It’s Tuesday afternoon and I am waiting to board my plane from Boston to DC, going from one huge conference (ALA Midwinter) to another (AACU). Conferences are funny things. I look forward to them a great deal. I love traveling in and of itself but traveling with learning and improving my understanding of issues in my field is especially enjoyable and rewarding. Oh, and catching up with friends while I’m at it is pretty awesome.
This trip, though, was different than other trips to Midwinter. I don’t know about others, but there was something that hung over the conference. Perhaps it was the location. Boston is a pretty great town but you woulnd’t really know it if you stayed in the vicinity of the conference. I would have greatly preferred being at the Hynes Convention Center than in the no-man’s land of the BCEC. Even on those really busy days when I had four meetings back to back, it would be nice to feel the vibrancy of the city like you do at the Hynes.
Perhaps it was the lack of vibrancy in the Exhibits Hall. I took two hours one afternoon and strolled the exhibits. And while there are some cool things to see, what you really could see is smaller booths, more nervous looking reps from vendors, and less fat. Less celebration. And that just felt….a bit depressing.
Perhaps it’s just everyone’s focus on the economy. One of the discussion groups I attended dealt with how to increase morale among librarians and staff during these trying and scary times. (More on that in a later blog post.) I don’t work at a public institution but that doesn’t mean that I can’t sympathize and feel great concern with their discussions of furloughs, extreme cutbacks, and layoffs. Which is why I find it unacceptable that our profession, which is so interested and dependent on serving users through technology, is not offering more in terms of virtual participation. Because let’s face it: conferences are bloody expensive! And a good deal of what we do could be done virtually. I am not suggesting email, because god knows I don’t want to have to write more emails. But Skype is a pretty phenomenal free service. And sitting down to do committee work really could be done via Skype with a few emails thrown in. Believe me, I love coming to conference. And I am a firm believer in the value of face to face interaction. But I really wonder what the thinking is behind demanding attendance at conferences in order to participate in our profession. To me, it reeks of the very thing that eats at us—being viewed as outdated. This really struck me during the Ebsco luncheon. The presenter kept pointing out what they have that “Google doesn’t have.” “Hmm,” I thought (and whispered to Andy, “that’s an interesting presentation style.” Just because Google doesn’t do it, does that make it better? More usable? Valuable? Relevant? Is that supposed to be a rallying cry to librarians?
It’s not to me. And neither is saying that face to face is inherently the better, more productive way to get work done. It’s about determining what is important to us as librarians and professionals, what is important to our users, and what is important to our vision for libraries. That’s what I want to hear about at conference: vision, innovation, collaboration, optimism, creativity. That’s what inspires me. That’s what gets me back into the saddle, ready to rock it out at my library. So, perhaps this is my plea to ALA: let’s get creative about how we can make conference more essential, interesting, valuable, relevant. I have some ideas and I bet you do too. Share em! Here, in your own blogs, on the Twitter, within your libraries, among yourselves. But share them. Brainstorm. I find most people at ALA are interested in hearing suggestions. So let’s come up with some.