Posted by: ayounglove | November 18, 2008

My First Conversazione

As part of the Communications Team for the Oregon Special Library Association (SLA), I recently took a turn planning a Conversazione.  As former fellow Communications Team member, Jason Eiseman, explains so well in his blog, a Conversazione is “where a bunch of Oregon SLA members get together for drinks and dinner and discuss a certain topic. These are some of my favorite events. you always meet interesting librarians doing interesting things” (http://www.jasoneiseman.com/blog/?cat=30).  This was my first experience planning an SLA event.

I have attended four or five Conversaziones in the past, and the one Jason planned about Social Networking was far and away the  most well attended and successful.  I scheduled a return to the Westside Mingo location, hoping that some of the magic would rub off on my event.  Although the turnout for tonight’s event was much smaller than I had hoped for, the atmosphere was cozy and the discussion lively.

The topic of tonight’s Conversazione was strategic planning.  In my invitation, I wrote “Please join us on November 17th at 6:00 PM to discuss strategic planning. As ORSLA prepares for a strategic realignment, we want to hear your thoughts about establishing goals and values. Do mission statements matter? Have you successfully leveraged strategic planning to improve your organization? Come benefit from the experience and insight of your peers in an informal environment while enjoying dinner and drinks. Members and nonmembers welcome.”

In addition to myself, two student members and one established corporate librarian attended.  I facilitated discussion by asking attendees to compare and contrast SLA’s current mission statement with mission statements of other similar organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American Library Association.  Other similar organizations tend to have longer mission statements that go beyond saying what they will do for members to also describing what the core ethical values of the association are (for the AMA, to save lives; for the ALA, to provide equal access to information). It was observed that the difficulty with trying to make the SLA conform to this model is the diverse occupations that SLA members have (business, art, law, medicine etc.). Generally, the consensus was that that mission statements are only useful if they provide a clear direction and if there is strong buy-in from those who could be most impacted by the mission.  It was noted, for instance, that the Intel library’s mission, “Making Research Matter” is strong because it is memorable, concise, and has a clear ethos and pathos.

We also discussed the use value of strategic planning. It was pointed out that it is easy to overdo organizational planning by involving too many decision makers or by doing it too often.  Another speaker agreed but said that she had used strategic planning in her organization to make more focused use of her time and to ask for capital improvements and then put them to good use.  Like mission statements, strategic planning can either enrich an organization or be irrelevant to an organization depending on how it is used and received by stakeholders.

The Conversazione was not all serious discussion though!  Oregon SLA members enjoyed good food and used the time to learn more about one another and discuss hobbies, books, movies and current events.  A spirit of relaxation and friendliness prevailed.

When I asked attendees why they chose to come to this Conversazione and what they would like to discuss at future conversaziones, everyone agreed that the distance from home or work of the event, and the time and day of the event were more crucial to their decision to attend than the topic.  However, members agreed that it had been an interesting topic and looked forward to attending future Conversaziones.  In the future, perhaps I will give greater consideration to what time and day of the week I schedule the event and I will provide more than two weeks notice that the event is going to occur.  Given my heavy courseload at the moment and my immanent graduation (in December, so close!), I think that the Conversazione actually went remarkably well.  I look forward to planning more Conversaziones in the future.

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