Easy Sailing - Guidelines for Hosting a Conference

Conferences and meetings bring together people who share a discipline or study and provide an opportunity for colleagues to network and exchange ideas. Attending a conference can be a valuable professional experience, especially for a solo librarian. However, instead of just attending the meeting, you volunteered to host the next SAIL meeting-now what? Probably the biggest questions are how, when, and what.

Accommodations & Transportation
The ideal accommodations would be within walking distance of the meeting; however, few facilities have this luxury. Therefore, keep attendees close together at one or two hotels so transportation arrangements are easier. Moderately priced hotels are best, but you could offer a lower end and a higher end motel to accommodate all preferences.

Travel arrangements are made by the attendees. However, you should let them know which airport is most convenient, and what ground transportation is available between the airport and the hotel, and between the hotel and the conference site. Usually one or two participants have vehicles and can help transport people to and from the meeting. Be prepared in case you have to arrange transportation for some people.

The budget is a key ingredient in the planning process and will determine the conference registration fee. All the anticipated expenses and funding sources should be listed. A checklist can help determine what projected costs the participants will pay and what funds have to be found to cover the remaining expenses. You want to cover your costs, but you want to keep fees low so more people can afford to attend and participate. All fees and other expenses must be clearly stated in the registration form as well as, when the registration fee is due, and method of payment. Participants should receive a receipt of payment.

Items to Consider:
» Publicity: brochures, flyers, printing
» Postage
» Office supplies
» Conference materials: packets, badges, pens, paper, photocopying
» Signs, banners, posters
» Food and beverages for breaks and possibly lunch
» Speaker fees or travel reimbursement
» Meeting room rental
» Equipment rental
» Transportation rental
» Staff wages: A-V assistance, web page design
» Gifts or giveaways

Possible Fee Schedule:

Full Conference» Member > Non-Member > Student

One Day» Member > Non-Member > Student

Late Registration» Member > Non-Member > Student

Occasionally a spouse or guest may wants to attend a prepaid lunch or excursion so keep a price in mind for them.

Fee can cover:

» Tuesday evening reception
» Break foods for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday
» Lunch Wednesday and Thursday (depending on closeness of restaurants)
» Speaker fees and/or transportation
» Excursions
» Gifts
» Office expenses: printing, photocopying, postage, etc.

Conference Packets

Packets can be given out at the Tuesday reception or at the start of the Wednesday morning session. Distributing them Tuesday gives the participant all the information he/she needs to attend the meeting.

» Packets should include:
» Program schedule
» Name badge
» List of participants (alphabetical by surname and » without titles)
» Directions and maps
» Excursion information
» Thursday dinner information
» List of local restaurants and places of interest
(including directions)
» Evaluation forms
» Blank paper or a pad
» Pen

The Date
Historically, SAIL meets once a year in the Spring-mainly in April or May-and lasts 2 to 3 days, beginning on Tuesday evening. When planning the date, things to consider are other scheduled conferences, holidays, and school and university calendars. You don’t want to have your meeting conflict with other events. Check ALA, SLA, NOAA, school and university calendars, and state library organizations, e.g, FLA.


SAIL usually begins with a Tuesday evening reception sponsored by the hosting organization and an IAMSLIC grant.

Working Sessions:
The working sessions go from Wednesday through Friday, with Friday being a whole or half day. Once you’ve chosen a date and you have your space reserved, pick a theme and outline a general agenda. SAIL is a small conference so the theme should be general and the program flexible. Try not to cram too much into the meeting. Give attendees a chance to relax and network. And remember, attendance may decrease drastically on Friday regardless of what is on the schedule.

Group Dinner:
The group dinner is planned for either Wednesday or Thursday evening. If possible, it is important to select a moderately priced restaurant, offering regional food.

Field Trip(s):
Include an excursion to an area sightseeing spot, or a combination excursion/learning experience, e.g., eco-tours, botanical gardens, libraries and museums.

Combination Meeting:
SAIL occasionally has been preceded by or combined with other library meetings, e.g., the NOAA Librarians annual meeting. If this is the case, members of different groups are invited to participate in joint sessions. If two organizations meet, this should be clearly stated in the programs, registration forms, etc. SAIL meetings are usually open to any interested local librarians and LIS students.

Business Meeting:
This time is for discussing issues that need to be addressed and voted on by the members, e.g., SAIL’s geographic region, resource sharing, or election of a Sail Rep.

Food for Thought From Previous Hosts

Susan Stover
SAIL 2001, Mote Laboratory, Sarasota, FL:
If you are a solo librarian hosting the meeting, you never have time to spend with the other participants because you’re always concerned with the next event on the program. The hotel promised to have their van driver shuttle people to the meeting in the mornings. However, the driver was usually too busy. I think they just told me they would do this so I would use the hotel. The transportation “promise” was verbal. I didn’t have anything in writing.

Evelyn Poole-Kober
SAIL 2000, ASMD Library, Research Triangle Park, NC:
Hosting and planning a SAIL meeting was one of the most professionally satisfying activities of my librarian career. Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is “inland” and our group deals with the air pollution, there were interesting places to visit with the major universities in the area and the meeting offered the opportunity to show how air pollution can affect the marine environment. Deciding on a restaurant was probably the most stressful thing I planned because barbecue is this areas regional food, but SAIL has vegetarian members, and the Carolina Inn was too expensive. As a solo librarian, I also appreciated the help I received from Patti, Jean, and Linda.

Joyce Shaw
SAIL 1999 (and 2006), Gunter Library, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory:
I decided as a former host and as a future host to be more flexible! I agree with Susan about the anxiety of keeping to the schedule. It was a pain chasing behind attendees to keep things on track. Because we had dorm rooms, I was responsible for having breakfast ready even for the early birds, so having the coffee pot set up the night before was important! Have alternate speakers and presenters because “Life happens” and there will be last minute cancellations. Call and call again to confirm on field trips, tour guides, etc. I had arranged for a park ranger to give a presentation and when we got there, they forgot, it wasn’t on their schedule. Some things I worked out, such as day care at the local YMCA, were not necessary (am I the only SAIL librarian with a child?). And probably the most important thing to remember is SAIL members are the greatest people to work with. They are not fussy; they are “can do” types who will pitch in to keep things rolling; they are generous with their time and support; they will smile, help, and not complain. As long as the coffee is ready early, so are they!

Tom Turner
former Skidaway Institute Librarian, now Patent and Trademark Depository Library Program, USPTO.
I hosted the second SAIL conference in Savannah, Georgia, at Skidaway. At that time, SAIL was still in its infancy, and the conferences were very flexible in design with the schedule largely up to the work of host and the SAIL president in coming up with a program. Linda Pikula was a big help to me. I recall that a substantial portion of the program was devoted to “educational” topics (overview of scientific research at the local institute, overview of the coastal regions features and maybe even some local history [in Savannah’s case] and tours. So, for advice,
1) Involve public relations person/information officer (if you are lucky enough to have one) from day one to help in coordinating tours of facilities for outside groups and getting the faculty or research staff on your conference schedule. Schedules of scientists who might give presentations at your conference will need to be consulted as soon as possible since they are subject to being out of town weeks at a time. Research institute directors are subject to the whims of university system or state budgeting meetings, so you will need to confer with their schedule early as well. Make sure that there is a backup person who can act in the director’s spot on your schedule in case they are suddenly called out of town.
2) Transportation and lodging were major challenges. Planning ahead is crucial. In a tourist city like Savannah, I wanted a hotel that would highlight our historic riverfront, be close to most tourist attractions, and be in a safe area. Due to the distance from the hotel to our research institute, transportation was a challenge. We were able to meet it by using two large capacity vans that the Institute owned. It was supplemented by some visitors who had their own cars or who rented cars. Cost can be a problem if your home institution can’t provide any transportation. I didn’t have to rely on a hotel shuttle, but no local hotel would have given a free shuttle out to Skidaway Island.
3) Get quotes from hotels. If it is not in a season when the hotels are jammed (such as the St. Patrick’s Day week in Savannah), you may have bargaining room to get extras (such as cheaper rates, free AV for a conference room, coffee) for a block of rooms. It might be easier to use a hotel conference room one day and have your local speakers drive to the hotel rather than have all of the conference goers come to your home institution.
4) The conference planner should create a checklist of to-do items and due dates that could be passed down to the next conference planner. The person who will handle the conference the next year should consult with the current year’s planner a week or two after the end of conference to troubleshoot what did and didn’t work well at this year’s conference (while it is still fresh).
5) If you are in a one-person library, don’t be afraid to call on friends and colleagues at your home institution for help. If you are lucky enough to have a regional library group, consider calling on some of those allies for help as well. I learned that I couldn’t do it all by myself. That may seem obvious now, but when you are a one-person library you are used to doing most things by yourself and often delude yourself into thinking that you can do everything by yourself. Also, don’t forget to rely on SAIL officers and possibly SAIL members who are located nearby. If two SAIL members can co-host the conference, it can take a big part of the burden off your shoulders.
6) Local chambers of commerce, convention bureaus, and (sometimes for larger hotels) hotel convention planners can provide packets of local attractions and maps that conference goers will find useful. I guess that was more advice than anecdotal tid-bits. I do remember arranging for the lunch dessert to be my favorite, pound cake, only to find that that was probably way too heavy a dessert for the conference goers. But then, I got to take a lot of leftover pound cake home, so I really didn’t complain.
7) For marine institutes at remote locations, you will probably need to have food catered by a local restaurant. It will save time and trouble on logistics, if the food can be brought to your institute rather than everyone having to leave at lunchtime. In retrospect, I consider hosting the SAIL conference one of the highlights of my professional career. Hosting a SAIL conference will elevate the value of your library and your position at your home institution in so many ways. It’s definitely worth all the work.

Kris Metzger
SAIL 2003, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Fort Pierce, FL:
My advice to future meeting hosts (based on lessons learned the hard way) follows:
1) Pick an early deadline date for submission of papers and stick to it (my date was too close to the conference and people need a preliminary program in order to get their travel approved – no papers, no program.)
2) Ask everyone to send their Powerpoint presentations ahead of time so that they are loaded on the equipment before everyone arrives. The technological glitches drove me bonkers. The 74 seconds of instruction I got on the equipment ahead of time was woefully inadequate and some Powerpoints caused the entire system to get hung up as they were loaded – the $380 bulb burning out in the LCD projector was the last straw. While I had ascertained ahead of time that the equipment handled CD’s and zip disks, it NEVER occurred to me that the computer would not have a floppy drive.
3) Ask IAMSLIC for more grant money for speakers. Although we can come up with excellent presentations among our membership, it’s nice to have the option to bring in speakers with expertise on other topics.
4) If possible, house your library in a palace and feed attendees well. Attendees will forgive all once they’ve toured your opulent library on a full stomach.
5) The half day conference on Friday morning worked out well.

Kathy Maxson
SAIL 1998, NOVA Oceanographic Institute, Dania, FL:
For the group dinner I had a Barbecue and campfire with entertainment by the Miskogee Creek Indian Tribe. The price was included in the conference fee. Everyone enjoyed the event.

Patti Marraro
SAIL 1995, co-host, NOAA, Beaufort, NC:
Make sure you post announcements about the conference to IAMSLIC libraries and local academic libraries, and follow-up with a summary of the conference.

Natalie Wiest
Texas A&M University, Galveston, TX:
It would be nice if the conference fee included the cost of the host’s dinner (at group dinner). Natalie Wiest, Texas A&M University, Galveston, TX.

Fred Lohrer
Archbold Biological Station, Lake Placid, FL:
If you need speakers talk to your staff, scientists are usually interested in speaking about their research.


The host can apply for an IAMSLIC grant to help cover expenses, e.g., the Tuesday reception, excursions, speaker fees, and/or travel expenses. Also, any SAIL member who needs help with funding and offers to make a presentation can apply for a grant. These grants are explained on the IAMSLIC web page. Writing the grant is not complicated and only a couple pages in length.

Other avenues to obtain funds to cover your costs:
Will your facility cover certain costs, e.g., office expenses? Ask publishers, book stores or subscription services to sponsor breaks or lunches.

Miscellaneous Information

» Start the publicity early!

» Keep the meeting on track-give the speakers a 5 minute warning (use the yield and stop signs).

» A notice board for announcements located near the meeting room may be helpful to some participants.

» You should send thank you notes to guest speakers, hosts, and sponsoring organization.

» You may want to give a small gift to the guest speakers.

» Occasionally a T-shirt or mug exchange is scheduled sometime during the meeting. If you decide to have this event make sure you inform the attendees well in advance so they can bring an item from their facility or locale.

» Keep in mind you may need ADA accommodations.

» Ask attendees to turn off cell phones and pagers during the presentations.

» Plan for unknown additional expenses.

» Negotiate complementary services or entice vendors to supply break foods

» Order food and beverages in quantity, not by person.

» Purchase break foods that will keep until the next day if not eaten.

» If you have vendors make sure the attendees have time to visit them.

» Vendors may not want to set-up for a small conference, but they may want to present a short talk on a new product, sponsor a break or lunch, or provide “giveaways”.

» Speakers can be a great source of inspiration and information. Its a good idea to have the speakers’ topic relate to the field of marine or atmospheric sciences or libraries. Speakers may include scientists or interns from the hosting facility, environmentalists, authors, LIS school professors or student leaders, State Library personnel, library organization leaders and SAIL members.

Program Items

Make sure the program topics are varied, timely, interesting, and meet the professional needs of the participants. The following items are a sample of actions that could be included in the program.
(* Indicates optional items.)

» Opening session
» Keynote speaker
» Excursion (2-4 hrs)
» Tuesday evening reception
» Group dinner (Wed. or Thurs.)
» Breaks, time to network
» Time on own
» Tour of Facility*
» Poster sessions*
» Round-table discussions*
» Panel of speakers on a specific topic*
» Workshop (workshops 1-3 hrs)*
» Vendors*
» T-shirt exchange*

Technical Equipment

One of the most important requirements is adequate technical equipment. The following is a list of items that might be needed by presenters and exhibitors.

» Photocopier
» Fax
» Computer with CD player and projection
» Internet connection
» VCR and large screen TV
» Overhead projector
» Slide projector
» Flip charts
» Laser pointer
» Public address system


» Month 7-8
Reserve facility room. Negotiate block of rooms at hotel/motel. Outline a preliminary program. Plan a tentative budget. Contact possible vendors or sponsors.

» Month 6
Announce meeting date on your website and via email to SAIL list. Call for speakers-give a deadline so you have ample time to fill-in program gaps. Preliminary contact of guest and keynote speakers.

» Month 4-5
Submit IAMSLIC grant; deadline is usually mid February. Design registration form and post on website, along with the program theme. Mail meeting notice to non-SAIL librarians and LIS students. Post preliminary program and hotel information.

» Month 2
Post reminders on SAIL listserv. Develop evaluation forms. Post proposed SAIL agenda on web page.
» 2 Weeks Prior
Print official/final program, list of participants, and name badges. Post final agenda on SAIL web page.


»Allen, J. The business of event planning: behind-the-scenes secrets of successful special events. Toronto : J. Wiley & Sons. 2002. Table of contents http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/wiley

»Allen, J. Event planning: the ultimate guide to successful meetings, corporate events, fundraising galas, conferences, conventions, incentives, and other special events. Toronto :

»John Wiley & Sons Canada. 2000. Allen, W.Y. Special event planning in the non-profit sector. Dissertation: Thesis (M.A.)–University of Southern California, 2000.

»Craven, R.E. and Golabowski, L.J. The complete idiot’s guide to meeting and event planning. Indianapolis : Alpha Books. 2001.

»Harris, G. The essential event planning kit. Los Angeles, CA : Americas Group, 4th ed.2002, ©2003

»Shone, A. and Parry, B. Successful event management: a practical handbook. London : Continuum. 2001.


»The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. (ADA)

»Goldcoast Conferences. Planning a conference? Here is a list of what you need to do.

»IALL Conference Planning Guide.

»LVS Event Manager. The 10 steps to a successful event.

Student Environmental Action Coalition. SEAC’s guide to planning conferences and gatherings.

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