Online Access at the Annual Meeting: We Weigh In...We Hope You Will, Too!

Online Access at the Annual Meeting:  We Weigh In...We Hope You Will, Too!

 January 17, 2013

The Online Access Subgroup of the Annual Meeting Task Force is continuing its work to identify and recommend ways to improve online access to SAA's annual meeting.  We've heard a lot of ideas (and concerns) from members, both at this past year's annual meeting and through other channels.  We'd like to take this opportunity to share the areas that we've prioritized based on your feedback and on our research to date.  Please keep the feedback coming!  We need your contributions to improve and shape our remaining work ahead.

1.  Wi-Fi in meeting rooms.  (Note that this is an area that's also being addressed by the Meeting Model Subgroup.  But we'd like to hear your thoughts in the context of online access to the meeting as well.)  We’ve heard, loud and clear, that this is a high priority for many SAA members.  A considerable amount of feedback even indicates a willingness to pay a modest amount for this benefit.  Being able to "live-tweet" a session is just one benefit of Wi-Fi that many of us have come to expect.  Too, it has the added value of allowing those not at the conference to follow along and even chime in on things.  If the Annual Meeting were to move in a paperless (or less-paper) direction, Wi-Fi also becomes important for access to conference information—schedules, locations, updates, etc.  And, of course, wireless access would help members who are not present participate or follow along via attendees' social media postings, to name just one positive side-effect. These are just some of the justifications for making Wi-Fi access a priority.  Would you say that this is the number one priority for improving online access at SAA?  Would you pay for it, and if so, what would you consider a reasonable amount?  Do you have other thoughts about Wi-Fi?

2.  Virtual conferencing.  Based on recent feedback on other posts and from the SAA 2012 conference, this issue crosses the boundaries of the Online Access charge and into other Task Force areas such as Social Responsibility.  Chiefly, a virtual conference would allow greater member participation, including archivists unable to afford travel to annual meetings.  It would also potentially reduce the conference's environmental footprint.  This point obviously affects the Meeting Model charge as well.  Clearly, some virtual conferencing component must be added.  Now, we are investigating how best to do this.

Options range from the very simple and relatively inexpensive to the very complex and expensive.  The level of interactivity (i.e., level of participation for remote attendees, including participation between remote and in-person conference attendees) also varies, generally in direct proportion to complexity and price.  We want to get into more details on virtual conferencing in an upcoming post, but meanwhile, we'd be very glad to hear your opinions on what this means to you, especially in terms of specific features you would like to see implemented and successful experiences you’ve had with other organizations’ virtual conferences, as well as how much you can and will pay for the features that matter to you most.

3.  Recordings of meeting content.  Faster and cheaper (not to mention online) access to conference recordings is what you want!  Well, a lot of you do.  Now how soon, how much of the meeting content, using what technology, and are recordings something you’d be willing to pay for are the questions.  Thoughts?  Preferences?  SAA will be trying a pilot program this year in New Orleans, where a sampling of sessions will be recorded and made available for sale online.  What would you like to see as part of this pilot, or as part of a mature program?  How would you rank recordings in your list of online access must-haves?  What would you pay for them?  Furthermore, what do we record:  everything, or just select sessions?  If we go with select sessions, how should these selections be made?

4.  Conference app.  A significant amount of feedback, including in another recent AMTF blog post, indicated a strong preference for a conference app for annual meeting scheduling, particularly one that could be used offline.  The desired complexity (or range of complexity) for such an app, including how "interactive" it is, must be determined.  A baseline would be a simple, offline app to access the conference schedule.  What are some useful conference apps you've used at other meetings?  How important is such a feature to you at SAA?

5. Other meeting content.  This would be for materials besides conference recordings:  session slides, papers, etc.  This option seems to be of less concern to you than the other issues listed.  However, there is a potentially low barrier to implement a repository of this kind of material.  Indeed, it could simply be an expansion of what SAA is already doing.  Would you find this useful? Is there specific meeting content (besides conference recordings) that you would want to see collected?


To Wrap Up

This is what we've focused on, but it is still a lot to consider.  What, to you, are the most important components of improved online access to SAA's annual meeting and its content (realizing that much of what's important to you is access to the people, not just the "content")?  What are some things you've experienced at other conferences that you think would be good to try?  We're exploring the whole gamut of ideas in terms of scale, from a small, easy-to-implement idea, to a few things begun as pilot projects that could be gradually phased in, to a big, shiny, pull-out-all-the-stops extravaganza of an overhaul/vendor package to live-stream and record for future access the entire annual meeting.  Obviously, the cheaper and easier options will have less effect on the bottom line—for SAA and for your wallet.  How much of a concern is this to you? 

We are keeping in mind the relation of all of the above to sustainability, social media, and technological change (the only constant!).  We'll talk a little more about this in a future post—stay tuned…

If you have questions or responses to anything in this post, or other ideas, please comment on this post, or contact any member of the Online Access Subgroup:  Beverly Allen, Rebecca Bizonet (chair), Lisa Carter, Erin Lawrimore, and Wade Wyckoff.

DeBol2782 says:
Conference Comments

I think the WiFi is a necessity and I would be willing to pay an additional fee for that service.

In terms of the App, one of the issues at the conference is often the many last-minute changes such as XX moved to room YYY or session cancelled or an archivists group is having a meeting at ZZZ....these were often posted on bulletin boards at the registration desk but clearly the trip from meetings to the board to update information is problematic.   An APP where you could get this info out and we can see it during the meeting would be great.

I do support the virtual meeting/conferencing.   We have fulll conference video capability in our library and I have assistants, students, and others who do not have the financial resources to come to an SAA meeting but should be able to learn and we can pay for conference fees from the library budgets.


Dean DeBolt, University of West Florida


KateBowers says:
Slides, presentations

I would like to see this be a routine expectation, linked to having one's program and participation accepted, that all participants will provide some text, at least, that corresponds to their presentation content.  PowerPoint slides would do, although annotated slides would be even better.  One of the session chairs duties could be to assure that these are submitted or to gather and submit them.

eiratansey says:
WiFi is the highest priority

1. WiFi should be the highest priority, and I am pleased that apparently it will be available in New Orleans, according to the interim AMTF report (though I wonder if this means in the actual meeting rooms, as opposed to the bookable rooms?). I am one of those that live-tweets the meeting as much as possible, and I know that the ability to do this is very important not only to broadcasting the meeting for those who cannot attend, but capturing links and content for my own purposes after the conference.

2. I would love an app that works offline, across at least iOS and Android. It needs to have the schedule at a very minimum, and preferably a directory of people who are attending.

3. I would prefer to buy recordings "a la carte", by individual sessions through something like iTunes.

MyNameIs says:
WiFi et al

Before we get to WiFi, I think we should tackle the issue of a reliable wired connection to each meeting space for the presenters to use.  Back years ago when WiFi was originally called for I think it was a bigger deal, as most folks used the laptops for the Internets.  Now that tablets and smartphones are vogue, wouldn't cell network access in the meeting space be more important than unsecured public WiFi.  Sure you use your own data plan, but would it cost SAA more?  As a revenue stream to fund the meeting access, perhaps this can be decided by each section or roundtable.  Virtual access to meetings could be added as a small fee to section/rt membership and the section/Rt meetings and sessions they sponsor would be covered.

If we do virtual conferencing, maybe a small selection or some unique virtual-only content that could be accessed by meeting attendees later.  I'd want to preserve the bulk of the live content for attendees for a period of time, such as with the recordings.

I've purchased the recordings for years.  Download is fine.  I'm cool with the CDs of MP3s too.  The time lag is not great and they are easy to copy over.  My beef is that not all sessions are recorded.  We allow individuals to opt out, AFTER the session is accepted.  This is not acceptable.  We should make recording a requirement for acceptance of the session and everyone should be required to sign off individually on recording (and web access and virtual) as part of the application.  In the extremely rare case that so very confidential matters are discussed (maybe rising to the level of political refugees, mob informants, or something) we can have some audio redacted.  Otherwise record them all as a matter of course.

Apps are fine.  My only request is that they are cross platform.  If they aren't going to be and we only have time or funds for one platform, then forget it.

Absolutely preserve the meeting content.  I go back to it all the time.  If the recordings or transcripts will be more widely available, then there will be additional requests for the slides and supplementary materials that the speakers are referring to.  Right now, since there is little recording available, folks are accessing the slides or attachments out of context, so of course the use is less.


elawrimo says:

I know that, in Chicago, there was no cell access in any of the meeting spaces. We were buried in the sub-sub-sub-basement (plus or minus a "sub-"). Regardless of network, it didn't seem like anyone had reception in any of the meeting spaces. I didn't stay at the conference hotel, so I'm not sure if those who did and paid for in-room WiFi were able to access that in the meeting spaces. But I don't think they could. You were basically only able to use your phone if you went upstairs to the lobby.

lohara says:
A little bit on each issue

1) Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi in the whole hotel--guest rooms, common areas, and meeting rooms--is a no-brainer. It seems that the more upscale the hotel, the more they nickel and dime you on these services. So frustrating that when I stay at a really nice (expensive) hotel they charge for internet access (wired or Wi-Fi) while the more modest hotels include it. I was recently on a trip in Scandinavia, where we stayed at a range of accommodations—every hotel, modest or upscale, had free Wi-Fi that was easy to access (pickup the daily password at the front desk, usually a glass of tiny little slips of paper). It was standard, no question (as was breakfast of some sort, but that’s another issue). Here’s hoping the US eventually gets there.

2) Virtual conferencing: The Business Archives Section has done this a few times so you might talk to them about what service(s) they used, how well it worked, what it contributed to the meeting, what feedback they’ve received, etc. This is something I am less likely to use except for selected portions of the meeting, particularly in real-time as I’ll be at work.

3 and 5) Recordings and other meeting content: I see these as working in concert.  There are many times where having the slides is only a tiny part of the picture (really should be the case for good presentations) and you need what was said. On the flip side, there are sessions where the recording doesn’t work because they are talking about something on a screen. Guess I am assuming you’re talking about audio-only recordings. If you are talking about video recordings, I think about how talks and meetings are recorded at my workplace. These recordings do include the speaker and the slides, but they can be deadly dull and difficult to watch—camera doesn’t switch to the slide at the right time or doesn’t stay on it long enough, focus is too tight and you don’t get the interplay between speaker and audience, focus is too wide and you can’t catch what the speaker is saying, etc. We used to get the slides for all-hands meetings, but now it is a video so it is really hard to find a particular point that you need to follow up on even though they break the video up into chapters. I really wish I had both. I think Kate and others have already covered my other thoughts on the recording topic better than I can.

Oh, except to add to Christine’s mention of transcripts and captioning. A representative of the Stanford Captioning System made a really interesting presentation to the archivists about this topic. They have a nice summary of the benefits of captioning at My key takeaway (beyond all the ideas it gave for our oral histories and other recorded content) was that captioning and transcripts also improve accessibility in that they make the content indexable and searchable including by search engines. Though the transcripts and captions are created for disability accessibility, lots of others benefit, kind of like curb cuts benefit mothers with strollers in addition to the mobility-impaired.

4) App: If there is an app, it can’t be simply a mobile web site as it was in Chicago. I had no coverage in the bowels of the hotel and could not access it unless I went up stairs. I also remember being frustrated with the scheduler because you could only put in official items from the program, not your own items such as lunch with so-and-so or personal meeting times. For the program I simply download the PDF and would do that with handouts of eatery lists and such if they were available, so an app better have more value added and work offline to be worth the investment.

mwiget says:
Mostly responses to the last 3 points

As others have mentioned, having access to individual sessions' content online would be really great--as mp3s downloadable from iTunes or another source.  Packages of sessions (such as by broad topic--sessions involving acquisitions & appraisal or digitization, for example? That information is gathered, after all) would also be helpful, but could be more problematic than an all-or-individual "track" situation.  I think the differences between recording all or selected sessions would depend on the costs--if you can record everything with reasonable expense, why not?  I'm honestly not sure how to make selections if you have to go that route--polls?  The Programming committee decides?  I don't know.


I think a conference app available online/offline could be helpful for logistical things--the schedule, the materials the local arrangements committee puts together, all that sort of thing.  It would certainly help with making the conference more paper-free, at least for a lot of attendees; I don't know that this is much of a priority for me personally.


One of the things I've enjoyed most, post-conference, is being able to access session slides, papers, or whatever other content presenters have volunteered to give to SAA to share; I use these a lot for sessions I attended to remind myself about what was discussed or to share with my co-workers who were not able to attend the meeting.  That content is currently difficult to find and fairly hidden on the website--you have to dig through a lot of steps to get to a single session's PPT presentation, and remember how you did it last time to get there again--so having another way to access it through the conference webpage would be really handy.  A specific portal just for that content?  I actually would and do use this kind of content more than session recordings, personally, and find it more of a priority, though if SAA had the capability to provide transcripts/summaries of recordings I may find that more useful for sessions I was unable to attend.


Thank you, all, for working on these questions and asking for feedback.  Good luck with coming up with possible solutions! - Marcella

dcplumer says:
Wifi / Virtual Conferencing

For several years, as a member and now chair (on the ALA side) of the joint SAA-ALA-AAM committee, I've provided my own wifi for committee meetings and provided a mechanism (Skype or an online meeting tool) for virtual participation. Wifi is provided through a Verizon MiFi device using a "pay-as-you-go" account, which costs $30 for a week, enough to get me through the conference. This fee is much cheaper than the $10.95/day or so that hotels often charge (I've seen charges as high as $15/day). I provide my own computer, speaker, and microphone to handle the virtual meeting. 

The SAA chair has requested similar equipment, and it could be useful for other committees. Similar proposals have been made on the ALA side, to "institutionalize" this approach to virtual meetings, but at ALA we are usually lucky enough to be assigned a meeting room with wireless internet. 

In theory, the MiFi approach would allow me to also provide wireless access to four other people. In practice, I've never opened it up to anybody else (but if you ask me nicely...)  

I don't think this is a viable approach for the meeting as a whole, but you could consider it a stealth pilot for small committees or virtual presentations.

Danielle Cunniff Plumer

cdibella says:
online meeting content

(My comments mainly address point 3, especially since it sounds like there will be another post related to 2 and 1 is a no-brainer, in my opinion.)

The last two years I knew I either wouldn't be at or wouldn't be able to attend much of the conference in person, so I purchased the CDs ahead of time and used some of my employer-provided conference funds toward that relatively small expense. (When I was able to go to the full meeting, I didn't bother, though looking back I really would have benefitted from doing this all along.) I find having the recordings really helpful, and I definitely listen to a wider range of events than I ever would have attended in person. I wish the sections and roundtables were recorded as well, especially since so many have actual programs now. I will say that I find the current format to be mystifyingly out-of-date. I'd much prefer a download on demand thing either through the SAA website or some other channel. If lost revenue is a concern, then offer individual recordings or the whole lot on ITunes or Audible. If revenue is not a concern, partnering with someone like the Internet Archive would be a great way to make the content available in a more permanent way.

As far as broadcasting content goes, there should be at least some sessions at each meeting that are streamed as they are happening. The plenary sessions are obvious candidates. The Business Meeting is another, ideally with a way for people to vote online (though I certainly wouldn't pay for that access except as part of a larger virtual conference package). For the others, maybe one event in each block, as voted on by members ahead of time, could be streamed. I'll be very interested to hear more about the suggested pilot for this year that you mention.

Lastly, I have a hearing impairment, and I'll note that while providing recordings or streaming sessions online would be a tremendous step forward (and that as many parts of the meeting as can possibly be recorded should be), providing transcripts or, if we wanted to really shoot for the stars, real-time captioning is also really important for true accessibility. (And transcripts are useful to more than just those with hearing impairments - people for whom English is not their first language and just those who would at times prefer to read a transcript or scan/search it for the most pertinent information instead of listening to a 90-minute recording would also benefit.) I don't see other types of accessibility to the meeting being explicitly addressed in the task force's charge, but this is definitely an important issue to me and people like me.

ktheimer says:
Response, continued


Is there a limit on comment lenghts? If anyone would test that limit, it would be me! ;) 

4) Confernce app: I'm less passionate about this one, but I do think an app would be useful. Including things like restaurant guide, locations of nearby handy things like coffee, drugstores, etc would be good. Possible to include searchable attendees list too? 

5) Other conference materials: Yes to slides and papers, which SAA already does. I think just finding a way to promote that resource more effectively or make the content more easily accessible would be a good idea. Did you mean to ask here about remote access to component meetings, such as section and rountable meetings? To me that is a separate question from access to the educational sessions, and I'm not sure how important I think it is. If groups had reliable Internet access, they could try to find ways to share meeting content themselves, though things like liveblogging or tweeting it. The structure and value of component group meetings varies so widely that I think it would be best just to make sure they have Internet access and then let them take responsbility for figuring how what kind of remote access they think is best. 

Wrapping up: I believe people attend the annual meeting as much to see and talk to their colleagues in informal settings as they do to attend the sessions. That is something that can't be duplicated online. I don't think SAA ever has to worry that someone who has the option of attending the meeting won't attend if these virtual options are in place. These options serve members who can't attend the meeting (or, actually even people who attend the meeting but can't be in more than one place at the same time). That said, it is possible to achieve some level of virutal comraderie, as people on Twitter have found. Again, I hope people in SAA begin to think about this not just as something they *have* to do because people are clamoring for it, but as something they *want* to provide because it will increase communication and information sharing among the profession. I have the impression that some are looking on all these opportunities with reluctance, and that concerns me. I hope I'm wrong. 

Again, thank you for asking for our opinions, and please let me know if you would like additional information. And again, sorry for any typos. It's taking me long enough to write this, so I'm not checking it over as carefully as I should. 


anmiri says:
Online Access = Beneficial

Having WiFi in the conference rooms would be fantastic.  I find it incredibly helpful when I'm attending (and when I'm not attending) to follow along and to actively participate in discussions on twitter about the conference sessions (both the ones I'm in and the ones I'm not).  It's also convenient to have when you're planning meals with colleagues or sightseeing excursions.  Most of us rely on our phones for information about the conference city (Yelp, Google Maps, etc.).

Virtual conferencing would also be great.  I participated in the Business Archives Section's virtual colloquium a few years ago when I was unable to attend SAA.  The section arranged a sponsorship to cover the costs of the virtual conference.  I loved it.  It was great being able to participate in the discussions and to listen to the presentations, especially since I was new to the section.  If I could have participated in some of SAA's sessions that year, I would have paid to do so.

I think video recordings of the meeting content would also be beneficial.  People cannot be in two places at once.  With so many sessions going on simultaneously, I would love to be able to download some of the ones I couldn't attend after the conference.  Plus, Kate makes a great point when she says that online access would broaden the reach of SAA to international audiences.  I know lots of archivists on twitter from around the world who follow the conference tweets.  I'm sure they would love to be able to download some of the sessions they find interesting.

Anyway, that's my two cents.  ~Angelique

ktheimer says:
Response to your questions

1) Wifi. I'm hesitant about ranking which of the improvements is the most important because that makes me think it would allow for some options to fall of the list and I don't want to see that happen. As to cost, clearly it needs to be kept reasonable. What's reasonable? Ten dollars a day? Foty dollars for the whole conference? That might sound too steep to some. I'd hope it could be kept lower than that, but it seems reasonable to me. Would it be possible to get a sponsor to underwrite this, or would we prefer not to draw on them for yet another cost? Access to wifi might be more of a priority in hotels where the meeting rooms are below ground, and so pepole would not be able to rely on getting a signal on smart phones, etc. So that might be a factor in selecting which hotel to choose if wifi is not seen to be within our financial reach in either of them. Go for the one that's above groud. But that's assuming we cannot neogtiate for a reasonable wifi rate, and I am hoping that the world in general is moving toward this being a standard rathe than an exception. 


2) Virtual conferencing. These comments refer only to options for sessions and plenaries, not component group meetings. Personally, I do not think that being able have synchronous participation in live sessions should be a priority. In other words, I do not think we need to consider live-streaming session content so that people can view it and particpate by asking quetions or making comments. What I think would be most useful is to follow the model I've seen used by other organizations, of having a separate virtual confernece, tailored just to online participants. As I recall in this model there can be a few different tracks of sessions, in each session the speakers re-present to the virtual audience the content they presented at the live session, and the audience has the opportunity to share comments and questions with each other and with the speakers. I think I have also seen additional options for virtual networking sessions with the virtual participants, where people can just basically hang out and talk to each other. I don't know if it's possible to host a virtual exhibit hall for vendors, but that might be possible too (and perhaps a source of revenue).  That's my opinion. As to how sessions would be chosen for this, obviously the speakers would have to be willing to do it, so that might have to be another option to check on the speaker's form. Other than that, maybe people get to vote for which sessions they'd be most interested in attending virtually? Or SAA could pre-identify topical tracks, such as electronic records, diversity, new archivists' concerns, ethics, international programs, etc. It's my understanding that virtual conferncing can generate additional revneue, not just be an additional cost. In your future post on this topic I hope you will be able to address that issue based on your discussions with vendors providing these services. Is there anything else it would be helpful to know at this time? 


3) Recordings: I think all sessions and plenaries should be recorded following the current model (that is, recorded unless the speakers say they are not comfortable being recorded). Indivdual session recordings should be available for purchase as downloadable mp3 files at a cost of no more than $5 per session. You could look at options for bundling groups of sessions for purchase at a discounted rate. Ideally, recordings of plenaries should also be freely available for streaming on the SAA site (as video). Recordings should be available within two weeks of the meeting (that was one of your questions, wasn't it?) Another option is to be post the recordings and make them freely available through the Internet Archive. I think this option should be seriously considered for past meeting sessions (including all the previous annual meetings to do, for which we do have recordings). Like the content of the American Archvist, I think it's fair to charge for access to recent content, but then open up older content for free access. Again, why lock up content that's useful to the profession at large? I'm fine with charging for it for a certain period of time (and I'm fine with using iTunes as the host for that content, although others might not be). 

Is there a limit to the length of comments? I suspect there might be. I'll post 4 & 5 separately. And sorry for typos. I'm not taking time to proof this!  Kate 

elawrimo says:
Virtual Conference stemming from "in person"?

I might be misinterpreting Kate's comment, but I really like the idea of a virtual conference that stems from the "in person" conference. Basically, the sessions folks enjoyed the most from the annual meeting, repackaged as the virtual conference. There are many benefits to archivists around the world, as others have stated. But as an archivist who needs to worry about tenure, this would be personally quite wonderful. A twofer!

ktheimer says:
General comment: Benefits of increased access to SAA content

First, thank you for posting this and asking for our feedback. I'll post separately about the specifics you're looking for, but I wanted to make a general point that may not have been discussed. In addition to benefitting SAA's members and non-members in the U.S., many of the kinds of changes you're discussing would make it possible for achivists outside the U.S. to gain access to the research being developed and shared here in our country. Facilitating the sharing of meeting content, through increased access to social media (wifi), online conference options and making it easier to buy recordings of sessions would all increase information sharing across borders and time zones. Doing so benefits not only those archivists who can't attend the meeting, but also those are presenting and SAA as a whole by increasing the reach of the annual meeting. 

Facilitating access would also make it easier for students and non-archives professionals to access materials that might otherwise be out of their reach. I mention this group because I suspect you may not get very many comments from people representing these groups. Increasing online access to SAA-produced content has the potential to benefit the profession as a whole and allow people in more diverse settings to share in what is arguably the best thinking the American archival profession has to offer. 

I understand why you want more specific feedback than this, and I hope I don't sidetrack the discussion, but I think it's important to remember that there are lager principles at stake here than just personal convenience.