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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 128-75(WS)-E
Division Number: VI.
Professional Group: Management of Library Associations: Workshop
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 75.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

Meeting and Conference Planning

Arlene Cohen
University of Guam
RFK Library
Mangitao, Guam


Delivering programs and services is an integral part of the work of volunteer library associations, yet funding restraints must be considered. This presentation discusses some issues involved in planning programs with a volunteer membership and looks at the three essential elements: logistics, content and funding. Examples from the author's experience are provided to illustrate useful methods.


The role of any established association of people -- be they librarians, stone masons or deep sea divers -- is to address the needs and interests of the membership. If members are not getting what they want from the association, there is little reason to continue one's membership. In this presentation, I will attempt to address the question of how associations -- volunteer library associations in particular -- keep their membership interested and involved. To begin, I believe delivering programs and services benefitting both our members and the profession at large is the key to keeping any library association alive.

To deliver programs and services in large, financially well supported library associations, there usually are paid professionals with the responsibility for some of the workload. However, when we talk about volunteer library associations, although the workload for delivering programs and services is the same, it must be divided among people who usually have full-time employment outside of the association. Moreover, the membership's interest, energy and willingness to devote time may change over time. Some years, there is much energy and activity, while others can be very slow as members divert their energy to other interests and activities. These realities make the challenge of maintaining an active association even greater.

Given these realities, what then is involved in planning programs for volunteer library associations, with little funding resources? In this presentation, I will attempt to address this question, relying on my experiences for over the past 25 years, where I have worked with both local and regional voluntary associations. Most recently, I have worked in Guam, an island in the western Pacific Ocean, planning meetings and regional conferences in the Micronesian islands, a far flung group of islands located within the region, as shown in Fig. 1.

There are three essential elements are involved in program planning: logistics, content and funding. Logistics involve questions such as where and when the program will be held, and the food, lodging and transportation needs, if necessary

From my experience, I believe one of the determining factors in planning programs is how often and easily members can be brought together to satisfy their needs and interests. For instance, members of our library association in Guam can easily meet monthly and most have some professional library training. On the other hand, members of the Pacific Islands Association of Libraries and Archives (PIALA), the regional library association in Micronesia, can only be brought together once a year because of the costs involved, and many PIALA members have little or no professional training. Consequently, program planning for these two associations must be done from different perspectives.

Additionally, the effort involved in planning a monthly program for a local association is quite different than planning a yearly conference lasting several days. For example, in doing the program planning for the Guam Library Association, one volunteer is responsible for the overall logistics and content of programs throughout the year, although other volunteers may offer to plan specific meetings. On the other hand, our PIALA yearly conferences involve many volunteers, with responsibilities shared for the logistics, content and funding aspects of the conference. Usually, there is an on-site coordinator responsible for all the logistical arrangements, along with another coordinator responsible for the overall development of the content of the program, and when we are lucky, another volunteer with the time and expertise to write grants to fund travel and presenters for the programs. The program content coordinator and grant writers may be volunteers from many different islands.

Where to Start

Which comes first.... the chicken or the egg? Do you have an idea for a program and then find someone to present the content; or is the program content the result of willing presenters; or is there a great intermix of both; or does the question even matter. I believe there are no firm, consistent rules for planning programs. If you know your association and have a sense of its needs, your best tool for program planning is keeping your eyes open to opportunities. My approach has been to seize opportunities and do whatever is needed to make put the program together. To illustrate:

A controversial journalist was visiting our island for a few weeks. She was approached and was willing to speak to our association. Within days, a special unplanned meeting was called so she could talk about the work she had been doing.

From a membership survey on training needs, we found that our members wanted a workshop on basic cataloging. A university library school professor in the United States once expressed an interest in traveling to our area and could secure travel funds from her university. She was invited to teach the successful workshop.

A colleague who is a Pacific Islander and a professor in the School of Education at the University of Guam was publishing teacher resource books for the different Micronesian islands and was invited her to present her work. She did several successful presentations on reading motivation and literacy, blending local materials and a Pacific Island perspective with her academic background.

I was approached by an Australian librarian with a strong research interest in Pacific literature about presenting her research findings. She found funding and we found a perfect place for her presentation at our annual regional library association meeting.

Members of a local, non-library affiliated association I belong to expressed a desire to learn basic Internet searching. I presented a session at their meeting. In the process, I promoted libraries and developed contacts for potential presentations at future library association meetings.

These are just a few examples of how programs can happen. What is important is knowing what will be of interest to your association and seizing opportunities to put their interests together with potential presenters.

Finding out the interests of the membership can be easily done with surveys, evaluations from previous meetings and just networking with the membership. When asking members to give their time and effort to attend programs, program planners must strive to make the event worthwhile. Asking the audience to fill out an evaluation form immediately after the program is one of the best feedback mechanisms to plan future programs.


Since most volunteer library associations, particularly in underdeveloped areas, have a very minimal dues structure, there is little money in the treasury to support most activities of the association, including programming. Within this context, both PIALA and Guam do provide presenters with either lunch or dinner, when it is part of the program; and waive registrations fees if within a conference setting. As these associations are not in a position to support the travel or accommodations of presenters coming from outside the local area, I make this clear in the first contact with a potential presenter. However, although we can provide no financial assistance, I offer to write a strong letter of invitation, allowing presenters to look for possible sources of their own funding.

Publicity for programs is usually done within the association's newsletters, or through the media, at no charge. Since PIALA charges conference registration fees, although minimal, this money is used to cover any the costs of copying speaker handouts, renting equipment, or other costs associated with the presentation. With the increasingly wide use of E-mail to facilitate program planning, the cost of FAX, phone calls and postage has significantly decreased, although when needed, it too will come out of the associations treasury.

For programs that involve significant costs, there is always the possibility of writing grants to cover the expenses. This though can be a time consuming effort and requires the willingness of a volunteer member to do the work.

Program Format

The format of the program can determine how well attended and successful the program is. For local library associations with members all living in the same geographic area, within a short driving distance of each other, some possible formats are:

When the association only meets once a year, some possible formats are:

Finding Presenters

How do you find the presenters, or if you will, the raison d'etre for programs. In the real estate industry, an underlying concept for success is location, location, location. It is not what the house looks like, but where it is that will usually determine a sale.

In program planning, contacts, contacts, contacts and a bit of luck really determine the success of programs! No matter how good your program looks on paper, it is the people who do the presenting that determine the success of a program.

But, how does one develop these contacts. It would be impossible to mention all the possibilities for developing contacts, but I would like to suggest some that have worked for me.

The best technique is to network with people at meetings and conferences, promoting your association. From these people, you can develop new contacts.

Initiate meetings with local leaders in the community. These might include politicians, writers and educators who have an interest in libraries and provide a local point of view.

Keep your eyes open for prominent visitors to your city and invite them to speak about their field of interest at your meeting

Initiate communication with the authors of interesting articles or publications you have read.

These are but a few, but can be a beginning to building up your list of potential presenters for your programs. And, these same contacts can help you evaluate potential speakers.

In closing, I will tell a wonderful story about a very successful workshop that began on a bus ride from Beijing going to the Great Wall of China. During the IFLA '96 meeting in Beijing, I heard Tuula Haavisto, then Executive Director of the Finnish Library Association, speaking at a RTMLA meeting and was very impressed with what she was saying. For the rest of the conference, I unsuccessfully tried to talk with her again and finally, with great luck, she was on the same bus for the trip to the Great Wall. I asked if we could sit together and the first question I posed was if she would consider coming to Micronesia to present a workshop. After a moment of disbelief, she thought it was a great idea and for most of our bus ride, we tossed ideas about how to make it happen. At the end of the trip, we exchanged business cards and 15 months later, Tuula came to Pohnpei, a small island in Micronesia, presenting a workshop on Library Advocacy, with funding from IFLA's Advancement of Librarianship in the Third World Program. Making that happen was really a combination of seeing a potential, seizing the opportunity to make the contact, sharing ideas and following through.

Anyone can do the same thing and create programs. Just keep your eyes open to opportunities, make the contact and do it!