Three business librarians — Diane Campbell (Rider University), Mary Scanlon (Wake Forest University), and I — participated in the Small Business Institute (SBI) annual academic conference last week in New Orleans. We attended sessions, interacted with the business professors, and made a presentation to the profs.
Most of us arrived on Ash Wednesday, if you were curious. Clean-up from the last big Mardi Gras parade was in full swing.
Except for the Coleman Fellow summits, this was my first visit to a business professors’ conference. (Diane is a frequent attender and presenter at SBI.) It was an interesting experience. I will be writing a short conference review for the new Ticker open access journal soon but will add a few more personal notes here, including more details about our librarians’ program than I will provide in that objective review article.
Nature of this conference
Mary and I were surprised how small the conference was – around 150 people! The smallest multi-day librarian conference I’ve been to is NCLA, which averages 1,000 people. Some of my Coleman Fellow friends were shocked to hear how large ALA Summer can get. SBI easily fit into the 2nd floor of the skinny Harrah’s hotel. We used the ball room for meals and plenary sessions, and the three conference rooms for the concurrent sessions. There was no exhibit hall. Awards for best practice ideas and best paper were given out as part of the long lunches. Breakfasts and lunches as well as several parties, including a paddleboat cruise on the final day, were included as part of the registration. Which was nice, given the registration fee was $550. (In contrast, LOEX is $290 this year.)
Perhaps because of its size, SBI seemed to have a strong focus on networking, mentoring, and sharing research and pedagogical ideas.
The nature of concurrent sessions was different from most library conferences. As the SBI program indicates, all sessions were 90 minutes long. A session could be labeled a “workshop” with only one or two topics and groups of speakers, but most of sessions included 3 or 4 presentations – so around 20-25 minutes each. Tracks included:
- Best Practices
- Small Business
- Global Entrepreneurship
- Family Business
- Experiential Learning
- and a few others
I got the impression that most or maybe all submissions to SBI were accepted. (That is also typical for NCLA.)
How I got there
Professor Dianne Welsh, the director of our UNCG Coleman Fellows program, is a past president of SBI and invited many of the fellows to attend, using our grant money for travel funding. We gave a program regarding embedding entrepreneurship into cross-campus classes. Diane Cambell also spoke about “How to Create High Impact Community Outreach through a Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program” with two of her professors from Rider.
What the librarians did there
Mary, Diane, and I met at the most recent Entrepreneurial Librarians conference. Professor Welsh had told me that Diane was a regular at SBI, and Mary and I have been talking about going to a business professor conference. So Mary, Diane, and I chatted about doing a librarian’s program at SBI. We decided to propose a program that suggests best practices to entrepreneurship faculty regarding the research their students should be doing, and how the faculty could be working with their local business librarians.
We titled our proposal “Teaching Entrepreneurship Research Skills to Students: Best Practices from Three Entrepreneurship Librarians.” It had four sections:
- Designing the most effective research assignments
- Requiring students to use the best and most authoritative research sources
- The limits of secondary research and when primary research is necessary
- Inviting your business librarian to provide active learning research workshops at the point of need, plus research consultations with students as follow-up
We assumed we would have an hour to discuss those topics, but ended up instead as 1/3 of a 90-minute slot in the “experiential learning” track. Not ideal, in our opinions, but one of the other presentations was canceled, so we ended up as one of two programs in that 90-minute period. A nice, quick pace without being too rushed.
We had a large audience by SBI standards, around 17 folks (although a third of them were fellow UNCG fellows or Diane’s professor colleagues from Rider) who asked lots of good questions and seemed engaged throughout. Of course it helps to have friends in the audience! Mary and Diane did a great job and were fun to work with. We will post the slides online soon (I’ll write a short follow-up post with the link).
So what did I get out of attending SBI? Hmm well several things:
- The professors there respect librarians and were happy to have us on board. They listened to our responses to their programs, and the folks attending the librarians’ session were genuinely interested in what we had to say – and didn’t seem offended by our recommendations to them. (A couple of profs complained that their librarians seem to be cruising towards retirement and weren’t interested in newer, engaged roles.)
- As many of you librarians know, professors aren’t always too knowledgeable about using statistical data, and often benefit from the help of a savvy research librarian. (I’m not providing details because it would be easy to figure out which programs I’m alluding to.)
- A professors’ conference can be very different in structure from a librarian conference. But networking is emphasized in both. We might go to USASBE next January and try to present there too. If so we’ll see what that one is like.
- Diane and Mary are great to work with. (Mary and I also enjoyed taking the St. Charles streetcar to uptown for a reunion dinner with Betsy Clementson, a business librarian at Tulane; Betsy used to work at Western Carolina University and was active in BLINC.)
- And as always it was great fun to hang with my Coleman fellow buds as we explored more of the city and its fine drinking and eating establishments.
Would I attend SBI again? Sure, if I had grant money to spend on travel. The networking is important – another type of embedded librarian work? – even if the application to my day-to-day work as a business librarian is more limited compared to what I get out of most library conferences.