ASSOCIATES (vol. 9, no. 1, July 2002) -

*We All Work Circ: Planning And Hosting A Conference
With A Small Staff And A Team Approach*


Amy Underwood
Ohio University-Zanesville
Muskingum Area Technical College

The Zanesville Campus Library (ZCL) serves both the Zanesville Regional Campus of Ohio University and its co-located technical college, Muskingum Area Technical College. A staff of six operates the library, serving approximately 4000 institutional users and some area community users as well.

In May of 2001, three of those six staff members attended the annual Ohio Two-Year College/LRC Conference at the Southern State Community College Campuses, located in southwestern Ohio. Traditionally, the school hosting the conference asks for a volunteer to host for the following year, and the Zanesville Campus Library staff enthusiastically volunteered for 2002.

At the first ZCL staff meeting following the 2001 conference, plans were begun for hosting in 2002. The first discussions revolved around choosing an appropriate date and reserving campus accommodations. A theme for the conference was also of concern in the earliest of discussions. In the early stages, conference planning was a brief agenda item within regularly scheduled staff meetings. As planning became more solidified and detailed, conference planning meetings, involving the entire staff, were scheduled separately.

By mid-June, the dates of April 11 and 12, 2002 had been verified for the Two-Year College/LRC Conference. Tom Sanville, the director of OhioLINK had been contacted to assure that he would be available to give his briefing to the library directors in attendance. The Zanesville Campus Facilities Management department had reserved the appropriate conference rooms, with tentative furniture arrangements for various uses during the conference

The next area of concern was to come up with a theme which would be of specific interest to staff members from smaller academic libraries. Some of the ideas discussed included:

Eventually several of these ideas were incorporated into a conference theme entitled "We All Work Circ: Cooperate, Connect, Communicate @ Your Library". This title was used on most conference information and is also the title of the Conference web page, which may be viewed at:

Once the theme of the conference was in place, the ZCL staff began to work independently on different areas of conference planning. One person took on the responsibility to contact area hotels and motels to get conference rates established, so that the information would be readily available to conference attendees. Another staff member took responsibility for designing and mounting the web page, which provided dates, costs, directions, online reservation capabilities and activities of interest in the local area. Later, a list of participants was added to the web page as well.

Since the conference dates fell within Children’s Art Month, and the local Zanesville Art Center was closed for extensive renovation, the suggestion was made that a Children’s Art Exhibit be featured in the library during the conference. The Zanesville Campus Library is often used to for art shows, both for campus art students, professional artists, and juried shows connected with other conferences hosted on campus. The Children’s Art Exhibit became something of a focal point for mid-April, with over 400 pieces displayed in the library both during and after the conference. Two local art instructors volunteered to review the pieces and several hundred small prizes were awarded to the children involved. The prizes were donated by local business, such as Dairy Queen, pizza parlors, WalMart, etc. Each child also received a certificate of participation.

Finding speakers and providing for on- and off-campus activities proved to be the next challenge for the ZCL staff in their conference planning. Attendees at the 2001 conference had expressed interest in the local history and crafts movement of the Zanesville area, so those interests were taken into consideration in the conference planning. The featured speakers in non-library content areas were the director of the Zanesville Art Center, who discussed the local pottery industries; an avocational archaeologist, who explained his experiences in our local area; and a professor and author of books on local history, who spoke on her most recent publication. There was also a session on "changing hats quickly" by a staff member at Ohio University-Zanesville, who focused on how it is often necessary to change from one mind-set to another very rapidly in the course of one workday. Participants were encouraged to share their techniques, and were each given a stress-reduction goody-bag, including such items as a fragrant tea bag and chocolate. Douglas Morrison also gave a brief overview of the first Ohio Support Staff Institute, and encouraged conference attendees to consider registering. All speakers volunteered their time, and those who are authors also signed their books and donated copies to the ZCL.

Planning meals proved to be a challenging aspect of overall conference planning. A list of potential caterers was drawn up and staff members contacted them to obtain sample menus and pricing. The final decision was based on finding a meal which would provide variety and was a good value for the cost. In all, attendees were provided with three meals: two lunches and one dinner. Also included were snacks and drinks during breaks and a light breakfast on the conference’s second day.

Of further consideration were give-away items. Typically, the Two-Year College/LRC Conference participants receive a folder, notepaper, pencil and some other items. After much discussion it was decided to provide a folder for each attendee which would include a schedule, brochures for off-campus activities, and a pen with the institution’s name imprinted. Also, each place at the dinner included a favor consisting of a tiny clay flowerpot, filled with a votive candle and tied with a raffia bow. The flowerpots were inscribed "Zanesville Campus Library – 2002".

With such a small staff, all conference planning activities had to be folded into the regular workday on a time available basis. Some of the more time-consuming activities included bookkeeping, scheduling and keeping in contact with speakers, keeping track of registrations and/or cancellations, and publicity within the library community.

There seems to be a different approach when all members of the staff are involved in conference planning – instead of a one- or two-member team making all arrangements, all six staffers took care of items within their areas of interest. This necessitated frequent meetings, both face-to-face and via email, to ensure that everyone involved was up-to-date on conference planning progress.

Planning a statewide conference with a small staff may seem a daunting task at the outset, but it is possible to do successfully. It is crucial to get an early start on the process, and one year in advance is certainly not too early. The ZCL staff had set dates, reserved on-campus facilities, and begun to send out announcements approximately ten months in advance of the actual conference. Publicity within the library community was begun fairly far in advance also. Email list serves and online journals, such as ASSOCIATES, were utilized early on. As soon as the conference web site was up, it also served as a PR tool, allowing potential attendees to keep informed.

Each staff member volunteered to be responsible for certain aspects of the planning, and then reported to the rest of the staff at conference planning meetings. Those meetings were probably the most important aspect of successful conference planning. Everyone had ideas to contribute and thoughts on the most efficient ways to accomplish goals. Also, staffers used their community contacts to obtain speakers, workshop session facilitators, off-campus activities and items of local interest.

Planning/hosting a conference is truly a learning experience for all involved. The Zanesville Campus Library staff chose to take a team approach and involve all staff in the process. Much was learned, ideas and responsibilities were shared and the final result was a successful conference.

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