‘We’re prioritising the in-person event to the highest degree’

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Leah Hinds, executive director, Charleston Hub, gives us the details of the new and improved conference taking place in November, including session and speaker information, as well as insights into what’s new this year.

Tell us a little about your background and qualifications…

Well, this made me chuckle a little bit, because I don’t have a background or formal qualifications that would generally lead to my current career. I attended the College of Charleston for a BSc in Biology. I took a year off after graduation with plans to enrol on the Physician Assistant programme at the Medical University of South Carolina. I was working at the College of Charleston in the Graduate School Admissions Office at the time, and as often happens, plans changed. During my time working at the college, a friend introduced me to Katina Strauch, the founder and convener of the Charleston Conference. I started working part-time to help out at the conference and do some behind-the-scenes work – my first job was compiling attendee evaluation results. I left my job at the College of Charleston to move closer to family in 2007, about 4 hours away from Charleston, and I remember writing a letter of resignation to Katina. She called me not 5 minutes after I sent the email and said that just because I was moving didn’t mean I had to quit, I could work remotely. She jokingly said I couldn’t get away that easily. My job grew over time – I was assistant director of the conference for many years, then I was named executive director of the conference in 2017, and executive director of the newly formed Charleston Hub in 2020. Katina has been a wonderful mentor and I’ve learned so much from working with her over the years.

You’ve been involved with the wonderful Charleston Conference for 18 years now – could you give us a potted history of the event, and how it’s developed over the years?

The Charleston Conference was founded by Katina Strauch, who was a librarian at the College of Charleston at the time. The first conference was held in 1980, and it accompanied the College of Charleston’s Antiquarian Book Fair. There were 20 people there. It was hard getting attendees since both the college and Katina were unknown. ‘I remember getting excited when we got someone who called to register but he was from Charleston West Virginia and had to cancel,’ remembers Katina with a laugh.

The conference has earned a good reputation over the years as a collegial gathering where librarians, publishers and vendors can discuss the same issues in a non-threatening, friendly and highly informal environment. It was the first of its kind to talk to grassroots acquisitions librarians about acquisitions issues, pricing structures and international publishing. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s held in gorgeous, historic downtown Charleston, SC, each year! 

The event has grown over the years from being held in a classroom at the college, to the Lightsey Conference Center on campus, to the Francis Marion Hotel in the early 2000s. Also, 2005 was the first year it was held in more than one venue, and now we’re in three venues: the Francis Marion Hotel, the Courtyard by Marriott Historic Charleston and the Charleston Gaillard Center. The Gaillard Center was a significant step forward for the event when we moved into the newly renovated Charleston Gaillard Center in 2015. Their beautiful performance hall seats 1,800 people where we were previously split into a ballroom in the Francis Marion that sat around 350 people with overflow seating in two additional ballrooms. The new facility also allowed us to have all of our vendors for the popular Charleston Vendor Showcase in one large area instead of crammed into the nooks and crannies and hallways in the Francis Marion. Our attendees and vendors love the larger space. Attendance has expanded from that initial group or 20 people to almost 3,000 in 2021. 

What are your hopes (and fears?) for the future of libraries over the coming decade?

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I surely don’t see libraries going away! Their functions have changed over the years from a physical repository to a digital one, and from providing print materials to providing access and services. I like how Lisa Hinchliffe (University of Illinois Urbana Champaign) puts it when she says the library isn’t so much an ecosystem, or living organism, as it is a built environment; more like a cityscape, crafted and shaped by policies, politics and finances, than a marsh or field of flowers that grow on their own. These built environments will continue to shape themselves to the needs of their users in the future as they have evolved in the past. 

What can we expect at this year’s Charleston Conference?

We’re so excited for this year’s conference, and, based on experience and feedback from the 2021 event, we’re trying something new with the schedule, as you may have heard by now. We’re calling it a Parallel Event – one that optimises the in-person event during the first week of November for those who can join us in Charleston, then two weeks later from 14–18 November, focuses on those who prefer to join virtually.

Onsite in Charleston, we’re prioritising the in-person event to the highest degree possible, so attendees won’t have to worry about technical difficulties delaying or interfering with their experience. We have an amazing slate of top-notch presenters and topics on the schedule, along with many opportunities for networking at the Vendor Showcase, conference receptions and other fun social events. 

Our keynote and plenary sessions will be offered as a livestream to virtual registrants, and we’ll capture recordings of everything else offered during the event. Our confirmed plenary speakers include: 

  • Dr Buhle Mbambo-Thata, University Librarian, National University of Lesotho

  • Caroline Sutton, CEO, STM

  • Data-Driven DEI Panel: Gwen Evans (Elsevier), Beth Blanton (University of Virginia Libraries), Robyn Price (Imperial College London), and Lori Carlin (Delta Think)

  • Charleston Premiers, moderated by Darrell Gunter, CEO, Gunter Media Group

  • Long Arm of the Law panel, moderated by Ann Okerson, Senior Advisor, CRL; Gary Price, InfoDocket; and others (to be announced)

  • Closing summary by Derek Law, Professor Emeritus, University of Strathclyde

Then two weeks later, we’ll run the parallel virtual event. Monday and Tuesday, 14 and 15 November, will feature exclusive, virtual-only content with interactive Zoom Q&A and discussion sessions with speakers. Then, once we hit Wednesday, 16 November, the in-person conference schedule will run again, playing the sessions recorded in Charleston followed by a live Q&A session. So virtual attendees will have access to all the great content from the in-person week. And if you attended in-person but missed a session you wanted to attend due to a schedule conflict, you have a chance to attend online.

Since all the sessions will have been pre-recorded, we expect them to run smoothly without delays or glitches. We’re also planning more networking opportunities and social activities for the virtual attendees, which is something we weren’t able to do as much last year. 

Lastly, do you have any fascinating facts, hobbies or pastimes you’d like to tell us about?

My husband and I live on a small farm outside of Lexington, SC, about two hours from Charleston. We have horses, goats, mini pigs, chickens, rabbits and two farm dogs that help us keep everything in line. I love spending time with the animals, and this year I plan to add a pollinator garden and bird habitats using native plants. I’m new to gardening and have been reading up on how to get the planting beds started this fall to get ready for the spring. I’ve never had time for a garden before, but both of our kids are in college now so hopefully I’ll be able to keep the plants alive!