Friday, November 13, 2009

How to Archive a Conference

Conferences and workshops are great places to network, learn new things or test out research ideas. Unfortunately, they tend to be ephemeral. Even in a best case scenario, most conferences and workshops only result in a white paper or maybe an edited collection. The vast majority of work becomes lines on the CVs of those who presented, without leaving a good record of what transpired.

If you'd like to archive your conference or workshop, but don't want to put together a book, there are a few ways you can achieve this on the web. This isn't a technical guide on setting up a website, but suggestions for what types of material to save that can help provide something tangible to point to of a conference you have been involved with.

Archiving a conference or workshop is a two step process:

1) Collecting

You'll have to put together enough material to make the project worthwhile. If you only have a one paragraph description, you aren't going to draw many lookers.

2) Hosting

If you don't have a website or access to one, you can set one up for free, or look for a research network that may be interested in hosting the project for you. Environmental historians could turn to the Network in Canadian History & Environment (NiCHE) and there may be others for those studying different topics.


What you collect depends on what type of conference or workshop you are hosting. If you are running a traditional podium-based conference, you might consider the following:

1) Conference Description

Don't make the mistake of assuming people will understand from your conference title what the point of the event was or what its goals were. It's always a good idea to provide 3 or 4 paragraphs of information about the event. Who put it on and why? When was it? Where was it? Who supported it? Who attended?

You should probably answer all or most of, who, what, when, where, why and how.

2) Audio recording

For less than $100 you can get an MP3 recorder that you can leave by the podium to record the talks given by presenters. Don't forget to get signed consent forms before recording, as some people may be uncomfortable or unwilling to participate. In my experience, most people are willing if asked politely beforehand and if you explain that you are archiving the proceedings for those who were not able to attend.

You likely won't get thousands of people flocking to listen to the audio files, but as with any archive, the material is there for those who do wish to seek it. As time rolls on, you might be surprised with the number of hits you do receive.

3) Reflections

If your participants are bloggers by nature, use this to your advantage and ask people to blog about the conference and to send you links to any posts they make. You can quickly tie together a list of posts about your conference so that anyone interested can get several different perspectives as to what went on.

It's a good idea to mention this at the start and end of each day of the conference to reinforce it in everyone's mind. If you let the participants know you will be collecting the posts together they will be more likely to participate - everyone likes to think their work is appreciated.

If you're lucky enough to have a group that are active on Twitter, you might consider saving a copy of their tweets and making them available.

If your group aren't bloggers, you might consider asking 3 or 4 graduate students to write a 500 word reflection of what they learned, enjoyed, discussed, etc. Graduate students can always use exposure and this is a perfect opportunity to give it to them while getting content for your conference archive.

4) Photos

Not photos of people sitting around tables giving awkward smiles. Not someone stuffing their face with a donut. Good photos.

You might consider taking a photo of a landmark in the city you're holding the event. If you're in a nice building, take a photo of that. A good photo of someone speaking at a podium can be great, as long as it doesn't catch them with a particularly unflattering expression on their face.

Group shots can work well, but make sure you take down names as soon as possible. By the time you end up putting all the material together you may find you can't remember everyone.

If you don't have any good shots - or don't have a camera, try to find some photos with an open license that you can use. A Creative Commons search should bring up plenty of photos that capture the essence of your event. It's better to use a good photo that represents your event than a bad photo that was taken at your event.

5) Links / More Info

Sometimes people will stumble across your conference archive and want to learn more. Provide them with some links to relevant organizations, or books they might consider reading. Feel free to plug your own work as long as it's germane.


How much material is enough?

Well, you don't want too little or no one will care, and you don't need a book. I'd recommend something comparable to a magazine article. If you have between 1000 and 4000 words (can be from multiple authors writing different pieces), a few photos and a couple audio files, that's probably great.


Though not a standard practice by any means, there are a few good examples of archived conferences assembled by organizers and participants. Here are a couple that might give you some ideas.

A conference archive not only removes the ephemeral nature of an event, it gives you a tangible deliverable to point to when seeking more funding for future work. It can also build your professional online profile and generate some excitement about your work.

If you're hosting an upcoming event, consider archiving it online.


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