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From Your Executive Director, January 2022

Lydia Middleton, MBA, CAE

Greetings colleagues,

I hope that you all are enjoying a prosperous start to the new year and that those of you that celebrate had a joyous holiday season. Here in Virginia it is a cold winter day with snow on the ground and more coming in the next few days. I, for one, am ready for spring already!

I wanted to take the opportunity of this column to share some more information about the 2022 Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh. We have heard from a few of you that you are disappointed that the meeting will be held in a fully face-to-face format without the option to attend or present virtually, so I want to share more about why the Board made this decision.

There were three factors that went into this decision. The first and most significant was the desire to preserve the integrity and future of the face-to-face Annual Meeting. It was clear during the 2021 Annual Meeting that, while many attendees had no choice other than to attend virtually due to travel restrictions or safety concerns, an equal number chose to attend virtually because it was more convenient and cost effective. Those that attended the meeting in person were glad they did and commented on how much richer the experience was for being there than it would have been online. In fact, while we had more than 400 virtual registrants, we never had more than 100 people online at any time, suggesting that many people who “attend” virtually don’t really “attend” at all. Were we to continue to offer the meeting in a hybrid (both virtual and in-person) format, it is likely that we would not get the critical mass of in-person attendees to continue to make attending in-person an enriching experience. Year after year, members list attendance at the Annual Meeting as the most valuable benefit of membership. That value can only be imparted in a face-to-face format where the connections you make and conversations you have outside the meeting room are as strong or stronger than the content you experience inside the meeting room.

A second consideration is financial. We were able to do the 2020 Annual Meeting fully virtually because the hotel in Pittsburgh where we were supposed to meet in 2020 allowed us to transfer our contract to 2022. Had we not been able to do this we likely would have had to cancel the 2020 meeting altogether as the cost of failing to meet the obligations of the hotel contract would have been so prohibitive that any added cost of technology to put on a virtual  meeting would have been impossible to bear. In 2021, the meeting hotel would not allow us to alter our contract so we had no choice but to hold a face-to-face meeting in Salt Lake City.

We were ambitious in believing that we could offer an outstanding face-to-face experience while simultaneously offering an outstanding virtual experience. And while I believe that we did as well as we could given the resources and capacity we had, I will accept that the experience was not outstanding for either in person or virtual attendees. The reality is that to put on an outstanding hybrid meeting requires vast financial and human resources which ASIS&T simply does not have.

In looking at the 2022 meeting, the fact is that we are contracted with the hotel to hold the Annual Meeting that we had originally anticipated in 2020, with about 450 attendees, more than 1,000 sleeping rooms, lots of food, beverage, and audio/visual commitments, etc. If we do not hold a face-to-face meeting we will be out hundreds of thousands of dollars. And we simply don’t have the resources to offer virtual attendance and presentation options for the meeting that requires a trained staff person in each meeting room, significant equipment (cameras, microphones, etc), and adequate planning time. We learned from the 2021 meeting that while we did the best we could with what we had, it is not a sustainable strategy. ASIS&T has a staff of 5 and a budget of $1.3 million. Successfully executing a hybrid meeting requires a staff and budget of about 3 times that amount. So our choice is virtual only or face-to-face only, and given the financial commitment to the hotel, face-to-face only is our only choice.

Finally, our decision was pragmatic. The Board recognizes that living with this pandemic is our new reality and we must find ways to carry on in spite of that. We got through the 2021 meeting without a single case of COVID being reported by anyone that attended. We intend to comply with CDC guidelines at the time of the meeting and require vaccinations or proof of a negative test of all attendees at the 2022 meeting. And while we cannot predict what might happen next with the virus, we believe that, barring a massive change in the progression of the virus, we will be holding the meeting in person. If something were to change so drastically that it became impossible to hold the meeting in person, it is more likely that we would cancel or postpone the meeting than that we would convert to a fully virtual meeting as we would have to be making plans for that now. So it is important that we make it clear now, as members are considering whether or not to submit a proposal for a paper or panel, that the ability to attend in-person is a requirement. Otherwise we might find ourselves accepting proposals that would later be withdrawn and rejecting a proposal that could have been presented.

Of course, ASIS&T is not the only association facing these challenges right now. ASIS&T staff are active members of their own professional networks and we are closely following what other associations are doing. What we are seeing is that 2020 was the year of the virtual meeting, 2021 was the year of the attempt at a hybrid meeting, and 2022 is the year when associations go back to face-to-face meetings for all the reasons I’ve listed above. I will be attending a face-to-face-only meeting of 400 association colleagues this weekend. Even large associations with more than enough capacity to handle hybrid aspects of a meeting are opting for fully face-to-face (ALA is one example, IFLA is another). No association wants to lose the one benefit they can offer members that they cannot get elsewhere…the chance to come together with like-minded colleagues and learn new things. If doing that virtually was sufficient, our webinars would be over-subscribed every week. But we all know it is not.

So, what about those individuals who cannot, due to travel, health, or financial restrictions, attend the meeting in person. There are a few options. In April ASIS&T will be piloting its first Global 24-Hour Conference. This event is being coordinated by planning teams in three geographic regions in order to provide round-the clock content. While this is the first year we will be holding this meeting and the process is very much in the developmental stages, our hope is that the meeting can develop into a mid-year virtual meeting that will provide an alternative to the face-to-face Annual Meeting, with equivalent rigor and prestige. If you are interested in presenting at this year’s Global 24-Hour Conference, look elsewhere in this Inside ASIS&T for the call for proposals.

In addition, we will be offering a virtual poster-session as a satellite to the 2022 Annual Meeting. The virtual poster session worked very well at the 2021 Annual Meeting so it is our plan to hold a virtual poster session as a satellite to the Annual Meeting, either 2 weeks before or after the face-to-face meeting. There is also the possibility of offering fully-virtual workshops. Again, this worked well in 2021 with three workshops being offered only virtually. These sessions could take place as satellites either before or after the face-to-face meeting. If finances allow, we will live-stream the keynotes and business meeting as well.

These sorts of decisions are never easy and we recognize that it is not possible to please all the members all the time. The Board is elected to represent the membership and make decisions that are in the best interest of the association as a whole, considering not only the current needs of the membership but the future sustainability of the entire association.

I am hopeful that the 2022 meeting in Pittsburg will present an opportunity for many of us to come together safely and share that energy that only comes from being in the same physical space. For those that are unable to join us, we will make every effort to provide alternative opportunities for presentation and engagement with the association throughout the year.

My best to all for a happy and healthy 2022.

Warm regards,