JJ: The short answer: Anyone interested in any aspect of assessment in libraries should attend. The longer answer is that this year the sessions should appeal to those working in all areas of libraries: collections, reference, administration, circulation, facilities, and, of course, assessment. While nearly all of our presenters come from academic libraries, much of the content should be adaptable and generalizable to libraries of all types.
EN: Also, the conference is for people at any level of assessment experience and expertise. Students seeking to enter the profession, administrators with job duties related to assessment, accreditation, or strategic planning, and librarians whose roles are primarily focused on assessment.
What is unique, special about SLAC?
JJ: Where to begin? For the second time, we (the conference coordinators) will cap registration at 125. This allows for a more intimate networking experience among conference goers. Additionally, the coordinators are committed to making the conference accessible, financially and geographically. Early registration is just $210, and current library school students and assessment professionals can apply for a scholarship to help cover the registration fee. Breakfast and lunch are provided both days of the conference (and the food is amazing!) The conference venue is a couple of blocks from a stop on the MARTA public transportation rail line, and there’s a stop inside of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The conference venue, The Georgian Terrace, is a special experience all its own. It opened in 1911 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With its location directly across the street from Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, you might spot a few celebrities passing through the hotel to their suites after their performances.
EN: First of all, the food is amazing. If there’s one thing I know about librarians it’s that we value a good conference menu. Another unique aspect is our approach to the keynote address. During planning for the 2013 conference, we struggled trying to think of the right presenter. We wanted something engaging and inspirational that would convey what we wanted the conference to be, but in the end we felt the best people to do that was ourselves. We didn't want it to be all about us, though, so, building upon the trend of flipped classrooms, we flipped the keynote and made the audience the stars. We started off sharing results from the pre-conference survey. Then we distributed discussion prompts and asked each table to report back to the larger group. For the closing session, we used comments from the keynote discussion as focus group prompts to close the loop. We took the opening and closing sessions as opportunities to demonstrate various assessment techniques. This year we're taking another unconventional approach. Our keynote address will actually be a live recording of a podcast called Consilience with Pete and Charlie, hosted by an engineering professor/stand-up comic and a librarian. Previous episode titles are "Run for your life", "Peer review", and "A Unicorn barfing a rainbow" so I can only imagine what the conference episode will be like. They've promised that our audience will "hear their reflections on assessment, impact, continuous improvement, the user experience, and/or donuts."
How did SLAC come to be?
JJ: In late 2012, I, contacted my assessment counterparts at Georgia Tech, Clayton State University, Georgia Southern University, and Emory University about collaborating on a library assessment conference. We identified a need for an additional library assessment forum to share, learn, and network. We surveyed Georgia librarians, and based on their feedback we decided there was enough interest locally to go ahead with putting together a conference. All of us had the full support of our respective institutions, as well. The 2013 Southeastern Library Assessment Conference drew 100 attendees from 21 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada.
EN: It really was a grassroots effort spearheaded by Jennifer. I had just volunteered as secretary of the Georgia Library Association's Assessment Interest Group of which Jennifer was the chair. When she reached out I immediately jumped on board. The conference really filled an identified need. Even before we had really started planning, librarians would approach me at local meetings and workshops saying "I heard there was some kind of assessment thing happening. I want to know more."
What did you learn from the first conference that impacted how you’re approaching the 2015 conference?
JJ: The feedback we received from attendees during and after the 2013 conference indicated that we did a lot of things right. Attendees liked the size, the timing, and the sessions that were offered. They also shared that they liked the food and the venue. Based on this feedback, we plan to keep many aspects of the conference the same. We’re again meeting at The Georgian Terrace. The 2015 schedule is similar to 2013 with the addition of some sessions that will extend day two.
EN: Most of our feedback was positive so we've tried to emphasize those bright spots by keeping it small and intimate and offering a manageable number of sessions. In response to survey feedback, we prioritized sessions that would offer attendees practical takeaways.
What is the proposal selection process like? Did you receive a lot of proposals? How were they selected?
JJ: The proposal selection process was more competitive than in 2013. We received 62 proposals, and we accepted just under one-third of them. Our original plan was to keep the 2015 conference schedule the same as the 2013 schedule with 16 sessions; however, the 2015 proposals were so high-quality that we accepted a few more. This year attendees will have 20 sessions from which to choose.
EN: We take the selection process seriously. We each evaluate the proposals individually then come together as a group to discuss. For the most part we are in agreement but every now and then there is a session that divides us. There were some passionate pleas during this year's selection, but we have yet to resort to arm wrestling. We also really try to make sure we offer conference attendees a wide variety of session topics from libraries of different sizes and missions.