The FAQs of Conference Program Planning

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:

  • Selecting and scheduling program sessions, keynotes, luncheons, and other events
  • Determining and coordinating payment for everything
  • Making arrangements for and with speakers
  • Getting the word out to participants and attendees
  • Making sure it all gets done (seemingly) without a hitch!

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 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.

  • Formal luncheons, as well as informal lunchtime events
  • President’s Program
  • Keynotes
  • Vendor events
  • NJLA Awards Reception
  • State Librarian’s Breakfast
  • Poster Sessions
  • NJLA Store
  • Evening social events

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