ETS in ATL (part 3) – Services for Systems and Discovery’s “Unconference on the First Year Experience and Technologies”

The Emerging Technology Section’s Services for Systems and Discovery (SSD) ventured into uncharted (for us) territory during the 2017 Midwinter Conference in Atlanta, GA. The committee organized a lively Unconference on the First Year Experience and Technologies with audience participants from a variety of academic intuitions (and one school media center librarian). The idea was to flip the traditional panel-lead discussion on its head and have the audience actually set the agenda for the session and be the presenters. We thought it would be important to acknowledge and celebrate the fact that each participant is an expert in his or field and that the best conference events are those in which we all learn from each other.


The audience voted on the following topics for discussion: tutorials, mobile technology, and tours and orientations. We then split everyone into groups and asked each group to think about the opportunities, challenges, innovations, and resources related to each of the topics. The groups rotated 3 times, allowing everyone to have the opportunity to weigh in on the selected agenda items.


As the chair of SSD and organizer of this event, this seemed like a very exciting format and I am so glad that we tried it because I can honestly say I learned more in this discussion than in any other I’ve organized in the past. In each of the groups, we shared many of the challenges we all have across our institutions, but we also bonded over the many innovative things each one of us is able to do, despite the various stresses we are under. Above all, it was nice to have the opportunity and space to talk about the first year experience and what it means to each of us.


I also learned more about technology than I expected to, when I was organizing the event. We argued whether QR codes should still be a thing (jury is open on that, but it is good for us librarians to question these things and not make too many assumptions about first year students and tech). We also admitted that, yes, free tutorial tools are great–but can we please just start investing more into our learning objects? A nice mic can go a long way. yes, Facebook is STILL popular, but students do not want their Facebook presence to be bombarded with library stuff (asking them to take selfies, etc.). These are some other tools I learned about and couldn’t wait to share back home:

While putting together the Unconference was admittedly scary, due to the lack of structure, which is necessary for the event, at the end I was very glad we did it and couldn’t wait to try it again. If there are any topics you’d like to suggest for a future SSD Unconference, please email me (

Lily Todorinova

Chair, ETS Services and Systems for Discovery Committee

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