Executive update: 2016 BC Library Conference debrief

We had a great BC Library Conference this year! I’m not sure if there’s been a shift in the library community generally, or if the overall feelings of happiness, collaboration, and engagement that permeated the 2016 conference were limited to that event. I’m inclined to think that the library community itself is experiencing a cultural renaissance of sorts.

Throughout the conference, and on the feedback forms afterwards, people told us how much they enjoyed themselves and how pleased they were to meet new colleagues, share new ideas, and come together as a community. BCLA has mounted successful conferences in the past—mostly measured financially and by number of delegates, but this year’s success felt rooted in positive attitudes, collegiality, and a shared commitment to libraries.

The feelings of good will and community that were shared among delegates were experienced by vendors as well. We had overwhelmingly positive feedback saying how much vendors enjoyed the 2016 Trade Show, and how much they appreciated the number of people who stopped by their booths just to thank them for being there. This was a unique experience for vendors and reflects positively on BCLA members and on the Association.

Those of us who worked “the back end” of the conference noticed other changes that distinguished the 2016 event from previous years. People seemed to be talking to each other more. Conversations were animated, excited, and intense throughout the three conference days. We also noticed that when things went sideways (no conference is complete without some sort of crisis) people were extremely patient and polite while we corrected the situation. Attendees dropped in to the Gilbert Room (the conference office) just to say hello and let us know they were having a good time. Even the food received a majority approval rating this year!

I wish I could bottle the feelings of community, happiness, and engagement that were felt at this year’s conference and then uncork the bottle at next year’s gathering. I don’t think it will be that easy though. To continue building such positive feelings we will work to develop a conference theme that is as relevant and inspiring as “Disrupt and Transform” was. We’ll again select conference sessions that speak to the theme so as people move from session to session the information they are engaging with builds exponentially. With a strong connection between the theme and the sessions, we hope to provide fodder for those “between-session conversations” that were so engaging this year.

The 2017 conference will be held at the Pinnacle Hotel in downtown Vancouver and this should add new vivacity to the annual event. We plan to tweak the format in 2017 as well. We have received consistently positive feedback about the “Hot Topic” sessions, not only based on content, but because people like to share conference experiences with large groups of their colleagues. Delegates like the common ground that large session participation adds to the conference experience. Building on this, we plan to look at adding a second, unopposed, “Hot Topic” session to the 2017 conference program. (Please don’t hesitate to email me if you have a great idea for a “Hot Topic” session!)

Certainly the greatest fear any conference organizer has is that delegates will be bored by the event. Almost anything is better than “boring” (Notice I’m saying almost because conference organizers can always think of things that would be worse!). We feel confident that the BC Library Conference is not boring because delegates keep asking us for more. People usually prefer topics of personal interest to themselves, but often people say they’d like an opportunity such as an extra day to meet more informally to discuss the ideas, trends, concepts, and puzzles that the conference has revealed to them. In the coming years we hope to add additional days as “stand alone” opportunities for members to engage a topic more deeply than a conference session allows for. Currently the plan is to use the BCLA Professional Development Institute to support and promote these one-day sessions that are linked to the overall conference program.

The BC Library Conference is a great opportunity for BCLA members, and in fact all members of the BC library community, to come together and benefit from each other’s knowledge and experience. The conference environment is ideal for looking at libraries from a different vantage point and thus allowing for positive critiques and joint problem solving. The conference gives us all an opportunity to think about issues that are important to libraries which, in our hectic workdays, we might not have a chance to think about. The conference also gives us a chance to hear from people who, while not connected directly to libraries, are engaged in areas that intersect libraries. Please, if you have suggestions for speakers or topics from outside the library community, let me know.

Thank you to all who attended the 2016 BC Library Conference and made it such an energizing and positive event. If you missed the conference this year, we hope to see you next year.

Annette DeFaveri is the Executive Director of the BC Library Association.