Forum Feedback: Insights from the DLF Community on Event Sessions

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Welcome to our Forum Feedback series, a space dedicated to gathering insights from our vibrant community. Here we delve into the ever-changing conference landscape, exploring themes such as health, safety, accessibility, affordability, and sustainability. Follow along as we share data, insights, and thought-provoking discussions aimed at shaping the future of gatherings with inclusivity at the forefront. We encourage you to actively participate by sharing your own valuable feedback. Together, let’s shape the landscape of conferences for the better. 

Team DLF has been looking forward to 2024 for a couple of years because we knew it would be the best time to start our journey of evaluating how we gather for the DLF Forum. In preparation, we asked the registrants of the 2023 CLIR Events (DLF Forum, Learn@DLF, and NDSA’s Digital Preservation) the question, “When attending a conference, what is most important to you?” While we make it a regular part of our workflow to send surveys to attendees after an event, we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to ask every person who would be joining us in St. Louis this question. It’s important to note the language of this question and those that followed (reviewed below). Our question asks what folks are looking for from a conference, not for feedback on past DLF Forum events. This was purposeful as we wanted the opportunity to think beyond what has already been done. This is an opportunity to talk about the larger context of the academic conference.

We received over 400 responses and categorized them into four major categories: networking, event venue, event sessions, and opportunities to present. 

A word cloud showing 10 words in different colors, the biggest being "netowkring," "session" and "work."
Word cloud showing major themes of responses to the question, “When attending a conference, what is most important to you?”

After collecting this data from registrants, we turned what we learned into a participatory closing plenary session in St. Louis. In this session, we shared the four major categories we saw in the registrant responses and asked participants to quietly reflect on prompts related to each category. For this update, we’re sharing and reflecting on what folks had to say about the event sessions category. 

The questions developed for the event sessions category included: 

  1. What determines a quality conference session or workshop? 
  2. What determines a quality featured speaker (keynote) session? 
  3. Are there any specific session types you particularly like? 
Tight view of someone holding a half sheet of paper with questions.
We provided the prompts on the digital screens as well as half sheets of printed paper on each table. Photo by Tyler Small.

We provided these questions as a way to get started, but folks were also empowered to freestyle. The questions were developed out of the desire for folks to elaborate on their responses to the 2023 CLIR Events registration question. Many people responded to the question “When attending a conference, what is most important to you?” by saying “quality conference sessions.” “Quality” can mean different things to different people, so we wanted to give folks a chance to reflect on what this means. 

After quiet reflection, another pivotal aspect of the plenary unfolded: the sharing and exchange among community members. Participants were seated at round tables, equipped with large sticky pads, smaller sticky pads, pens, and markers, facilitating discussions and the recording of their responses and reflections. Providing a platform for our individual experiences to be heard is invaluable. Engaging with fellow community members serves as a reminder of the diverse perspectives present at the conference, enriching our collective understanding. Following the small group discussions, we opened the floor for anyone wishing to share insights or resonant thoughts with the larger group. This structured approach, akin to the think, pair, share method, evoked nostalgic memories of my days in library instruction and provided an enjoyable conclusion to the 2023 DLF Forum. 

In an effort to include folks who may not have been able to attend the in-person plenary session, we offered a virtual session with the same guidelines and utilized Padlet for folks to record group discussions. 

Birds eye view of a table with sticky notes, showing people reaching for things.
After independent reflection, folks participated in small group discussions of their responses. Photo by Tyler Small.

Insights and Desires for Conference Sessions

The word “sessions” was used 369 times in the 2023 CLIR Events registration responses, and other words such as “quality,” “practical,” “diverse,” “engaging,” and “relevant” were used as descriptors of what folks are looking for. 

At the in-person closing plenary session, we heard responses such as requests for more working sessions, combination sessions (for DLF this typically includes 2-3 15-minute presentations organized around similar topics) and roundtable discussions. Traditionally, working sessions have included time for DLF working groups that already exist to meet or for new ones to kick off around a topic of interest. Other folks want to see accessibility emphasized, including the use of microphones, coaching on how to project one’s voice, and requiring accessible slides. In virtual trainings leading up to our events, in our email communications, and in our opening plenary, Team DLF does make sure to emphasize the importance of microphone use by all presenters and attendees, and we offer resources for creating accessible presentations, thanks to the work of Debbie Krahmer and DLF’s Committee for Equity and Inclusion. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t expand our emphasis on accessibility for in-person and virtual events and meetings. 

Folks also want to see a good balance between the technical and the practical aspects of digital library work. We heard feedback from participants from all Forum Feedback modalities that they are seeking practical and applicable tips and workflows to incorporate at their home institutions. Folks also want to see diverse, friendly and engaging presenters on the conference program. 

People seated at a roundtable with papers and markers. One person reaching for a marker.
After independent reflection, folks participated in small group discussions of their responses. Photo by Tyler Small.

Navigating Diverse Perspectives

As expected, individuals offered varying perspectives throughout all modalities of Forum Feedback. Some prefer detailed, granular sessions, while others seek broader discussions. Preferences also diverge regarding session lengths, with some advocating for longer sessions and others for shorter ones. Navigating through this qualitative data, albeit occasionally contradictory, can be enlightening and worthwhile. The discernible patterns we’ve identified are invaluable to us as conference organizers, aiding in the deliberation of an optimal conference format for both in-person and virtual events. It’s essential to recognize that an in-person conference doesn’t automatically translate to a virtual one simply because it’s livestreamed online. 

With these considerations in mind, we invite continued engagement and feedback from our community as we collectively shape the future of gatherings. Thank you so much to those who have made invaluable contributions to Forum Feedback! 

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