When Alan asked if I would be willing to write about organizing our virtual annual meeting last November, I was concerned that I didn’t know enough about the arcane best practices of virtual meeting craft to be useful. Additionally, in spite of its success, I sincerely hope that it will be our last one online for some time. (This year’s meeting is far enough away that we can still hope to be all vaccinated and operating under some semblance of normalcy by then…right?) Yet agreeing to write this column did give me the opportunity to address the one thing I do want to get off my chest: my profound appreciation for the generosity of spirit that each member showed as we planned and shared that time together. I want to thank everyone who attended and learned and contributed and asked questions and voted. It means so much to feel like part of a community, and never more so than when we are as separated as we are today.
I’ve served on Program Committees and Local Arrangements Committees for MLA and SCMLA, and it turns out that whether you are meeting in person or online, many of the concerns are the same. Members want the programming to be fresh and relevant. They want there to be ample time to visit and rest. They want the technology to work so well that it is invisible. And you want to wear comfortable pants the day of the meeting.
In this case, since the meeting was abbreviated, I was concerned about having enough content for it to feel like a special event, instead of another online quarterly business meeting for the officers. Even with a CE presentation and a speaker, I felt like including a social session in the program was important to making the day feel like we had connected as a group. My Powerpoint Party may have been a bit of a flop thematically. (There’s a real tip! Make sure you have buy-in for your strange online social events!) Still, it was anything but a disappointment when it came to real connections. We told stories, took video tours of crafts and sewing rooms, shared pet pictures, and learned about our lives outside of the library in the same way you do when you share a taxi to the airport or walk to a local diner in a new city with your frolleagues.1 Better yet, we didn’t suffer the feeling of loss when you end up too far down the long dining table to catch up with someone you really wanted to see.
One of the advantages of having the meeting online was that we were joined by some cherished retired members who probably wouldn’t have traveled out of town for a meeting. Current professionals experiencing tightening travel budgets surely also benefited. Additionally, we found ourselves free from the tyranny of the frigid conference center, and many of us could replace our layering conference cardigans with fluffy house shoes. On the other hand, in a normal format I wouldn’t have had to worry about hordes of nude trolls invading the meeting rooms, a real concern in the Zoom setting (See Tips to Avoid Zoom Bombing). We knew to use password protected links and only send the meeting links privately to those who registered instead of using a public page, but I was also on the fence about whether to use the same room all day or to have fresh rooms ready for every event, which would be helpful in case we had to abandon one. In the end, I hope the choice to stay in a single room was more convenient and fostered conversation between sessions.
We are a small, close knit group in which it’s easy to feel like you already know everyone and their needs, and as a result I overlooked some important areas of responsibility that should be considered in the future. Our libraries and public meetings spaces are required to be physically accessible, and it’s important that technologically-mediated meetings are, too. It would be better practice to include information about who to contact about accommodations in the registration materials and be prepared to provide meeting captioning or other services. ALHeLA also doesn’t have a code of conduct for meetings, and while I hope we’ll never need to refer to one, it’s much better to have an existing process in place if someone feels threatened than to scramble to figure out what to do when and if the time arrives.
Thank you all again for being such excellent advisors, supporters, and participants for the meeting. Thanks especially to Becca Billings, who arranged for the CE course and to Errica Evans, who capped off her presidency with an excellent business meeting! I’m very excited about this year and hope to “see” you all (in whatever medium I’m able) soon.
1Frolleague– noun, a friend who is a colleagues (all of the MLA Presidents use this portmanteau in their annual speeches, but no one ever has to spell it)