The Southern Chapter of MLA (SCMLA) held its 70th annual meeting in virtual format from November 16–20, 2020. Our meeting was originally scheduled to be held live in Montgomery, AL, in October 2020, but because of COVID-19 concerns, the Program Committee decided to change to an online conference, which by all accounts was very successful. The theme of the conference was “Crossroads of Libraries and Southern Culture.” In addition, to encourage the widest participation possible, we decided to make everything about the conference free: there was no registration fee for members or nonmembers, and there was no charge for the continuing education (CE) courses either.
When it became apparent we would have a virtual meeting or no meeting, the Program Committee shifted gears and did an incredible job developing a meeting from scratch, with little precedent. Our planning sessions were fun, synergetic, and so productive: we would brainstorm and make suggestions and finally come to a consensus. We decided to offer “virtually” most of the same events and activities that would have taken place at our onsite meeting in Montgomery, but we decided to spread the conference over an entire week with a decompressed schedule, so that people who could not get release time from work would still be able to participate as they were able.
The conference began on Monday with three CE classes taught by experts on REDCap, grey literature searching, and “real world” teaching. Tuesday morning started early with the annual business meeting hosted by 2019 SCMLA Chair Randall Watts, AHIP, University of Tennessee Health Science Center–Memphis. Immediately thereafter, Tony Nguyen, AHIP, executive director, Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) Southeastern Atlantic (SEA) Region, presented the NNLM SEA update, followed by Lisa K. Traditi, AHIP, MLA president, who presented the MLA update. Throughout the week, there were virtual paper and poster sessions, the new member/first-time attendee reception, and opportunities for vendor presentations. Social events included virtual karaoke, a virtual book club, and a virtual “craft & chat.”
On Thursday, keynote speaker Rick Anderson, university librarian for Brigham Young University, spoke on “Scholarly Communication in a Radically Different Information Environment: What’s Changed, What’s Changing, and What Can We Anticipate?” On Friday, the Hospital Libraries Symposium was open to all attendees and featured Teresa L. Knott, AHIP, FMLA, interim dean of libraries and university librarian, Virginia Commonwealth University–Richmond, who led a discussion about a chapter from the book Transforming Medical Library Staff for the Twenty-First Century. Afterward, the SCMLA Executive Board convened to conduct business and began planning the 2021 annual meeting, which before COVID-19 was scheduled to be a joint meeting with the South Central Chapter (SCC)/MLA in New Orleans in September 16–21, 2021.
I thank so many who played a role in making the meeting a success (in addition to those mentioned above). First, a major shout-out goes to McGraw-Hill, which provided the Zoom infrastructure and tech support for the entire week, all for free! Vendors and entities providing financial support were Wolters Kluwer, BMJ, NNLM, and MLA. In addition, I am most grateful for the 2020 Local Arrangements Committee (LAC) and for their work in developing the 2020 annual meeting logo and theme and for negotiating the contract with the conference hotel when we assumed we would be having an onsite meeting. Although we were not able to meet in person this year, the LAC’s work was not in vain because the conference hotel in Montgomery agreed to honor the contract for our 2022 annual meeting.
Evaluation responses to the meeting were positive, with most respondents of the opinion that the program content was interesting and thought-provoking. On a personal level, the fact that we were interacting virtually did not compromise the social connectivity we experienced. I have heard it said many times that so many friendships have been formed through our annual meetings, and I found this to be true even in the face of COVID-19.
Finally, more information on the 2020 SCMLA meeting—including archived papers, posters, and presentations—can be found on the SC/MLA website.