As a personal member of both CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) based in the UK, and ALA (American Library Association) based in the US, and being involved in a CILIP branch committee and a group committee, I’m always interested to find out about what the professional organisations do and how I, as a member, can keep up-to-date and get involved where appropriate.

So when the opportunity to attend ALA’s first Virtual Town Hall, an online webinar, I was interested to find out more and signed up. I’m a relatively new ALA member so I don’t know much about the structure of ALA yet and I’m still learning about the different groups and round tables, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to find out more about central ALA issues and some of the priorities of the organisation.

It happened tonight (I’m writing this as it happens!) and I am so impressed that I wanted to share some thoughts about the organisation of the session and something we can maybe bear in mind for similar CILIP events.

Before the meeting

There has been an area on ALA Connect, the ALA member’s online community, which has had relevant documents and the opportunity to discuss these or submit questions for the meeting. Joining guidance has also been good – we have received numerous reminders and instructions to ensure our computers are prepared for the session.

During the meeting

The software used has features you would be familiar with if you have used webinars before – audio from speakers, presentation slides in the main window, and a chat sidebar on the right hand side. A few people have commented that they have had problems getting into the webinar, but I haven’t experienced any problems (using Google Chrome on Windows).

Virtual Town Hall webinar - agenda

Virtual Town Hall webinar - agenda (click for larger image)

In addition to following the webinar on the screen, there was also live captioning on another website, and the hashtag #vth2011 was promoted to encourage discussion on Twitter also.

At the beginning of the webinar the process for the meeting was explained clearly including how to submit questions:

  1. Private chat to send questions to be read out
  2. Private chat to request the microphone to ask your own question
  3. Through ALA Connect (which you have been able to do before the meeting)

The meeting was chaired by the ALA president, Roberta Stevens, who kept to time excellently throughout.

There was a vote at the beginning of the meeting to find out more about those attending in terms of how long they had been members:

ALA Virtual Town Hall - vote 1

ALA Virtual Town Hall - vote 1 (click for larger image)

There was also a vote after the formal reporting section of the agenda to prioritise which issues were to be discussed. I thought this was a fantastic idea to ensure that those present had chance to hear about the things that they felt had highest priority. I was quite surprised to see the results had a clear winner, so this was discussed initially, though there was still time for the other topics also.

ALA Virtual Town Hall - vote 2

ALA Virtual Town Hall - vote 2 (click for larger image)

After the meeting

At the close of the event (bang on time!) there was a survey to gather feedback on people’s views about the meeting. I hope there was some useful feedback for ALA through this route. Some people were also commenting through the chat window on the webinar, and on Twitter using the event hashtag which was being watched by ALA staff.

The event will be archived in ALA Connect for members to view (so hopefully those who had technical difficulties will be able to watch it soon this way). I’ve also just discovered that it will actually be available publicly, impressive transparency (this may be a requirement, I’m not sure).

Summary

It was fantastic to be able to be a part of this as an international member of ALA, I believe there were over 500 logins during the meeting (many of whom were broadcasting to groups of staff) and I’m sure many more will watch the recording. What a fantastic way to engage with members! Really impressed and can’t wait to attend ALA Annual at the end of this month to learn more from ALA.

 

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