Spaces + Places: Unconference Success

Early last Tuesday morning, with the sun shining over Syracuse University’s frosty campus, Sarah Bratt, Matthew Gunby, Stephanie Prato, and I gathered together and facilitated an unconference. We had a great time. The unconference that morning, Spaces + Places, was the product of six months of meeting, talking, planning, worrying, and researching.

About the Unconference
About 50 librarians, librarianship students, information professionals, and people interested in library spaces convened at SU’s Schine Student Center on February 26 to talk about what community spaces are, can be, and should be. We discussed how digital spaces echo, complement, and improve physical space. We talked about virtual knowledge networks and renovating libraries and dealing with crappy furniture.

Unconferences are meetings driven by those who attend. Spaces + Places embraced the spirit of an unconference—no keynotes, no registration fee, and those who showed up decided what to talk about. (For more background on unconference and Spaces + Placessee my previous post.)

Our Schedule
At 8:45 a.m., over coffee and mini muffins (thanks to the School of Information Studies, which donated funding for space and refreshments), we sat in a large circle and got to work creating the agenda for the morning-long unconference.

First, we unconference planners described the format of the morning and outlined a couple of ground rules. We reminded everyone that unconferences are participant-driven meetings, and each person should take responsibility for his or her own learning that day. We also introduced a basic tenet of unconference culture: the law of two feet.

Here’s what we said: “If a session starts to go in a direction that is not of interest to you, or is something you have already discussed recently, you could work to redirect the conversation in a direction more meaningful to you, or vote with your feet. In the unconference culture it is not viewed as impolite to walk out of a session. If you are neither learning nor contributing, it’s your responsibility to respectfully use your two feet to find some place where you are learning or contributing.”

Then, the fun really began. We organizers solicited session discussion topics from the participants. People called out ideas and we assigned each topic a breakout room.

At 9:15, we all dispersed and made our way to one of four concurrent discussion sessions. A few hours later, after three 40-minute-long session time slots, and 12 total sessions in four breakout rooms, we reconvened for a final large group meeting.

What Happened During Sessions?
We had structured the Spaces + Places sessions to be leader-less. That is, though attendees were invited to come with an idea to pitch or share, no one led the sessions. In our morning introduction and in our communications to the attendees beforehand, we planners tried to set up the framework for sessions to be topical discussions.

I attended three of the 12 sessions, staying in the same breakout room for the entire morning. We unconference organizers had agreed to serve as time keepers and conversation starters, if needed, but we mostly intended to participate along with everyone else as members of the discussion.

In each session I attended there were between eight and twelve participants, and they represented an array of backgrounds, age groups, and librarianship experience. I asked questions. I shared my opinions. I watched people brainstorm solutions to each others’ problems and offer suggestions for how to improve a library program or a new person with whom to connect.

Many attendees tweeted notes and quotes throughout the morning. I collected all of the tweets in a Storify for posterity.


Below is a list of all discussion sessions attendees proposed and attended that morning. Each session topic below is linked to the Spaces + Places wiki page for that discussion. Participants who took notes were invited to either post them up on the wiki to share, or email them to the Spaces + Places planners and we would post them on the wiki.


Virtual Learning Commons
Library Outdoor Spaces
Geo-visual Search
Patron-driven Acquisition
Making the Most of Small Spaces in Libraries
Non-public/special libraries
New Technology in Libraries
Library As A Virtual Space
Library As Community Center
Making Use of Crappy Furniture
Developing Policies for Public Usage of Spaces
Final Circle Discussion

Spaces + Places Was A Success
I know I’m biased because I helped birth it, but Spaces + Places was pretty beautiful.

People came. They discussed. They offered solutions to each others’ problems. They found prospective interns. They found internships. They traded email addresses. They tweeted ideas to each other. They returned to their jobs and classes reinvigorated and energized. Well, I did, anyway.

One facet of a librarian’s job is enabling communities to connect to knowledge networks. When we cooked up the idea for this unconference back in September, Stephanie, Matthew, Sarah, and I wanted to bring people together to exchange ideas about librarianship and community. Spaces + Places did just that. We librarianed the librarians.

Note: This post was originally published on March 6, 2013 on Information Space, the official blog of Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies. Read more about Spaces + Places here.


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