CI 2009: Unconferences

Presenters: Steve Lawson, Stephen Francoeur, John Blyberg, and Kathryn Greenhill

KG began by asking the audience to share what questions they have about unconferences while SL took notes on a flip chart. Lots of good questions covering a variety of aspects, including all the questions I have.

Keep in mind: who ever comes are the right people; whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened; whenever it starts is the right time. Also keep in mind the law of two feet. If you are in a situation where you are neither getting nor receiving anything of value, then change that or leave.

Many people indicate that they get a lot out of the space inbetween sessions at traditional conferences, and this is what unconferences try to capture. Libraries can also host general unconferences, such as what Deschamps did in Halifax. It doesn’t have to be just library stuff.

You can’t prepare for every aspect of an unconference. You can prepare the space and request that specific people be there, but in the end, its success is based on the engagement of the participants.

Unconferences are casual. You do need to decide the level of casual, such as how much you want to borrow from traditional conference amenities and structure. Organizational sponsorships should be limited to affiliation and financial support — avoid letting them dictate what will happen.

Keynote sessions can influence the conversations that happen afterwards, so be deliberate about whether or not to have one.

The less you have to deal with money the better, and there are pros and cons to having fees. Keep the threshold low to encourage participation. Every day is a bad day for somebody, so just choose a date and time.

Tip: organize an unconference the day before or after a national conference. Folks are coming and going, and it’s easier to schedule that time in and to get institutional funding.

Make use of social software for promoting and organizing the unconference (wikis are good), and also use it for continuing the conversation.

Free as in beer, free as in kittens, and now free as in someone else is paying. Make use of the resources of the participants institutions.

Swag keeps the connection, and if you’re creative, they’re also useful. SF showed the notebooks that they handed out at LibCampNYC, which were branded versions of something like Moleskine notebooks. Hand out the swag at the beginning, along with notes about how the unconference was going to work and an outline of a schedule (if you have one).

You can build communities through unconferences that then are agile enough to continue the interaction and spontaneous gatherings.

"If you feed them they will come. If you give them liquor they will come the next time." — John Blyberg

thing 17: UR wikis

At my library, we have a couple of wikis set up. One is basically a transfer of our main service desk manual from paper to online, and the other is Boatipedia, our FAQ. I agree with Carol in that the format works well for our manual, and I also agree with her that I’m not entirely sold on the idea of a FAQ in wiki format, unless the intent is more for the ease of allowing many authorized users to edit it. As Carol puts it, “we really don’t want anyone to be able to go in and change content — do we?”

As for other uses for an internal wiki… I could see myself using a wiki to organize information about our electronic resources, licenses, and contacts. Being able to search across pages to find information and the ability to have input from each of the individuals involved in the process would both be pluses for the format over more traditional paper files and email archives. However, we have paid for a tool specifically designed to do that, which also interfaces with the public side of linking users to the resources, so it wouldn’t make sense to use a wiki instead of or in addition to that tool.

thing 16: wikis

One thing I have learned from participating in several wiki projects — from Wikipedia to my libraries’ FAQ/Policies wikis — is that it takes a lot of work to populate and maintain a useful wiki. One of my favorite uses of a wiki is Whole Wheat Radio (which seems to have disappeared recently).

The streaming radio station out of Talkeenta, Alaska, switched over to using a wiki to maintain information about the artists played and available albums/tracks. Users could contribute as much information as they wanted to. For a while, I was addicted to adding content to it. Part of why I haven’t listened much in the past few months is because I would easily spend an hour or two adding data to the site every time I turned on the stream.

If the site ever comes back, I recommend you check it out. Aside from the wiki aspect, anyone can play DJ and pick the songs they want to have broadcast. Pretty cool!

side note: It appears that the music, at least, is still streaming.

#7

Heads up, librarians — this may be of interest to you. My review of Wikipedia – the Missing Manual by John Broughton was published this weekend on Blogcritics. There has been some discussion among the profession about our relationship to Wikipedia, ranging from warnings against using it to calls for librarian contributions to the content. For those interested in the latter, I recommend picking up a copy of this book (your library should have one, too).

…Wikipedia has plenty of documentation on how to edit itself, and if you are willing to find your way through all of that, you may not want to read this book. I have muddle through a few Wikipedia contributions (both new pages and copy edits on existing ones) without this book, but in reading it, I frequently found myself making notes of things to look up later or tweaks I could do to make editing easier. The book does not contain anything you probably would not find on Wikipedia. Instead, it takes that information and lays it out in a workflow that is designed to take the novice user from ignorance to full-on Wikipedia-obsessed editing.