Revving up to write your conference proposal – an interview with 2014 Conference Program co-chair Roger Lawson

Who’s excited about submitting proposals for the Washington D.C. conference “Art+Politics?” We RISS folks are! In fact, we’re so excited that we asked Roger Lawson, program co-chair, to answer some burning questions we had about the conference. Below is the transcript of our interview, and below that we put together some tips and tricks learned from last year’s chat session “Crafting Proposals: Pasadena & Beyond,” co-sponsored by the Education subcommittee and the ARLISNAP section, with Pasadena program co-chairs Cathy Billings and Sarah Sherman, guest-starring seasoned conference presenters Tony White and Nedda Ahmed.


EM: What’s your favorite thing about being an art librarian in Washington, DC?

RL: I am always impressed by the rich variety of our collections, as well as the talents devoted to preserving and promoting them.

EM: Why did you volunteer to serve on the conference planning committee?

RL: There have been many changes to Washington since 1987, the last year the conference was held in the city — and having assisted with that conference, I was eager to help show our members what Washington and the entire DC MD VA Chapter have to offer.

EM: What has been your favorite ARLIS conference and why?

RL: It would be difficult to choose only one: New Orleans, 1980 (my first) for introducing me early in my career to so many dedicated art librarians willing to accept a novice; Los Angeles, 1985 and 2001; Banff, 2006 and Denver, 2008 (great programs in beautiful settings); but every conference is memorable for individual reasons.

EM: How did you decide on the “Art + Politics” theme?

RL: It seemed a natural theme for a city preoccupied with politics, where policy decisions have broad national and international impact. It is purposefully a big topic, one that can bring to light considerations of major issues such as intellectual property and copyright, provenance, and preservation as they relate to the arts and their documentation.

EM: ARLIS members come from a vast array of institutions, geographic locations, skill sets, experience levels, and job duties. How do you balance all of those factors in the conference theme and call for papers?

RL: We seek proposals for papers, sessions, and workshops from students and practitioners in a wide range of professions, not just librarians and visual resource specialists. We want to offer a program that will be as interesting and as valuable to the newly-minted art information professional as to the seasoned employee, and that will present viewpoints from outside the confines of conventional thinking.

EM: What do you hope that conference attendees will take away from this experience?

RL: We hope that conference attendees will be able to use the information and skills acquired and put them into action creatively  — and we expect to see the results of ideas planted here brought to fruition in future conferences and accomplishments. Most importantly, the ARLIS/NA annual conference presents professional networking opportunities well beyond those provided by social media and email (as convenient as they may be). Attendees will be able to engage in lively person-to-person discussions with peers and experts alike, and form friendships that can last throughout a career.

EM: Do you have any advice for those submitting proposals?

RL: Be bold and imaginative! The deadline is rapidly approaching, but don’t worry if the proposal is not fully formed — there is time to refine the details. We welcome proposals that will challenge conventional thinking, encourage active participation, and bring fresh insight to the range of professional issues we face.


Conference Proposing Tips and Tricks

Here’s the transcript from last year’s session, “Crafting Conference Proposals: Pasadena and Beyond.”

Here are some tips gleaned from this session:

  • Make sure the theme of your paper or session fits well into the overall conference theme: conference program committee will be looking carefully to enhance their chosen theme.
  • However, conference themes are generally written to accommodate a broad array of themes, so don’t let that stop you!
  • Once you get an idea, start outlining your theme to flesh it out
  • Send a message to ARLIS-L to find colleagues with similar interests at similar institutions or start conversing with your peers to generate potential collaborations
  • When attending conferences, engage with panels, discussions, conversations and think about how you could potentially work within these situations at your own institution
  • Familiarity with issues in art librarianship helps! But also identifying real needs and real solutions, or applying new answers to perennial questions. To gain familiarity with art librarianship issues, go back through previous conference programs and issues of Art Documentation.
  • Think about your audience: ARLIS members come from a very diverse background and variety of institutional settings, so making your proposal interesting to a wide scope of experience levels, job duties and institutional settings is key to a successful proposal

Benefits of presenting at a conference

  • become better known to your peers, increasing the chance of getting to know people, and thus networking!!
  • instant feedback or peer-review – this can be very helpful if you intend to continue with your project or turn it into a publishable article
  • practicing valuable public speaking skills

Also take a look at this article we posted last year! Good luck everyone!


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