2014 Lessons Learned

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Code4Lib 2014 Conference Planning -- Lessons Learned (and Ideas)

Venue planning and negotiation

  • A conference services planning organization, like CONCENTRA, has significant experience in contract details that volunteer planners would unlikely have.
  • Venue negotiation takes a significant amount of time. Total of nearly four (5) months of visits, informational calls, and negotiations.
  • Hotel block negotiations are valuable, especially in the fine print of cancellation clauses, re-selling of unsold rooms, penalties of underselling, and scheduled kickbacks at certain increments.
  • When looking at space capacities, make sure you find out how many attendees can REALLY fit in a given space. The advertised numbers seem to be artificially inflated; ask to see a room layout graphic with A/V in place (we lost 15% of stated capacity at least to A/V).
  • Regardless of how strongly we communicate to the venue the pressures we'll be placing on their wifi, they almost always have trouble keeping up with our connection weight (especially hotels).
  • Overall, the 2014 group began working on venue negotiation and sponsorships in June 2013 for a conference taking place in March 2014.


  • The venue of C4L2014 could hold 350 people
  • To ensure registration Presenters, Preconference Organizers, and Sponsors (Platinum, Gold, and Table), initial registration was capped at 325. This filled in approximately 48 hours.
  • Demand for Code4Lib 2014 was 450 based on registrations and wait list.
  • Local registrations by the hosting libraries (Duke, NCSU, UNC) was 41 registrations.
  • CONCENTRA's registration system had some technical limitations as to data input and flow, but CONCENTRA handled all processing with little assistance by volunteers.
  • Waitlist was well-handled by a Google Form, as the registration system didn't have built-in waitlist functionality.


  • 46.8% of the estimated cost of C4L2014 was provided by sponsorships. The registration cost of $165 per person covered another 46.8%. The remaining balance of C4L2013 covered the remaining 6-7%.
  • To keep registration costs low, it is critical the Sponsorship Committee raise a minimum of $50,000 per year. [This really depends on the overall venue costs. If the conference is hosted on a college campus, the costs tend to be much lower, and therefore the amount of sponsorship needed is much lower - jaf]
  • The Sponsorship Prospectus was a significant tool in raising money this year.


  • Getting sizing that works for everyone is hard.
    • Nevertheless, there is value in providing as diverse a selection of sizes and cuts as is practicable.
  • There may be some design fatigue in the community.
  • Consider some other type of swag that doesn't involve sizing difficulties -- like re-usable coffee mugs (then attendees could use them all conference!)
  • When putting out a call for any graphics, ensure that the formats submitted are usable in production (e.g. vector formats).

Food and Beverage

  • Coffee in unlimited quantities is valued more highly than food at breaks.
  • Using negotiation to buy "off menu" will save money.
  • Make sure that you ask about dietary requirements during registration so that you can accommodate vegan / vegetarian / gluten-free, etc.
  • Less than 65% of the attendees ate breakfast at the conference. Each day of the conference, the number of attendees at breakfast declined.
  • 97% of the attendees ate lunch at the conference. The number of attendees at lunch was consistent for both days.
  • Less than 100 cans of soda were taken during the afternoon break of the first day; 50 cans of soda were taken during the afternoon break of the second day.


  • Consider a winnowing process for pre-conferences to limit them in advance of registration to the number of rooms that you have. Could either do advance voting like with talks, or say that you have x number of rooms and take the top x pre-conferences, etc. We set a 5-person registration minimum for A/V support this year, and found that all the pre-conferences met that limit (all 19 of them!) so it was not particularly useful. (Adam Constabaris [first dot last, lowercased at gmail] from the 2014 committee has a working database schema and a vague idea about incorporating voting on preconferences into the Diebold-o-Tron)
  • Ask ahead of time to find out if pre-conf organizers are planning to open their pre-confs to non-conference attendees.
  • Some preconferences work a lot better with special seating arrangements, enrollment caps, etc. Some support for allowing preconf presenters to request/implement such arrangements would be worth considering.
  • Pre-conference organizers will likely want to know before registration opens whether or not their pre-conference is actually going to happen (relevant if there are two many proposed for the space to support).
  • Communicate early and often with organizers and have a plan for getting a solid schedule as early as possible (this can help some organizers provide the needed justification to their institutions for travel support). Consider this in light of your winnowing process.
  • (Also applies to the A/V section) find out as much as possible about the rooms at the venue, including the layout and suitability to different session styles, and wifi, power availability, etc. up front.


  • When talking to sales folks, get the REAL numbers on how many attendees will fit in a space (this means WITH A/V included, which could be 15% less or more than advertised capacities).
  • Provide A/V info to speakers in advance (availability of computer, network availability, any additional software installs needed, etc.).


  • Require in the contract that hotel or conference facility have a minimum of one (1) wireless access point per 75 attendees.
  • Require in the contract that hotel or conference facility plan to support 2 wireless connections per attendee
  • Require in the contract that hotel or conference facility have a minimum of 100 Mb per second bandwidth. Encourage hotel or conference facility to increase capacity to 1 Gb per second during conference. (Expect to pay more for this.)

Organizing Volunteers

  • It's helpful to have a local representative on all volunteer committees to help grease the wheels.
  • A Google Calendar worked well this year in establishing all deadlines across all committees.
  • A regularly occurring meeting of some planning group helps keep things moving.
  • See and timelines for 2014 volunteer committees.


  • Pay attention to the IPs you are assigned, make sure they are not PRIVATE (eg. 10,172.4-31,192.168)
  • Start the process to get the freenode limit raised a month before to plan for any kinks!
  • Announce channel logging a month or more ahead of time
  • One benefit of not have great wireless was that people couldn't be distracted by IRC and were much more focused on the talks. Perhaps we need to re-consider the value of the IRC during the conference and encourage Twitter use instead.


  • Ask folks to follow a file naming convention for any files they send. Using their full name in the filename.
  • Make a note about how the committee ought to be addressed. Someone had a question about this and didn’t want to lose out because they weren’t formal enough. We can specify who the letter ought to be addressed to even if the packet is being sent to one person on the committee.
  • If we have many scholarships, consider opening up the categories to a consideration just of financial need or others. This might encourage other sponsors to give. (Institutional diversity for scholarships. Regional scholarships. Rural librarian.)
  • Ask that the statement of eligibility be in the first paragraph of the letter to make it easier to organize applications.
  • Keep a list of everyone who has won a scholarship in the past.
  • For the committee deliberations create a list of what factors to consider in selection. (e.g. How likely to be active in the community if awarded?) May allow some community supported guidelines to be put forward.
  • In the initial notification letter of selection, let the person know they will also be asked to write a short bio. These can then be used by sponsors to promote the scholarship sponsorship.
  • We got the suggestion to have badge ribbons for scholarship winners.
  • The lunch the first day was a success. Make sure someone is responsible for checking the day of that tables will be reserved for this purpose.
  • Promote the sponsors and the scholarship winners more via social media during the conference.
  • Automatically invite keynote speakers to the scholarship lunch.


  • It's useful to ask nominees about their availability and willingness to attend before voting so that the community is only voting on real candidates (as opposed to wishful thinking).


  • Quiet room? Traditionally we've used the lobby as a de facto quiet room for folks wanting to take a break from the conference, but if there's an actual room that we can dedicate for taking a quiet break from the full blast of the fire hose, that would be great! More information at [1].
  • Lanyards for whether it is OK to take photographs
  • Add chairs to the front of the room so that lightning talk presenters can sit before they talk
    • This needs to be planned in advance. C4L2014 was at capacity for the room, so this was not possible.
  • Do not place a conference goer near the hospitality suite! Maybe make the hang out place a different area in the hotel or conference.
    • Another possibility could be to have the room next to the hospitality room be reserved for a "suite steward" or "host" volunteer - aka a person that can look after the room in terms of cleanliness, drink/food stock, etc.
  • Make the podium laptop desktop background a plain color with good contrast. After every group of presenters clean off the desktop to keep it quicker and easier for presenters to find their slides.
  • Put someone at the front of the room who is responsible for helping presenters with the presenter computer.
  • Podium Computer
    • Most people use Mac laptops, so if there is only one podium computer, it should be a Mac. (TMM disagrees)
    • Ideally, both a Mac and a Windows computer should be available. (TMM disagrees, see sub-bullet below)
      • Almost all of the presentations this year used standard formats (PPT, PDF, and HTML). The podium computer needs to be under the control of the A/V and Streaming Committees for their functions. Presenters should use a presentation standard.
    • Several presenters had trouble with not being able to see what was being presented -- the podium computer(s) should be mirrored by default.
      • No, the podium computer should be setup as required for streaming and A/V setup. (TMM)
  • Consider pre-combining lightning talks into a single slide deck to keep the flow going.
    • This is difficult when lightning talk presenters want to do a live demo (TMM)
  • Consider live closed captioning software for talks and streaming
    • Another option is to have a stenographer or a live transcriber. @brainwane has had experience with a stenographer for one of her talks and it looked like that she was very pleased with the results...
  • Twitter feed of #c4lYY on screens when no presenter is up (TMM edited IRC to Twitter because Twitter feed is safer, more professional, and more compliant to code of conduct)
    • Twitter is no more CoC compliant than other online venues, including IRC. Each feed has its own risks in being viewed on the big screen (IRC in jokes vs Twitter hijacking of hashtags). (yo_bj)
  • Consider switches at the tables
    • what kind of switches?
  • Add a Code4Lib logo to the podium
  • Have someone whose job it is to collect questions during a presentation and that can then ask them. Allowing for anonymous questions may lead to more folks asking.