How statewide budget cuts and state-imposed travel restrictions might siphon off attendance at this year’s Annual Conference was TLA Executive Director Patricia Smith’s top concern in a Pre Con interview with Convene (available at convn.org/TLA-pre-con). And while attendance did come up short of last year’s meeting, Smith considers it a “miracle” that nearly 7,000 participants attended, and that almost 500 booths were sold.
“In some cases, the [exhibiting] companies downsized a bit or sent fewer personnel, but they were there,” Smith said. “You could tell it was a very collegial atmosphere, because they wanted to be there to support Texas libraries, even though they themselves were feeling the pinch.”
The conference served as “a shot in the arm” for the librarians, Smith said, many of whom told her that they were struck by the conference’s “spirit of enthusiasm, of rejuvenation, of reaffirmation. That’s why they love [it]: It’s their time to get a sense of the important role they play in society, the important role they play in the community.”
To give those who registered a better sense of which sessions they should choose before they got to Houston — the conference offers as many as 30 concurrent sessions at a time — Ted Wanner, TLA’s continuing education specialist, rolled out a new preview program. Five- to sevenminute interviews with conference speakers and authors were uploaded as audio and video files on TLA’s website using the Adobe Connect webinar platform. Interviews that included a video component got many more hits than those that didn’t, but “we were widely heralded for doing a multimedia preview of all of our speakers,” Wanner said. “It was tremendously successful.”
Another multimedia initiative — a conference-on-demand program — will be launched now that the meeting has concluded. Making recorded session content available to members and nonmembers involved some ingenuity given TLA’s small budget, said Wanner, who had to seek out “some in-house skills we didn’t know we had on the staff.” That included coming up with “a creative way” to use WordPress as the program’s publishing platform. A student from the University of Texas recorded the sessions.
During the conference, for the first time, attendees could participate in a geocaching team challenge — a treasure-hunting game in which players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using GPS-enabled devices, and then share their experiences online. The hands-on activity brought participants outside to the Discovery Green park next to the center and served as a learning experience. “We also had programs going on at the conference about how to geocache in your library to attract people,” Smith said.
When she calls TLA’s 2012 conference “a lovefest,” Smith isn’t being entirely biased. Shortly after it concluded, author and attendee Michael Northrop tweeted: “Dear @TXLA, please consider changing ‘annual conference’ to ‘Festival of Awesome.’ It would prepare us 1st-timers better.”
TLA Annual Conference
- 7,495 attendees (including exhibitors)
- 549 booths
- 6,946 attendees (including exhibitors)
- 493 booths
For more information: txla.org/annual-conference
Convene’s Pre Con/Post Con series asks meeting planners about their challenges and how they intend to address them (Pre Con), and then circles back around after the meeting has occurred (Post Con) to see how well they worked out.