Behind the Scenes at NC’s State Conference

I’m the immediate past president of NCSLMA this year, which means I get to serve on NCSLMA’s Conference Planning Committee. I served along with our president elect, Cindy Sturdivant, and the incoming president elect, Jenny Umbarger. This year’s conference proved to be as rewarding as it was unusual!


Under Cindy’s leadership, we made plans for a traditional conference. Then COVID hit, and NC all but shut down. Since we contract for several years out with our convention site, we moved forward with plans for a traditional conference. There were so many unknowns, but until NC called for a time extension on the shutdowns, we couldn’t  renegotiate the contract for 2020’s fall conference.

Some of the items from a traditional conference that were still up in the air included:

  • Lodging
  • Keynotes
  • Luncheons and breakfast
  • Rental of materials for vendors
  • Call to presents
  • Room assignments for presenters
  • Vendor hall layout and sales

It was really hard to get into a good conference swing. In our hearts, we felt confident that large gatherings would not be allowed, but the convention center held us to our contract, unless the governor proclaimed a state-wide ban on gatherings. For such a large event, we just couldn’t wait for that to happen.

Some of the things weighing on us included:

  • Would school librarians willingly travel to the conference? How would they feel about staying in hotels?
  • If we went back to school, would principals allow librarians time off? After all, we worked remotely the last quarter of the previous school year. Principals might want everyone to be in the building without exception.
  • How would we handle the other contracts (audio-visual, keynotes, etc.) in this unknown period?
  • How would we accommodate vendors who already purchased space?

New Directions

We finally decided we needed to know one way or the other. With our concerns in hand, Cindy went to the convention center with an offer. Could we move this year’s contract to a future date not yet under contract? We were pleasantly surprised when the convention center accepted!

Virtual Conference! Here We Come!

In preparation for a virtual conference, several of us either attended virtual conferences or researched the way they were set up. I wrote about one of the ones I attended earlier this year.

Our to-do lists were quite lengthy, and we had to move fast. Everything was made easier by a strong team. Cindy, Jenny, and I had worked together for several years on various projects and developed a very comfortable working relationship. We recognize the times to support each other and reach out for help.

Some of our action items included:

  • Reaching out to keynotes to see what they were willing to do in this new environment
  • Notifying other presenters about new requirements
  • Making decisions on what platforms to use and then
  • Deciding exactly how using them would benefit those that signed up for conference
  • Handling prizes
  • Attracting vendors

New Opportunities

One of the most exciting things about a virtual conference was that almost everyone who submitted a proposal had the opportunity to present! We had a wealth of great ideas from which attendees could choose.

Most presenters created videos of their presentation ahead of time. This allowed Cindy time to upload, organize, and advertise. There were a few live sessions that were held through Google Meet. Most of those meetings were also recorded and added to the long list of choices.

To add to the excitement, Cindy decided to release videos in groups of eight to ten every few hours. Door prizes were drawn, announced, and mailed throughout conference, along with vendors who held live sessions.

Because everything is online, attendees weren’t limited to two or three days of trying to see as much as they can. Videos will be available for an entire year along with CEU certificates to all attendees.

Out-of-state librarians were given the opportunity to attend at the member rate if they were members of their state associations.

And we didn’t have to stop conference on the last day! Since it’s virtual, people can still sign up to *attend* all the wonderful sessions.

Utilizing Technology

Facebook — We wanted to use Facebook to help with the sense of community we knew would be missing without the face-to-face aspect. The attendees-only Facebook group opened up a few days before conference, and we created events for the live sessions that included keynotes and vendors. We also advertised the prerecorded events and used this venue to *hand out* our numerous door prizes.

YouTube — We housed all the videos on YouTube and then linked them back to attendee-only pages.

Google Meet — Live meetings were held on Google Meet. We even held meet and greets for our regions!

Canva — All ads, banners, and signs were made using Canva.

Website — Special attendee pages were created to house the videos. As mentioned earlier, attendees have access to these pages for one year.

Lessons Learned

We’ll be reflecting on the things we learned for a while. I’ve listed a few below. The list keeps growing the more reflect!

  • — We paid for Sched when we thought conference might be face-to-face. When we changed to virtual, we kept using it, but it wasn’t as effective as it could have been.
  • Shared resources from presenters — We didn’t have an organized way for presenters to share their slide decks. We had a place on their first slide, but some of them were too small or too long or too blurry.
  • Guide for presenters — This is something we’re pondering developing just to help with consistency.

There are so many things I could share about this great experience. People had opportunities to serve in capacities that we never envisioned in years past. Instead of a sprawling event, it felt very compact and efficient. I hope we get to repeat the experience — not because of a pandemic, but because it was a valuable event!

One more thing!

I started getting president badges for the incoming president elect several years ago. This is usually given in the business meeting when we pass the baton of one position to the next person. This year, we did it in Black Mountain, NC, in what I will forever remember as Conference Headquarters (or the Hampton Inn). This is a picture of Jenny Umbarger getting her badge to welcome her as president elect!


Author: Bitsy Griffin

Bitsy Griffin is the school librarian for Chatham Grove ES in Chapel Hill NC. She has 25+ years experience in elementary, middle, and high schools as a math teacher and librarian. She is active in AASL and the North Carolina School Library Media Association. Find her blog at .

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Professional Development, Technology

1 reply

  1. Thank you for sharing, Bitsy.

    I especially applaud NCSLMA for inviting post-conference registration (!) and making the content accessible for one year. Both are very accommodating for school librarians’ busy schedules and online fatigue!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.