Contributed by ASCLA Member and BRAVE Conference Program Planner Ray James

Far be it for me to discourage anyone determined to take their stress level up a few notches but read my testimony carefully before you decide to plan and execute two events at one annual conference. I have to grant that the thrill of pulling it off is some compensation but plan a couple weeks of post-conference “R and R” to recover, more if you present as well!

Program planners share a conviction that the program they want to guide from idea seed to conference flowering plant is meaningful and will benefit ALA, ASCLA, and those we serve. That was so for me.

The seeds of the two presentations I helped nurture into life at Anaheim 2012 (Writing a Way Out: Writing Programs in Correctional Settings, a program, and The Nuts and Bolts of Building a Public Library/Jail/Prison Partnership, a pre-conference) were harvested much earlier. “Writing” resulted from a conversation around the Prisoners’ Forum table at Annual in Washington, DC in 2010 and “Nuts and Bolts” from a similar gathering at Midwinter in San Diego in 2011.  A third seed planted in San Diego “Bibliotherapy in Correctional Settings” has yet to germinate.

Without a gardener (program planner, but let’s keep the metaphor going), these seeds would have not produced. But I believed in all three and when the opportunity came to plant the seeds I took it. Then ASCLA President Diana Reese held a virtual meeting in March 2011 on pre-conferences and programs. The three seeds went onto what I hope was fertile soil. While such virtual program planning meetings may not happen every year those carrying precious program ideas can always contact the program committee (see the ASCLA website for a current list) or contact folks at the ASCLA office in Chicago who can guide a potential program planner to the right contact.

Generally the ASCLA board will make a decision on programs for the following Midwinter and Annual Conference during board meetings at each Annual Conference. In 2011, I had to wait for a firm decision but the Annual Conference in New Orleans provided a fine time to query potential presenters. Although a program planner may look for certainty before gathering presenters and starting the planning process, early work, without knowing for sure the program gets approval, will make for a better crop!

Once the board approved my programs (thank goodness it was not all three!) the serious work started. Working on ALA Connect all program planners follow deadlines set by ALA. To guide them through they get a new best friend, Liz Markel, Marketing and Programs Manager for ASCLA. While thinking about an event that will take place 11 months down the road is not easy, the more early thought the better the program will be.

Liz started an ALA Connect page for program planners in August 2011 and if I had cottoned onto it sooner it would have been easier to complete the programs. My vision of the pre-conference and program were too elaborate but with Liz’s help I pared back my grandiose designs. The big multi-media show with sights and sounds to astound the eyes and ears morphed into a couple of microphones, a projector, and plans to bring my own computer to link it all together. The costs of hotel or conference center room rental and equipment are astounding, so less expense means more income for ASCLA in the case of pre-conferences. Programs that are simpler and more personal seem to work well.

Looking back after the conference, I could see that planning the audio-visual should have been a higher priority but, hey, 11 months is a long time right? That seemed like plenty of time to plan and re-plan. It was not.

In September, program titles had to be completed and program descriptions for the preliminary ALA Annual Conference program book were finalized and submitted. What I did not do at this point was get commitments from presenters and get their input on program descriptions. That means that the presenters must match a program description they did not write. Also in September, pre-conference chairs had to complete a budget information request form online. A budget does not mean one has unlimited money to spend, what it really means is “how little money can you get by on spending.”

Wait, did you forget I was doing a program and a pre-conference? Planning and deadlines for each ongoing at the same time. Catering. Yes! Uh, no. In late September Liz posted the proposed budgets. By mid-October the pre-conference budgets, titles, and description were done. All that remained for me was to get commitments from presenters and move the program and pre-conference from draft to final version. In an ideal world that process would be finished by January. We do not live in an ideal world. The last element of the pre-conference (assembly of notebooks) happened an hour before the start of the pre-conference. The final PowerPoint slide for the program was wrapped up 15 minutes before the program started!

In mid-October pre-conference budgets, titles and descriptions were finalized. I knew what I had to work with.

At the end January program and pre-conference speakers were supposed to be locked in with confirmation letters sent and links to an online waiver form (no form, no speak) also sent (will these deadlines and demands never cease?) and the A/V equipment, catering, and other special requests submitted. Wait, wasn’t that done in September last year?

Waiver forms had to be completed for all Annual programs and pre-conferences by mid-February as well as sponsor commitments confirmed for all Annual conference events. I offer now some advice to potential program planners. If you think a person has even the tiniest chance to speak at your program, get them to submit a waiver. A waiver is not a commitment but it is a license to speak. Line up as many commitments as soon as you can.

Then I was informed that February 15 was the final deadline for updating my program descriptions for the final conference program book. Is it too late to change the program altogether? Yes.

In April the room assignments came out so I could tell the speakers where we going to present. I was overjoyed to discover the pre-conference was in the Anaheim Hilton and I was staying in the Anaheim Hilton! It turned out I did not have to schlep a computer, notebooks, papers, and what all from hotel to conference, only down one floor in the elevator. Such mercies mount up to joy.

Since I was handing all the handout printing, I ignored the May 1 deadline to post such to Connect as well as the mid-May deadline to get large items to ALA in Chicago to ship in their trunks to the conference.

In June Liz (I told you she was to be your best friend) posted an “At Conference” checklist that proved invaluable to help me remember all the details I needed to consider to make it through the conference.

The “Nuts and Bolts” pre-conference drew sixteen paid attendees. I hoped for thirty. The student assisting with the program stayed for the entire presentation when she could have departed earlier. Most of the feedback forms reflected positive feelings and the less positive offered useful criticism that will make subsequent use of the material (a Webinar?) stronger and more useful.

We started the “Writing” program with twenty-two in the audience and ended with forty-two. Post program conversations lingered until the next program’s leaders demanded we clear the room. I heard “… best program I’ve attended …” and librarians from all over asking presenters for contact information so they could explore creating writing programs through their libraries or in their correctional institutions. Now that’s validation!

Someone who had attended both the pre-conference and the program asked what I was planning for future presentations. With a laugh I said I was done with program planning. Now I am thinking that “Bibliotherapy in Correctional Settings” might work well as a program for Las Vegas 2014.