NJLA may seem like a mysterious organization to some, but it shouldn't be that way. If you’re new to the profession, looking for a way to break into the organization, or searching for an opportunity to reinvigorate your involvement and career, maybe the following information will help you do just that! I interviewed our Past President and director of the Piscataway Public Library James Keebler, Current President and director of the South Brunswick Public Library Chris Carbone, and President-Elect and director of the Kenilworth Public Library Michael Maziekien to demystify how to get involved in NJLA, work your way up the ranks, and get the most out of your conference experience.
Q1: How long have you been involved in NJLA, and what has been your trajectory through the organization to where you are now as past, current, and future leaders?
James Keebler (JK): I have been involved in NJLA for over 15 years. My first committee assignment was as a member of the Conference Committee under the leadership of Cindy Czesak, Heidi Cramer and Nancy O'Grady. I was amazed by how organized they were, and when I later became a Conference Co-Chair I realized how much work goes into planning the conference. In 2010 I crashed a Public Policy meeting, and a few months later I was picked to be vice chair for the upcoming year. In the meantime I have also served as a member of the Member Services Committee, as NJLA Treasurer and then NJLA President. The key to moving through the organization? Showing up, pitching in and be a positive influence even in the most dire situations.
Chris Carbone (CC): I became actively engaged with NJLA in 2008 when I became the Director of the South Brunswick Public Library. My one career regret is that I did not make NJLA a bigger part of my early career! Through the great mentorship of Eileen Palmer I quickly became very active with the Public Policy Committee, serving as Vice Chair and then Chair... Through my work on Public Policy over the years I have had the opportunity to serve on the NJLA Structure and Funding Task Force, the Advocacy Subcommittee, participate in Task Force presentations across the state, be an Advocacy Captain and coordinate NJ’s delegation for ALA’s National Library Legislative Day. I was elected to serve as NJLA Secretary from 2012 to 2014. This was followed by a partial term as Treasurer from 2014 to 2015 when I was humbled to be selected as NJLA President-elect. I have been very fortunate and honored for the opportunity to work with so many of New Jersey’s amazing library leaders and provide service to our vibrant Association.
Michael Maziekien (MM): I've been involved in NJLA since 2007. I started out working with the Reference Section, serving as co-editor of the Reference Section Quartertly newsletter, and working on the first annual Adult Services Forum. While working at the Nutley Public Library, I took part in NJLA's Emerging Leaders program. I became president of the Reference Section, and later worked on the Virtual Reference Task Force, researching opportunities for digital reference service. I was then appointed to the Member Services Committee, and worked with fellow committee members to establish a series of social events for NJLA members and their families. I was elected to the NJLA Executive Board as Member-at-Large, served on (and later chaired) the Personnel Administration Committee, and here I am today!
Q2: Do you remember your first NJLA Conference? What was it like?
JK: My first conference experience was more of a day of professional development. Arrive at conference, attend some programs and see if I could leave early. Once I became more involved in NJLA and made more friendships, I started to participate in more of the NJLA Conference events and the experience became much more rewarding. NJLA has many opportunities for meeting others, and I would highly recommend participating. It is all about having someone to go to lunch with.
CC: It was so exciting! There is just something about being among hundreds of other library people, all sharing great ideas, enthusiasm and advice. It was truly eye opening to see such collaboration, commonalities and opportunity. Everyone is so accessible, so for a first time attendee is was such a great experience. And going to Conference still is!
MM: At my first NJLA Conference, I knew very few people, had no detailed plan for attendance, and signed up to speak on a panel with Rutgers Library Science Professor Marie Radford. Needless to say, I felt like I was jumping into the deep end. By the end of the conference, I had met so many wonderful people, learned so much, and had such a great time that I couldn't imagine missing a future conference.
Q3: What are some of your favorite NJLA Conference moments?
JK: Most of my favorite moments are as a co-chair with Karen Klapperstuck, Lynn Schott and Kathy Schalk Green. Chairing conference is a constant running around trying to make sure the Conference experience is enjoyable for 1,000 attendees and the exhibitors and speakers. Lynn always had a bag with everything you didn't realize you needed until you did, like tape, scissors, markers and much more. By the end of the conference you are exhausted but filled with a sense of pride at having pulled it off for another year. More recently, this year's pool party was an event that added so much to the Conference experience. Since we went to Revel, many of us have discussed how much more of a Conference feel there is when you are able to attend the events at night and the Pool Party was the best yet. The discussions, meeting new people and the relaxation after a long day was such a great experience and one I look forward to in the upcoming years.
CC: Finding inspiration and sense of purpose at key notes and the Awards Reception. Shopping the NJLA store. Visiting the vendors. Seeing new and familiar faces all with the common bond of developing great New Jersey libraries. Being proud and thankful to learn from all these inspiring New Jersey librarians. Those Aha moments when you realize others have the same hopes, dreams and challenges, and together we can make things happen!
MM: To name a few: Ignite sessions, Battledecks, Conversation Starters, Brown Bag lunchtime talks, and, of course, dance parties. I always return to the library feeling like my battery has been fully recharged, and these are just a few reasons why.
Q4: What are you most looking forward to at the 2017 NJLA Conference?
JK: Having almost no official responsibility as Past President. Also, the Conference being in Harrah's a second year building on last year's success. The Conference Center at Harrah's is such a great fit, larger rooms for programs, a centralized exhibitor area, more affordable rooms and of course the Pool Party.
CC: I’m looking forward to the energy and power of New Jersey libraries coming together, for some great Beyond the Box programs, the keynote speakers, connecting with everyone at the Pool Party, and to hear where Michael will lead NJLA next!
MM: It looks like NJLA President Chris Carbone has picked a wonderful slate of keynote speakers. I'm looking forward to hearing them all!
Q5: Do you have any advice for library school students or young librarians who want to get the most out of their NJLA membership and advance in the profession and in the organization?
JK: Get involved and meet others. Join a section, or if you are a library school student become a Committee Intern. The more people you meet, the more doors will be open to you and the more fun you will have. New Jersey libraries have amazing people, and many of them are involved in NJLA. Meet them, learn from them and work with them within the Association. You will definitely enrich your life and career and may even make the world a better place for those who rely on NJ Libraries.
CC: Do it! Get involved and be active. Network with fellow members, at all levels, and don’t be shy. We all learn from each other. Participate in areas that you are most drawn to – and also try some areas beyond your box! Take advantage of opportunities to talk with colleagues from all types of libraries and experiment with sections focusing on different types of library services. Make as many connections as you can; you will find that we all have far more in common than you might think. There are many opportunities and the rewards are great. Look into the Emerging Leaders program. Take advantage, volunteer and have fun!
MM: Raise your hand when volunteers are needed. Raise your voice; you always deserve to be heard. If you're getting used to the idea of public speaking... Fortunately NJLA members are a thoughtful, friendly and engaging audience. Share your experience and enthusiasm with others. And above all, take the time to listen to those around you. I've met more wonderful people through NJLA than I can count.
I think it's safe to say that NJLA leadership all feel that involvement in NJLA and attending the annual conference helps to take your job from just a... job... to a career. So the next time someone asks you if you love your job, avoid the answer of the little boy below and jumpstart your career by attending this year's conference!
Emily Witkowski and the 2016-2017 NJLA Conference Committee
Thank you to all of the program planners who submitted proposals for NJLA 2017! We received 105 proposals total, from 21 separate units. We appreciate the work you've put into the planning process so far, and we're excited to dive in and get all the details so we can make some decisions.
The Conference Committee is meeting in December, we will contact program planners with questions if we need clarification, and final decisions will be made and shared in early January. But for now, breathe that sigh of relief - proposals are in, you're off the hook for now!
Enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday!!!
Kimberly Paone and the 2016-2017 NJLA Conference Committee
Time is running out!
Proposals for sessions at the 2017 NJLA Annual Conference are due THIS FRIDAY, November 18, by midnight, NO EXCEPTIONS! Please make sure submissions go through your correct conference point person so that no proposals are lost in translation!
Avoid doing the dreaded late run (at least the proverbial virtual late run) and make sure you get yours in ASAP!
Emily Witkowski and the 2016-2017 NJLA Conference Committee
Once the big questions are answered -- who, what, when, and where -- the Conference Committee must focus on all of the details that make up the HOW of conferencing:
The NJLA Conference is technically a three-day event: Day 1 has pre-conference events, a selection of longer session programs that allow for more in-depth topics, discussions, or even hands-on workshops. Days 2 and 3 are considered the “full conference” days, with as many as eight 50-minute sessions per time slot, as well as a major keynote each day and luncheon events. Networking events are scattered throughout the three days, particularly at lunch times and in the evenings.
Proposing & Selecting Programs
Conference events are created entirely by the members of NJLA. Events must be proposed rather than simply submitted as “done deals” so that they can be vetted and double-checked for overlapping topics. While the Conference Committee schedules and organizes some of the logistics of those events, the design and execution of the content is all put forth by our membership. To ensure that our membership controls the content, all events proposed must have the sponsorship of at least one NJLA Committee, Section, Roundtable or Task Force.
In the Fall, a proposal form opens in conjunction with an informative Program Planners Orientation, to which all NJLA leadership is invited. The leadership includes those who are Chairs, Co-Chairs, Presidents and Vice Presidents of NJLA’s various Committees, Sections, Roundtables and Task Forces (or a representative of each), as well as those who are members of the current NJLA Executive Board. Each NJLA “group” is asked to select a single member to represent their entity in the proposal process. This allows the Conference Committee to easily direct questions or requests for clarification about conference proposals and subsequent program details to the appropriate person. In addition, only recognizing those proposals submitted by the designated individual ensures that the NJLA group has, in fact, approved that submission. We have had proposals in the past that were submitted by individuals outside of NJLA, who have marked NJLA groups as sponsors without the its knowledge or permission. For the ease of organization -- yours and ours -- all events must be submitted using our online proposal form. (The link is provided directly to all program organizers.)
Each year, over 100 proposals of all types are submitted. The amount of regular session programs accepted for the NJLA Conference is dependent on the number of program rooms (usually 8) and time slots available (up to 5 per day). The more programs in one time slot, the more options and variety there is, but the less programs any one person can actually attend! Pre-conference programs, luncheons and social events are selected and scheduled largely based on projected audience and space/time allowance.
Once the deadline for proposals has passed, the Conference Committee schedules a full-day meeting to discuss all of the proposals and make initial selections. Some programs are eliminated if there are similar, more fleshed-out proposals submitted that year; others are eliminated because of incomplete submissions or lack of details included on the proposal form (most commonly, insufficient speaker or budget information). Often, there are a considerable number of programs that are tabled (given neither an immediate “yes” or “no”) to give the committee time to ask the sponsoring groups questions, for more information, or to rework a title, description or sponsorship. The majority of completed program proposals are accepted. Last year we were able to accept 75 programs and special events representing almost all of our NJLA Sections and Committees, and we anticipate about the same number for 2017.
With a final list of accepted programs, the committee creates a schedule grid, which places every program, keynote, luncheon, and special event in a specific timeslot on a specific day. This takes some time, as we do our best to try to avoid scheduling programs submitted by the same sponsoring groups in the same timeslots, or scheduling speakers presenting multiple programs in two (or more, yikes!) places at once. We also make an effort to spread out the content of various programs so that attendees have the best possible experience, whether they are able to attend the full conference or only a single day. We factor in special requests, try to maintain the guidance of our own common sense, and use a ton of reusable post-it notes.
The Conference Committee Chairs aim to notify program organizers by email within the first month or two after proposals are submitted. Typically sometime in January or February communication has been made and program organizers can begin the process of confirming speakers and other details. Once details are confirmed, program organizers can spend the next 4-6 months promoting all of their sessions, speakers and special events to library workers and members of other like-minded community organizations with information about our events and how to register for the NJLA Conference!
Coordinating Special Events
Most programs are put together by individual members, working together within and among NJLA Committees, Sections, Roundtables and Task Forces. However, there are some special programs and events that somehow seem to just “happen” every year. Social events and most luncheons are almost always submitted by NJLA groups, though occasionally they are organized by the Conference Committee itself.
A special President’s Program is held the first night of Conference, following the pre-conference program sessions. It might be obvious from the title that this program is organized by the current NJLA President as a kick-off to the Conference. The program can be as traditional or out-of-the-box as the President chooses. Past years have brought us anything from inspiring speakers to NJLA Battledecks. Last year, the Member Services Committee worked with the President to organize a Bar Trivia Night with the program speaker, Stanley Newman (crossword and trivia guru), which was held at a nearby hotel restaurant immediately following the traditional program. The venue at Harrah’s provides us all with a fabulous opportunity to incorporate a number of social networking events throughout the course of all three conference days.
It is tradition at the NJLA Conference to offer keynotes both full days of Conference. Keynote speakers are coordinated by the current President with the Conference Committee, though suggestions from the membership are always welcome. The President may choose to organize the keynote planning from start-to-finish or delegate the work to a representative, or pass the organization over in full to the Conference Committee. Quality speakers are always in demand! Therefore, we aim to have keynotes committed as far in advance as possible. The President often provides recommendations for speakers before his or her presidential year, or at least begins pursuing some options to determine availability, cost, and interest.
There has been much open discussion over the past decade about diversity in leadership and librarianship, as well as diversity in the selection of keynotes and other highlighted speakers at conferences. Because there is a great expectation for diversity (as there should be!) -- of gender, background, lifestyle, socioeconomic status, abilities, speaker content and perspective, and more -- those speakers who meet the desired reflection of diversity and quality are in exceptionally high demand (as they should be!), making them both less available and less affordable.
In 2016, while we did a relatively decent job of keeping quality high and costs low (best laid plans, anyway), the Conference Committee recognizes that we didn’t do the best job of offering much diversity in our special program speakers. However, we strive going forward to really pay attention to reflecting our audience -- and the audience that we wish to see each year going forward -- in our speakers. If you have recommendations, send them along to firstname.lastname@example.org any time of year!
An announcement of the 2017 Conference keynote speakers will be coming very soon!
A number of luncheons are also organized each year at conference. The Garden State Book Awards Luncheon is a collaborative event sponsored by the NJLA Children’s Services Section and the Young Adult Section, highlighting the winners of that year’s Children’s Book Awards and Teen Book Awards. There is typically an author selected as a keynote speaker and authors of the winning titles are invited to accept awards in person. The College & University Luncheon is planned by the NJLA College & University Section (also the NJ Chapter of the Associate of College & Research Libraries) and often features an expert in the field to discuss relevant and hot topics. The NJLA President’s Inaugural Luncheon sets aside a time for all to officially welcome and celebrate the incoming NJLA President. This lunch includes speeches and announcements from a number of NJLA leaders, and it is where the incoming President announces the next year’s theme. All attendees of the conference are welcome to these events. (There is a $35 discounted lunch fee, negotiated by NJLA and the conference venue, that goes directly to the cost of the luncheons.)
Like after-hours social events, other lunchtime events -- like Lightning Lunches and Brown Bag Lunches -- are planned and proposed by members of NJLA Sections or Committees, and are given space at the venue to hold special sessions during these times. These additional events are always free (and always fun and informative), but no food is provided.
Special events at the NJLA Conference often include, at a minimum, the listing below. All of our special events, except for ticketed formal luncheons, are absolutely included in your conference registration fee.
Find out more about all of these wide-ranging opportunities to make the most out of your conference experience in future blog posts from the Conference Committee!
Kate Jaggers and the 2016-2017 NJLA Conference Committee
The NJLA Conference takes the most tremendous kind of event planning . . .
Combining professional development mixed with social interactions, formal and informal networking, food, overnight accommodations, geography and travel considerations, logistics and scheduling and space! And not to mention, just like with wedding and other party planning, always keeping in mind the infinite and wide range of needs, preferences and expectations of all of your guests, speakers and organizers. Add to the pressure that the annual conference is one of only two primary ways that NJLA makes any money with which to operate (the other is individual and institutional membership dues). It certainly takes a team effort to put together a large-scale three-day, statewide event, and we’re pretty lucky to have some of the best team players around.
All of that being said, every year there are a lot of questions about why we do what we do to organize and plan for our annual conference. In light of thinking and moving beyond the box, we want to make sure the process as transparent as possible and answer some of those questions from our membership.
How Do We Do It?
Most conferences start years before the event date. NJLA leadership -- typically Pat Tumulty, the current and/or incoming NJLA President, and one or more chairs of the Conference Committee, working directly with a professional conference contract negotiator -- starts planning for the annual conference with a thorough review of venue options in and around New Jersey. As you may have heard, our venue options are limited! The ideal venue is one that:
In the most recent past, the last 10-15 years or so, many NJLA members and conference go-ers experienced some really great events at Ocean Place Resort & Spa in Long Branch. Unfortunately, as we realized that we were outgrowing the exhibit space, program rooms and parking lot, we also recognized that space and room rates were much higher than many other venues across the state. Our conference negotiator conducts research each year about potential venues, and currently there are only a couple left that meet our requirements: all located in Atlantic City, NJ.
In addition to those requests that NJLA has when selecting a conference venue, the venues themselves have requirements for those groups that they allow to use their space. One of the most important things for many venues is something over which NJLA has very little control: we just don’t book enough overnight stays. Most venues make their money not from the price we pay for the space, but for those rooms that get booked and other money spent inside the venue (like food). If we don’t secure enough rooms, by hotel standards, they simply do not approve our request to have them host our event. In addition, those that are willing to host NJLA, like Ocean Place, require that a certain number of overnight stays get reserved or our organization has to pay the difference for unused rooms (this is called attrition). Year after year, we often just don’t book enough hotel rooms to be cost-effective -- for us, or for them.
While planning for the 2016 NJLA Conference, there was one venue that was eager enough for business that they were willing to offer some pretty great concessions. Other venues that may have fit the financial bill rejected our proposal (because of projected low quantity of room reservations). Those one or two willing to host our event were proposing a steep price, or few-to-no additional concessions.
Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City was in the midst of constructing a brand new Conference Center, planning to open a few months before our preferred conference dates, and at that time were looking to book, well, anyone. We were offered a number of various discounts (many of which could be passed onto individual members) AND no attrition for the hotel! And just as good, the space that the new Waterfront Conference Center could offer was hard to beat. With over 50,000 in square footage that was completely customizable, the NJLA Conference was ensured plenty of centralized vendor space, room for sponsors to be visually highlighted, bigger breakout rooms for sessions, luncheon and keynote space, and plenty of room for both formal and informal networking and social engagement. The venue boasts a variety of food options (for food style and price point), newly renovated hotel rooms, plenty of parking -- and an indoor, temperature-controlled pool! Plus, this space provides room to grow our event, allowing us to finally be able to potentially consider collaborations with like-minded organizations. (Professional development and collaboration are both major features of NJLA’s current strategic plan.)
Full Steam Ahead!
Most conferences aren’t perfect. We aim to provide the best possible experience to all of our conference attendees, and sometimes we fall short. However, despite a few flaws at our first year at a new venue in 2016, we learned some valuable things about our members and our ideal space, and we look to build on our success for years to come, no matter what part of the state in which we end up! The 2016 Annual Conference was one of the best financially for our association, particularly since AV costs were down significantly from previous years. Currently, in late 2016 as I write this blog post, we are in the midst of reviewing and approving locations, dates, concessions, and contract terms for 2018, 2019, and 2020, and the NJLA Executive Board has already approved the Conference Committee negotiating a new three-year contract with Harrah's Resort.
The bottom line is that what Harrah’s is able and willing to offer checked off just about everything on NJLA’s list for an ideal conference venue. NJLA truly believes that the opportunities presented at the Waterfront Conference Center contribute to an enjoyable, memorable, and overall high quality conference experience. NJLA will continue to survey potential venues throughout the state, so that we always know that we are getting the best bang for our buck, and the best resources available to accommodate our greatest professional development experience. Now that Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center is seeing great success nationally, they are certainly not begging for business. However, NJLA and librarians pride themselves on good customer relations, and we are excited to continue to work with all NJLA leadership, program planners, and members, as well as to build a relationship with Harrah’s, in order to offer a valuable statewide conference each year.
The best (not to mention, the most fun) way to be aware of or enhance your understanding all of the in’s and out’s of NJLA, especially Conference, is to be an active member of our association through committee work and/or leadership positions. Also, ask questions! The Conference Committee does work hard to share as much information as possible, but we sometimes get so wrapped up in the details that you absolutely *must know* that we forget to share all the backstories. Help us out by sharing any concerns, asking questions, or seeking clarification by communicating with us directly at email@example.com. The NJLA Office can also answer many questions that you may have. We know we can count on your support, dedication, creativity and hard work to make each year’s conference even better than the next! Thank you for putting your trust in us to lead the way.
Kate Jaggers and the 2016-2017 NJLA Conference Committee
Day Three of conference lived up to all of its hype. For those of you that missed it:
And that is only a small taste of what happened on our closing day! If you'd like to see more of the awesome things that happened this year throughout conference, check out our Storify round-ups:
And last but certainly not least, we want to say thank you to all of you for attending, presenting, helping, supporting in any and all ways that you did throughout the conference. Conference is truly only as good as the people who attend, and this may have been one of the best ones yet!
So, until #njla17,
Emily Witkowski and the 2016 Conference Committee
Day Two has provent to be just as great as Day One of #njla16!
We're about to embark upon our last day of conference sadly, but we just want to remind you again that if you're talking anything conference on social media, make sure you use our official hashtag #njla16. The past two days we have been updating a Storify page which will collect tweets, instagram, and facebook posts that use the official conference hashtag.
Some important reminders for tomorrow's sessions:
Until then, here's the amazing Jay Asher loving his opportunitiy to catalogue and process his own book in his former library job:
Emily Witkowski and the 2016 Conference Committee
We hope everyone is having as much fun as we are on Conference Committee at this year's NJLA Conference! From great preconferences, to the awesome new venue, to trivia with Stanley Newman, the first day has been a real success. We hope those of you who were unable to attend the preconference were able to enjoy the awesome virtual preconference we had to offer as well.
Just a reminder to all that the official hashtag for this year's conference is #njla16. Some of you are already sharing and posting on social media, and keep it up! For those of you who haven't joined the virtual party yet, it has just begun! Plus, there's a great incentive: Each day we are going to update a Storify page which will collect tweets, instagram, and facebook posts that use the official conference hashtag. If you are posting and sharing content, you may just see your name immortalized on our Storify page. For Day One highlights, follow here:, https://storify.com/njla_conf/2016-conference-day-1
We hope that everyone contiues to enjoy themselves at the lovely Harrah's Resort. Some important reminders:
And remember, if you have any questions, swing by the registration desk o find someone with an "ASK ME" pin on and we'll point you in the right direction!
At least it looks like these librarians are having fun!:
Emily Witkowski and the 2016 Conference Committee
Hi all! Hope you're as excited about the next three days as we are on the #njla16 conference committee! We thought you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed, or maybe just overexcited about all of the awesome things that we have planned, so here's some helpful packing tips and reminders we thought we'd share:
And remember, if you have any questions throughout conference, stop someone with an "ASK US!" pin, or swing by the registration desk where other conference committee members and volunteers can be reached at any time.
See you at Harrah's!
Emily Witkowski and the 2016 Conference Committee
Get ready to put on your thinking caps!
President's Program speaker Stanley Newman has challenged New Jersey’s library community to compete with each other during an evening of Trivia!
Mr. Newman is the editor of the Newsday Daily Crossword, and has devised an hour long trivia challenge of general knowledge and “Deductive Trivia” questions.
Start putting your team of four together today! Teams will also be assembled at the event. Winning teams will be rewarded with prizes!
This event will take place on Monday, May 16th at 8 pm, at Sammy D’s; within the Harrah’s Resort.
If you’ve put off registering for Conference, you can still register on site at Harrah's, so do not hesitate to join the fun!