CLIR is looking forward to welcoming you to our 2022 events in just a few months. As you may already be aware, we are planning for in-person events this year in Baltimore, MD, which include the DLF Forum, Learn@DLF, NDSA’s Digital Preservation, and the Digitizing Hidden Collections (DHC) Symposium.
We’ve gotten a number of inquiries from you over the last few weeks, and we thought that it might be helpful to provide you with a bit of background on why we’ve made the choice to meet in-person.
First, we want to be clear that we take your health and safety seriously.
We intend to provide you with policies to which we can stay true, which is to say, we don’t want to make promises we can’t keep. We regularly monitor what other conferences are doing to keep people safe and what they are and aren’t getting right. The pandemic landscape continues to rapidly change with fluctuating infection rates and new variants, but it’s important to us that our events are as safe of an environment for you as they can be. We have updated our health protocols to give you a better sense of what we are thinking for our events; you can read our latest update here.
Why have we decided to host in-person events for 2022?
We’ve heard from so many of you that you miss each other. We know that our communities are special, and there are friendships, ideas, and partnerships that come from in-person meetings that often don’t or can’t happen in online spaces. After our virtual events in 2020 and 2021, we heard that you missed the informal, spontaneous conversations in hallways and at meals that can really only happen in person. For some of us, the energy we get from meeting in person reminds us why we do this work and helps us find partners and dream up ideas to do it better.
In the last few months CLIR has held a number of smaller events, including the CLIR-Mellon Fellows Reunion Symposium, the IIIF Annual Conference and Showcase, and the Leading Change Institute, where we were able to test out some of our health protocols on a smaller scale. At these events, we were reminded just how much it strengthens communities to meet in person.
There are also practical and financial reasons for this decision, which we are sharing for full transparency.
This part of the explanation goes back several years. We signed our original contract with the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel in October 2018 for a November 2020 event. Hotel contracts for events like ours are complex and comprehensive, and as such they require booking several years in advance and a commitment to the event hotel on a variety of levels. These commitments include guaranteeing a certain number of rooms in the hotel will be booked by our attendees; spending a minimum amount of money on catering; and ordering AV (mics, projectors, screens, etc.) through the hotel. If we don’t hit the contract minimums, CLIR pays the difference.
With the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that we would not be able to safely gather in person in 2020 and 2021. In renegotiating our 2020 contract for a 2022 event, the Baltimore hotel agreed to keep our room block rates the same and allowed us to reduce the number of rooms we were required to fill and the catering minimum. Determining these numbers is a tricky balance; if we go too low with the numbers and our block sells out too quickly, we could end up making the conference more expensive for our attendees who can’t get space in the block and have to pay the regular room rates. If our estimates are too high, CLIR is on the line for the minimum. Getting the numbers right in a completely unprecedented and unpredictable situation like the COVID-19 pandemic is extremely challenging, if not nearly impossible.
This brings us to our current situation, which is a balance between keeping attendees safe, providing high-quality events for a community eager to reconvene in person, and making smart financial decisions so CLIR can continue to provide the great events and programs our communities know and love. We are hopeful we’re striking the right balance with our decisions, but like many of you, we are navigating an in-person pandemic conference for the first time, too.
Why not offer a hybrid event?
We too have seen that many conferences have offered a hybrid or virtual option for attendees and presenters for their events. However, it’s our experience that hybrid meetings at the scale of our conferences have a high likelihood of being frustrating, inaccessible experiences for all involved, are extremely expensive, and are a serious drain on organizers. We hold ourselves to providing high-quality, inclusive experiences for our attendees, and because we cannot guarantee such an experience in a hybrid format with unpredictable hotel technology, limited staffing, and a tight budget, we have decided not to offer it.
We’ve been discussing format options for our events after our 2023 conferences, when our last contract is completed and we’ll be more free to adjust formats to suit a post-pandemic event landscape.
How can you participate if you don’t want to come to Baltimore?
Though we won’t be recording or providing virtual options for our regular sessions for this year’s events, we’ll be livestreaming and/or recording our plenaries (varies by conference). Those streams will be available openly to the public during the events, and the recordings will be shared in the weeks following the conferences, free of charge.
We are also working with presenters who aren’t able to attend this year’s events in person to plan a virtual event of some kind to share their content with our communities. We’re not quite sure yet what form this will take, but we are committed to sharing with the community the work from those presenters who can’t be with us in person. The details for this programming will be shared later this year.
CLIR continues to be a staff of people who genuinely care about the DLF, NDSA, and DHC communities and beyond. We can’t overstate how important it is to us to keep you safe and to provide the best, most inclusive, most accessible programming we are able. We, too, are figuring this out as we go along, and we appreciate your patience with us as we navigate this truly complex landscape.
If you have thoughts you’d like to share with us, or examples of conferences you’ve seen who are getting it right, our inbox is always open – reach us at email@example.com.
– Aliya and Team DLF