There’s a brief discussion about the viability and future of in-person conferences at Walt Crawford’s side project, also known as the Palinet Leadership Network. (Regarding the PLN, I love the way Walt pulls the juicy bits from various blogs and excerpts them so I don’t have to read so many of the boring things to keep up.) Walt thinks in-person conferences will be around for a while. Someone called Peter Murray doesn’t because of "budget crunches and and concern over environmental impacts" among other things. "Conference calls, webcasts, online learning environment, etc., may be where we should be focusing our efforts now with ways to bring the ‘why do we do them’ reasons to the forefront without all of the detriments of the traditional conference."
I couldn’t help but cringe at that sentence. The "detriments of the traditional conference"? Whatever could those be? Budget crunches come and go and the average librarian would probably reduce her "environmental impact" more by giving up chocolate for a few months than by giving up conferences.
Murray mentions conference calls and webcasts and online learning environments as if these would be any substitute for traditional conferences. This assumes that the purpose of conferences is to convey information. No, no, no, no, no. The purpose of conferences is to get librarians away from their tedious libraries and let them eat and drink at the library’s expense while engaging in crucial socializing. The "detriments of the traditional conference" are all of the meetings, discussion groups, and programs one has to attend in between the morning coffee and the afternoon cocktail. If all we have are conference calls or webcasts to look forward to, then there isn’t really much point to the proceedings anymore. How are we to tolerate too much interaction with other librarians if we aren’t compensated with good drinks and great dinners? Badly, that’s how.
I suppose there are those librarians who get so excited by the thought of discussing library issues ad nauseum with their excitable librarian friends that they’re often in danger of soiling their seats. Needless to say, if you’re reading this, you probably aren’t one of them. These librarians actually prefer to converse with people online instead of in person. They spend hours every day communicating enthusiastically about all sorts of boring topics like libraries, computer software, and the Annoyed Librarian. Let’s take it for granted these librarians have no life outside of their laptops. Does that mean the rest of us want to be assimilated into the Borg of Twopointopia? Absolutely not!
I mean, seriously. Webcasts? Online learning? Conference calls? Are these supposed to get us excited? Are we really supposed to think anybody learns anything from a webcast or an online class? Of course not. That’s about as likely as someone learning anything at a conference program. The difference is the conference program is merely the excuse to get together for some top notch socializing, whereas the webcast is supposed to be an end in itself. Yawn.
The Palinet Leadership Network presumably has something to do with library leadership. I hear such a thing exists somewhere, though I haven’t seen much evidence of it. My advice to library leaders is to send your poor librarians off to as many in-person conferences as you possibly can if you want to improve morale. Librarians need to get out of their cocoons, knock back a few drinks, gorge themselves on some tasty victuals, and look around to see that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of librarians just as pathetic and harried as they are.They’ll carry this recognition back to their jobs and then won’t feel so put upon when you try to crush their souls some more. They’ll think, "well, my soul is being crushed a little, but not as bad as that woman from Texas I met at the Annoyed Librarians Happy Hour!" Conferences are a small price to pay to keep the talent happy.