The Life Cycle of a Program: The Kiss and Tell Version, by Hollie White
On August 23rd program proposals are due for the 2010 AALL Annual Meeting in Denver. Programming is an important part of our law library culture. It disseminates new ideas and brings together colleagues who want to continue the law library tradition in new and innovative ways. This article is an account of what it was like to be a part of the planning and presentation process for the 2009 Annual Meeting Program , G-2 — Unmasking a Marvel of an Idea in D.C.: How Graphic Literature can be Supertools for Law Librarians. I will discuss my perspective of the program process from start to finish—a true life cycle. By including the subtitle “kiss and tell” for this article, I’m promising an honest account of both the good and the more challenging aspects of what can occur when preparing a program.
It all starts with an Idea
Program ideas can come from anywhere. For years, Robb Farmer and I talked outside of work about comic books, anime, and the state of the library profession. Though seemingly unrelated things, these ideas are actually connected in unique and exciting ways. Robb started incorporating many popular culture references into his legal research courses and I worked with a comic book convention doing library outreach. Yet, it was not until the Annual Meeting in Portland that Robb and I discussed the idea of doing a comic book program in D.C. (since “DC” is also the name of a comic book publisher). So, exactly a year before the 2009 conference, the comic book program for D.C. started taking shape.
Writing the Program and Getting Speakers
Robb spearheaded the program proposal process. This process is actually quite involved and includes not only describing a program, but getting speakers, determining learning objectives, targeting an audience, as well as making sure that all of these things match the goals and purpose of AALL. Robb wrote the first draft focusing the proposal on legal research instruction and law library recruitment through comics and other graphic literature, such as manga. The general concept was that Robb would cover the legal research part and I would talk about recruitment. Robb also identified more speakers including: Kerry Skinner, a comic book enthusiast and law librarian who was brought in to moderate and coordinate; Deborah Ginsberg, who was identified as having experience with diversity and comic books, as well as being an experienced AALL presenter; and pulling it all together was our outside speaker, Arnold Blumberg from the Geppi’s Entertainment Museum. Arnold is the curator of a comic related museum as well as a writer. Outside speakers are unique because they are not AALL members and can be paid an honorarium. It is often in the program proposer’s best interest to find “conference- local” (people who live close to where the conference is being held) outside speakers because they can potentially cost less money when asked to speak.
Going through the Approval Process
Programs often have to go through many rounds of approval to be included in the Annual Meeting. Getting a popular culture based program approved can be tricky. Popular culture topics have a tendency to diverge from law library foci and can digress into a group of fans talking about their favorite shows. Robb had worked hard to make sure that the program description was on point and solid. The program received a favorable response from both RIPS and the Gen X/Gen Y Caucus—both groups agreeing to co-sponsor the program. While programs are not required to be sponsored by AALL sub-groups, it is not detrimental to have the support of these groups when putting a program forward to the Annual Meeting Programming Committee (AMPC). In October we received the happy news, that AMPC had approved the program for inclusion in the 2009 Annual Meeting program schedule, but there was a catch.
AMPC encouraged us to remove the phrase “comic book” from the title of our program and replace it with “graphic literature”. The argument was that funding agencies were far less likely to send people to conferences with “comic book” programs. At the time, I wholeheartedly supported the change in the title—in my mind it was just another step to complete in order to get the program approved, and that the important thing was to be able to deliver our message to the audience at AALL. Our presentation group had mixed feelings about this change, but eventually, we decided to take AMPC’s suggestion and changed the wording.
Many months span the time from program acceptance to program presentation. During that time, many things can change. For example, during the nine or so months that our group had for program proposals, the economy became worrisome, many comic book lines and anime distribution companies stopped production, and law libraries cut budgets. Throughout it all, we kept aware of what was happening in the world and scheduled conference calls to talk about program details. Also during this time, Debbie found out she was going to have a baby right around conference time. Instead of backing out of the speaking engagement, alternative presentation methods were planned for her section, and her pre-recorded video really set the tone for a lot of the other presentations that were created for our program.
Giving the Presentation
By the time the presentation rolled around, all of the hard work had paid off. Kerry had compiled all of the slides into one coherent presentation. Debbie’s video presentation played beautifully and she was even able to call in and be available virtually during the question and answer session. We were pleased that for an afternoon program we had a good turnout, and that most of the people who came to the presentation stayed until the end. The question and answer period allowed us to answer fun and serious questions. So, overall, the presentation of the program was the least time consuming part of the entire proposal process, yet it was the most fulfilling.
Response and Evaluation
After our presentation, many people from the audience came up to speak to us individually and ask for our business cards. Later, we heard that people had been sending Twitter tweets out during our presentation. I think it was wonderful for all of us to see people connect to our material.
The life cycle of our program is almost over. The last thing we have to wait for is the evaluation sheet from AALL Headquarters. This sheet will include a score for the program overall, scores for each individual speaker, and comments from attendees. I am excited to see how the program was received and will take this feedback and incorporate it into future presentations.
Now that the program is over, in hindsight there is only one thing I would have done differently. If I could do it all again, I would have encouraged the group to keep the phrase “comic book” in the title. We ran into a number of people after the presentation that showed disappointment that they had missed the program. These people had missed it because they didn’t understand that the program was about comic books—the title was not as obvious as it should have been. While we will not be sharing our slides (since they contain images from various comic book artists), there are lovely handout available to everyone at http://cssis.org/ripsaall2009/. If you were unable to attend the program, please look at these handouts for more information or listen to the recording made by AALL.
In closing, I would like to thank Robb Farmer, Kerry Skinner, Deborah Ginsberg, and Arnold Blumberg for being excellent co-presenters. I feel honored to have shared the stage with you all! Plus, I would like to give my thanks to the RIPS Grant committee for the generous grant that allowed me to attend this year’s Annual Meeting. Also, many thanks to the CS-SIS for hosting our handouts!