Friday, February 21, 2014

The Unconference Experience

Attending KidLibCamp at the Darien Library has been a goal of mine.  Unfortunately if you know geography, Connecticut and Michigan are not so close.  We are talking about a 12 hour drive each way.  After watching the posts on Twitter from last year's KidLibCamp, Andrea, Anne, and I all decided that this was something that we wanted to do.  The best part-we all lived in the same state!

We started off by brainstorming on Google Drive about everything that we could think of, including the location, dates to avoid, topics we would like to discuss, and whether or not to offer a key note speaker.  If we thought of it, it ended up in this document.  Since we all live in different parts of the state (Clinton Township, Kalamazoo, and Bay City), Google Drive was a great way to get started.  This process took us about a month.

In October we set the date.  Michigan is a great state to be in library-wise as there are a lot of professional development opportunities available.  We didn't want to detract from any of these or compete with them.  This pulled out October, March, and May.  Summer reading is a big deal for us all and we figured we couldn't handle any sort of conference in June-August.  This left September, December, January, February, and April.  Since our big children's conference through the Michigan Library Association is the last week of March, we crossed off April too.  We didn't want to wait a full year to have an unconference, which crossed off September.  Left with December-February, we picked the least likely for snow in an average year.  February 21 was our date!

Next up came the web site.  Anne is our techno-guru and set up our web site.  Word went out on our state library listservs, 2 local library school listservs, Pubyac, Twitter, and Facebook Groups (Flannel Friday and Storytime Underground).  People started registering and this became REAL.

One of our big goals for the day was to keep the cost as close to $0 as possible.  The only thing that we charged for was lunch ($3 for pizza or $6 for Jimmy John's).  For those on special diets or didn't want what we were offering, they were welcome to bring their own lunch.  By holding it in one of our libraries, we didn't have to pay for room rental.  As the library who hosted, it didn't cost us much either.  I used 2 boxes of pens, 4 legal pads, copies (less than 1 ream of paper), and 1 cup of coffee grounds.

Our discussions moved from Google Drive to email.  With the framework in place, we were able to email about once a month until January with different details.  As the day got closer, there were more emails.  We talked about things such as door prizes, how to run Guerrilla Storytime, sample feedback surveys and more.  Andrea coordinated carpools so those who lived farther away could share the mileage and the drive.  Have I mentioned that I had only met Anne 1 time and have never met Andrea?  Somehow we just gelled.

Then the day arrived.  Despite having some fluky weather the week of the unconference, the day was decent and people came!  When we asked Darien what type of turnout to expect, they had said that 50 people was a good amount.  We had also heard that unconferences have about a 60% no-show rate.  Obviously they have never met Michigan librarians.  With 90ish people registered, I was hoping that at least 40 people showed up, which would beat the 60%.  We had 72 attend!

We ran 3 breakouts during the day in 4 different rooms, allowing us to discuss 12 different topics.  Guerilla Storytime at lunch was a blast, although I think I need to videotape the whole thing next time.  Many of the attendees seemed really excited to be there and they TALKED.  (I will admit to a secret fear that nobody would talk in the breakout sessions and made up sample questions.)  There was sharing, new ideas, and many Tweets.  Plus, I got to meet some of my PLN.  Social media is great, but sometimes the personal touch is beneficial.  It was a great day all around.

Now comes the fun part.  Anne is currently coordinating the notes from the breakout sessions and they will appear on the MiKidLib web site.  I can't wait as I know there were some great Tweets coming out of sessions and I want to see what they were talking about.  There were pictures and videos taken during the day that will be put up online.  Blog posts such as this are being written and I know Anne is going to do at least one too.

If you attended today, a survey will be emailed out shortly.  We would love your thoughts and ideas.  This was our first time putting an unconference together and honestly there were times it was like throwing darts at a dartboard.  Your feedback would be great.

For those of you who had a super good time today or missed because of other commitments, we will be back next year.  Watch the web site for more information as it comes out, but it is looking like it will be in Kalamazoo.


  1. Even though I was home sick in WI I had a great time following the unconference. I look forward to the notes. Great great pats on the back to all of you for leaping forward and DOING IT! I appreciate your take-charge efforts!!

    1. Thanks! I think we all had a great time doing it.

  2. AHHH! I hadn't heard a thing about this until the day, when fb messages and tweets started appearing in my feeds as friends were heading out to the unconference. "What unconference?" I wondered.... if you do it again next year, I want to be there! Cassie @ CADL

    1. Definitely! We are looking at Kzoo for next year as long as everything works out. I will be sending out a link on Mich-lib soon (maybe tomorrow) for our survey. Definitely answer it with your email and you will be kept updated for next year.


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