Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tales from Early Career Professionals: Planning a Leadership Summit, by Tyler Dzuba, Dan Trout, and Kourtney Blackburn

L to R: Matt Krueger, Dan Trout, Tyler Dzuba, Kourtney Blackburn, Lori Birrell and Marcy Strong. Phil Koyoumjian is missing from this photo.

The three of us had all attended conferences, and some of us had participated in planning one or two, but none of us had ever organized, planned, and executed a conference all on our own. Then an opportunity came up. We realized a leadership conference for early-career librarians was needed in our region (Upstate New York) and we decided to go for it. We are the Rochester Early-Career Information Professionals (RECIP) and this is the story of how we planned a one-day Leadership Summit.

Up front, flexibility was key. Where we ended up was definitely successful, but we had some changes along the way. Most of what happened was foreseeable, but we wanted to share the surprises:
In trying to avoid all the busy times of the semester, we landed the Leadership Summit on Yom Kippur! Panelists were in flux the week before the conference, but two super-gracious panelists stepped in at the last minute to save the day. We were also surprised at how our budget shook out. (Experienced conference planners are free to shake their heads at the naïveté that’s coming.) The space was donated in-kind, but aside from catering for lunch and coffee breaks, housekeeping and A/V staff were the biggest line items. Our keynote speaker graciously declined an honorarium, but we still provided travel reimbursement.

A few more lessons learned:
  • If you plan a conference, let people have built in social time to discuss items not on the agenda while they eat and drink. Let them be merry.
We thought we would have table talks during lunch. People could discuss a variety of topics and remain engaged in leadership topics through the entire conference. This didn't happen. It turns out, librarians like to chat with other librarians (shocker!), and they were wonderfully social. We planted ourselves at tables during lunch to try to guide the conversation, but we just ended up talking shop with other librarians. We learned and connected with other people more over those types of conversations rather than the topics we’d suggested.

  • Plan, plan, plan (and always have snacks).
The conference planning process took a year. We met once a month at coffee shops, the nearest Chipotle, and committee members’ homes. We always made sure we had snacks to keep us moving during those long conversations!

  • Good leaders acknowledge when help is needed and accept it when offered. 

We are blessed to have a wonderful local library council, the RRLC, who provided advice and planning support. The council saw a need for this conference and worked with us through the entire process. Early on, we met with the executive director and the member services librarian for breakfast at a local diner (see Lesson #2) to get their input and continued this relationship throughout the whole year. They provided website hosting, administrative support for registering guests and coordinating refreshments, and even support in administering the grant funds. We didn’t set out on this planning process with all the answers, but with an understanding that we could look to leaders and experienced professionals for help in getting them.

  • Always keep your goals in mind. 

One of the main goals for the conference was to put on a low-cost conference that many people could attend without institutional funding. We had originally intended to use some of our fiscal resources to provide travel scholarships to attendees. We began to work on scholarship criteria, scholarship amounts, and so on, but we soon realized we could increase the number of attendees if we focused on what we could provide with our budget to people who did attend. We wanted many people to be able to attend, and a free conference would make that possible. We decided to remove travel scholarships and focus on the conference logistics instead. Keeping it simple was important as we did not have any guidelines. Thankfully, we were allowed to deviate from our original grant proposal, which included setting aside funds for travel scholarships, and make this conference free to all, saving us much time and energy in the process.

What’s next?

Riding the momentum from the conference, we published a call for more volunteers to help with planning monthly events for our group and developing a formal leadership structure. As we work on our plan for the next year, we’re taking care to share our success with those who helped us along the way. Ours is an unmarked path in Rochester: unmarked paths are best with friends to share the trailblazing.

Tyler Dzuba is the Head of the Physics-Optics-Astronomy Library at the University of Rochester, River Campus Libraries. He has enjoyed the Rochester library community since 2012 and is passionate about early-career leadership across the profession. This is his second post for LTaYL: his first was "What Did I Do? Keeping Track of Accomplishments Without Going Crazy". Tyler would be happy to discuss librarianing, conference planning, or the magic of coffee by email (tdzuba [at] gmail) or on Twitter (@silent_d).

Dan Trout is the Nursing Liaison librarian at Edward Miner Library at the University of Rochester Medical Center.  He previously worked at the Rochester Institute of Technology and Syracuse University. Dan is interested in open access, information literacy, helping early-career librarians find their voice, cooking and altmetrics. You can contact him on twitter @512dot72.

Kourtney Blackburn is currently the Access Services Librarian at St. John Fisher College’s Lavery Library. Previously, she worked as the digital initiatives librarian at the Rochester Regional Library Council. Kourtney is interested in issues relating to resource sharing, open access, and outreach.

RECIP’s Leadership Summit was made possible by generous support from the Harold Hacker Fund for the Advancement of Libraries, the Rochester Regional Library Council, and the Friends & Foundation of the Rochester Public Library. Besides Kourtney, Tyler, and Dan, the Planning Committee included Lori Birrell, Phil Koyoumjian, Matt Krueger, and Marcy Strong. For more information on the planning committee, please visit:

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