Conferencing virtually: the Iowa Small Libraries Online Conference

What if we held a conference and everybody came? That was the premise of our first Iowa Small Libraries Online Conference (ISLOC): a conference that librarians and trustees from even the smallest libraries could attend. Not everybody attended, but more than 100 librarians and trustees registered for the first online conference and, on a snowy January day in 2008, they attended sessions, networked, and visited exhibits from their homes and libraries.  Attendance was good, interaction during the sessions was gratifying, and at the end of an exhausting day, we knew that we were going to be planning another online conference.

The second ISLOC was held in January 2009 with over 170 registering.  The planning committee took what they had learned from the first conference and improved the schedule and use of technology.  The conference is now scheduled as an annual event.

The venue: Horizon Wimba Live Classroom environment, made available through the State Library of Iowa’s Community Partnership with WebJunction. Keynote sessions, concurrent sessions, a lunchtime Games session and Conversation Lounge, and an evening session for trustees took place in four rooms. A virtual exhibits hall connected conference attendees to vendors, who used interactive tools to demonstrate their products and answer questions.

The conference was planned using the classroom environment itself, as well as a wiki, to coordinate and organize. Team members included a representative from each of the Iowa Library Service Areas and the State Library, directors of small public libraries in western Iowa, and a community college LRC director (and public library trustee).

Keynote speakers at the conferences have included: Michael Stephens, Meredith Farkas and Pat Wagner. Concurrent sessions on library 2.0, collaborating online, cool tools, databases, programming, early childhood literacy, TechSoup's MaintainIT Project, and WebJunction have filled out the schedule, and a session for library trustees in the evening drew trustees and librarians alike.

The Prep

Planning an online conference was very similar to planning an “in person” conference, but presented some new challenges, also. Some things that are almost taken for granted required different considerations in an online environment:

  1. Attendees needed to move from room to room for each session. Instead of a map of the conference center so they could walk to the next room, hotlinks on a web page whisked the attendees off to the appropriate place.
  2. The website for the conference ( also provided attendees with handouts, slides and resources from the sessions held throughout the day.  Archives of each session were posted to the website allowing access to sessions that participants might not have been able to attend.
  3. Attendees needed to be able to interact effectively—virtually—with exhibitors, since they couldn’t visit “face to face.” The Virtual Exhibits Hall included links to vendors who had set up various interactive interfaces, from chats to webinars. (And the Exhibits Chair also put a MeeboMe chat box in the Virtual Exhibits, so attendees could ask questions about how the exhibits worked.)
  4. Attendees needed to feel comfortable in the environment, and be able to get ready assistance with technical issues during the conference. A self-paced tutorial as well as many orientation sessions in the classrooms before the conference gave attendees a chance to get comfortable before attending sessions. They learned how to use the classroom tools to interact and be engaged during the sessions. Producers at each session watched for technical issues and questions, and assisted attendees with making the most of the online experience.
  5. We didn’t have to make travel arrangements for our speakers, who just made their presentations from home/library/office!

Comments from participants

Here are just a few of the positive responses that we received from the participants. 

  • “This is such a cool idea. I love being at my desk and still involved in this conference.”
  • “I find this very helpful having this on the computer and not having to drive to a site to take in this information.”
  • “Thank you so much for this online conference!  I will definitely use A LOT of what I learned today.  So much more efficient with our time and budget.”
  • “I think this format is great. Let’s do this a lot.”

The ISLOC conference has been a great opportunity for library staff and library trustees to attend continuing education sessions in an online format, helping to reduce the strain on staffing and budgets.

The ISLOC Team:
Karen Burns, Administrator, Southwest Iowa Library Service Area
Ann Coulter, Director of LRC, Southwestern Community College
Katie Dunneback, Consultant, Southeastern Library Services
Tena Hanson, Director, Milford Public Library
Kim Kietzman, Administrator, Southeastern Library Services
Michele Leininger, Information Experience Director, Pierce County Library System (WA)
Bonnie McKewon, Administrator, Northwest Iowa Library Services
Pat Means, Director, Villisca Public Library
Sarah Willeford, Assistant Administrator, Central Iowa Library Service Area

--Sarah Willeford
Assistant Administrator
Central Iowa Library Service Area 

This post is part of a month-long event called TeleGreen Your Workplace hosted by TechSoup's GreenTech Initiative. Visit the site and learn how you can reduce travel and live more green without breaking the bank!






Hi! I work on TechSoup’s GreenTech initiative, and after reading this post, I started wondering about the impact the ISLOC could have had on the environment if it hadn’t been vitual, so I made a few assumptions and ran the numbers through the Terrapass calculator.
  • Assuming 4 speakers fly in for the conference, one from each of these cities (Seattle, Chicago, Denver, and Burlington, VT) that would be approximately 3900 lbs of CO2.
  • Now assuming each attendee drives to the conference an average of 300 miles round trip in a brand-new 2009 compact car, that is approximately 50,000 miles traveled and 34900 lbs of CO2 released.
  • For a total of 38800 lbs of CO2 released just to travel to the conference. (If anyone is interested in the assumptions for these calculations, please feel free to contact us at

According to the IRS website, businesses can claim $0.55/mile. So those 50,000 miles also translates to $27,500 and that doesn't even consider the cost of the flights and hotels for each of the speakers.

Way to go Iowan libraries!