I'd never seen that many proposals before, and it was intimidating. I didn't know anything about some of the topics, so how could I judge their value? And others were near and dear to my heart -- how could I be objective? I had to look at everything as a whole, not as individual components, which sounds lofty and wonderful but is hard to do.
Tim Coggins, our fearless AMPSC leader, gave us some good advice on delving into all this: read through everything without trying to make notes or rank, then read it all through again, starting at number one, and fill out ranking/comment forms. Do you know how long it takes to read 187 proposals? Twice?!? And how hard it is to keep them straight? I stocked up on little colored sticky notes, closed the door, forwarded the phone, and settled in. The first time through, I put a sticky on each proposal with some idea of the subject, which wasn't always obvious from the title. Since proposals went into the book in the order they were received, it was possible to find proposals on similar topics submitted by different people scattered throughout, and it would be important later to consider them together. By the end, I had so many stickies that it was sometimes hard to find what I was looking for and knew was there. I may possibly have gone overboard!
My second pass through the notebook took two days. I read each proposal, scribbled notes and questions, and highlighted things that grabbed me or made me question. Then I ranked it on a scale of 1 to 5 and added comments and questions on my form and moved to the next proposal. When you're looking at that many as a big block, it's amazing what things stand out as both positives and negatives. And it became easier to review and evaluate proposals from a subject or area of law librarianship that was outside my own academic tech services realm.
There were lots of solid programs that were well thoughtout and presented with good speakers and clear learning outcomes. There were also some badly written proposals with great topics, well-written proposals on tired subjects, overlap or duplication across several proposals on the same topic, wonderful programs with over-exposed speakers, and things we expected but didn't see at all. The comments, questions, and issues we raised as we read through all the proposals became the basis for much of our discussion at the September meeting and were conveyed to proposal coordinators after decisions were made.
After reading, ranking and commenting, our information went to headquarters to be recompiled. We arrived in Chicago the same day that the Starr report was released (which was a wee bit distracting) and faced the task of making final program selections. We had new lists of proposals in order of their compiled ranking, which was quite eye opening. There was no way that we could thoroughly discuss and review all 187 proposals in one and a half days, so we started with those ranked most highly by the group and went from there. And that's when I realized what a huge chunk of the work had been done by us as individuals as we read (and ranked) our way through The Notebook.
Don't be misled -- we didn't just accept the top-ranked 70 proposals! Every one that was accepted, and many that were not, were discussed by the committee and revised to be sure we had a good balance of topics, speakers, sponsors and formats. Some were accepted without any changes, but the majority were revised in some way to create stronger programs and a more solid overall conference package. Committee members didn't always agree with each other during the discussions, but we listened and learned and did our best to come up with a mixture of different programs that met the needs of our association colleagues.
One thing that was very clear to me by the end of it all was the importance of the overall impression that a proposal made by its look and attention to detail. I don't mean the topic, which naturally is important, but how it looks on the page and how well it is written. See the sidebar for a few of my thoughts about what a good proposal should include -- things that helped shape my initial overall impression of the 187 proposals I read this year. Remember: proposals are read first by individuals who are going through dozens of them in a short time period. Appearances do count.
An easy to read look. Typed pages are easier to read in great quantities than hand-written pages. Word-processed proposals were the easiest of all.