Planning a conference – 10 thoughts

This year Durham University Library and Collections staff both presented at and attended the Northern Collaboration Conference in Hull. One of our colleagues, Rosi Jelfs, was also a member of the Conference Planning Committee. We know that each year, many of our students and professional support colleagues take on similar responsibilities for the first time, so we asked Rosi how she found helping organising the conference this year…

For the last year I’ve been on the planning group for the annual Northern Collaboration Conference. The Northern Collaboration is a consortium of 28 higher education libraries (plus the British Library) in the north of England. This year’s conference on ‘Collaborating across physical, organisational and cultural boundaries’ took place in Hull.

  1. A good team is essential: Planning a multi-institution conference requires a group of interested individuals from across the consortium. This planning group consists of 10 institutional representatives and the Northern Collaboration Development Officer. Membership is for 2 or 3 years, and about half the group changes each year, so there are always some ‘old’ and some ‘new’ hands.
  2. Variety is the spice of life: Institutional reps come from a variety of library-related backgrounds and jobs, and bring different strengths and ideas to the group. It’s great getting to know other people in similar jobs, and finding out how they do things.
  3. Keep in touch – and make use of online tools to drive activity forwards: We have about 5 planning meetings a year, with most of the work being done remotely on Google Drive. Our meetings take place at different institutions, each group member taking turns to host. This is great as it’s an opportunity to see new cities and libraries (and try out other universities’ catering!!)
  4. There are lots of things to keep on top of: Planning a conference consists of a variety of moving parts, from venue selection and liaison, communications, recruiting sponsors, managing paper submissions, selling tickets, creating the programme and liaising with presenters, all to a budget of course!
  5. Organising a conference can broaden your understanding of your research or professional field: One of the most fun parts is sorting through the submissions, deciding what to accept and how it will fit into the programme. It’s brilliant to see how much exciting stuff is happening in our libraries, as well as how much we have in common.
  6. Even with meticulous planning, prepare to be busy during the last few days/weeks: The week before the conference is busy with last minute requests, presentation alterations, and so many questions! I don’t think I’ve ever replied to so many emails in such a short space of time,
  7. Don’t forget refreshments: Nothing says the conference will be great like good refreshments to kick it off. People will always remember if the food was good or not. The food at Hull was exceptional!
  8. Learn from previous mistakes, and know your audience: Cake is essential at a library conference. Former members of the group tell of the fateful conference of 2016 when there was NO CAKE AFTER LUNCH. Scandalous. In Hull we had excellent cake.
  9. Be prepared for technology to fail on the day: There will inevitably be some sort of sound, tech, or temperature-related issue on the day…. Just accept it and move on!
  10. It’s hard work, but it is rewarding: Planning a conference is hard work, but a fantastic experience and a great way add something to your ‘normal’ workload.

Rosi recently left Durham University Library and Collections, but didn’t go far. Rosi can now be found in the Durham University Careers & Enterprise Centre (in the Palatine Building), heading up the Information Services team and looking after the Information Room as the Careers Service’s Information Services Manager.


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