, Raritan Valley Community College

What We’ve Learned: Best Practices for Online Conferences from the Florida Chapter of ACRL

By Nancy Schuler & Alyssa Koclanes, Eckerd College

2020 conference formats for acrl chaptersMost likely, you have attended more than one virtual conference this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A review of ACRL chapter websites shows that of the 43 ACRL Chapters, 27 had virtual conferences and 9 were cancelled or postponed. Only one chapter had an in-person conference in 2020, but it was in January prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. As vaccinations become more widely available and in-person classes return to our institutions, many chapters are deciding what their 2021 conference will look like. To date, 24 chapters have published announcements for virtual conferences, 5 chapters plan to meet in-person, and 2 have plans for a hybrid option. Virtual conferences may be here to stay as this past year has pushed us to adapt and find new ways to accomplish our chapter goals.

2021 conference formats for acrl chaptersThe Florida Chapter of the Association for College and Research Libraries (FACRL) 2020 conference was held, for the first time, online on October 16th, 2020. The conference focused on the relevant theme of Demonstrating the Value of Academic Libraries during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The day-long virtual conference included twelve live presentations presented in three tracks (Administration, Instruction, and Outreach), an interactive poster presentation, lightning round session, and breakout sessions to end the day. A total of 162 attendees participated in the conference, almost double what could be accommodated in-person.

As we planned for the Chapter’s first virtual conference, we knew some things would be simplified while new challenges would be faced with the virtual environment. As many ACRL chapters and other library professional organizations face another year of virtual conferences in this “new normal,” we offer the following best practices for planning and implementing a successful virtual conference.

  • Keep registration costs low. Limited professional development funds due to budget cuts prevented many from participating in pricier online conferences. While conference fees support the work of chapters, consider keeping registration costs low to encourage individual participation.
  • Consider broadening CFP to include more out-of-state presenters. We posted our call for proposals (CFP) on several nationwide library lists to encourage participation from out-of-state, particularly for subject matters that were not already covered by a proposal from a Florida institution. This enriched the program while also encouraging out-of-state participants to attend the full conference.
  • Determine accessibility needs and communicate these to presenters in advance. Closed captioning, in particular, was not available for the live presentations unless participants used auto captioning tools in Google Slides. Make sure options are shared in advance so presenters know if they need to include captions during their sessions. We used Zoom for our fall conference, which now offers auto-captioning, but did not at the time of our conference.
  • Consider a practice/Q&A session for presenters. A one-hour pre-conference session a week or two before the actual conference gives everyone an opportunity to test out the platform in advance, while having a chance for presenters to ask questions about the schedule, clarify roles, and help conference planners anticipate issues before the big day.
  • Build in down time and simple ways for participants to engage with each other. Breakout sessions, virtual coffee breaks, and group reading times are just a few ways to break up the conference while creating opportunities for participants to engage with each other. Apps like Gather.Town or Slack may allow for additional interaction as well as engagement with speakers.

FACRL 2020 annual conference is going virtualOutgoing FACRL Chapter president, Alyssa Koclanes, shares the following sentiment regarding the success of the conference, "I was very impressed with how easily the conference went with concurrent sessions in the virtual environment as it was our first time planning a virtual conference using Zoom. There was a high level of engagement and participation from attendees throughout the day and the presenters adapted very well to presenting in the virtual environment."

As ACRL chapters determine what the “new normal” means for future conferences and chapter events, we hope these best practices provide everyone with a blueprint for successful conferences this fall and beyond.

Spring 2021

Chapter Topics Logo

Chapters Council Roster

Alison Larson
Alison Marie Larsen

Leslin Charles
Leslin Charles

Dawn Behrend
Dawn Behrend
Vice Chair

Lisa Nickel
Lisa T. Nickel
Past Chair

Eric Edwards
Eric Anthony Edwards

Ryan Gjerde
Ryan Gjerde
List Administrator

Amber Willenborg
LibGuide Adminstrator

Lauren Carlton
Staff Liaison

Carrie E. Dunham-LaGree
Carrie E. Dunham-LaGree
Legislation Representative