February 16, 2018

My Ideal Professional Conference | Not Dead Yet

I seldom go to far distant conferences any longer, mainly because travel has become so labor-intensive and annoying (when you have to be in a particular place at a particular time, in contrast to the Blue Highways kinds of trips I enjoy) and because they seldom turn out to justify my putting up with the considerable annoyance of getting to and from them. That’s why I’m so jazzed at the prospect of “attending” this year’s American Library Association (ALA) Virtual Conference on Mapping Transformation on July 24 and 25, an intriguing meeting that I can attend from the comfort of my home library.

But as psyched as I am at the prospect of this virtual mini-conference, I realize it makes me want more; that is, now I find myself wanting the entire ALA Annual and Midwinter conferences, as well as others like the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and the Association of Research Libraries Assessment Conferences, made virtual (bear with me, it’s all technologically possible, which means it’s not really so blue sky as it might have been a scant few years ago).

Think about it—how cool would it be if:

  1. You didn’t have to travel anywhere, except virtually, to attend a great, big national conference?
  2. You could visit all the exhibit booths at your leisure, chat online with vendors at the booths, and not go virtually by vendors you want to avoid?
  3.  It cost… nothing?

What’s that you say? There is an international library conference being done this way? It’s the Library 2.013 Worldwide Virtual Conference, October 18 and 19? Oh yeah….

Given that librarianship is not the highest paid profession in the world, it has always puzzled me that we hold two conferences yearly that folks need to attend physically if they want to be active in the main professional association (in contrast to, say, a number of higher-paying professions that have just one annual professional meeting). How much better sense it makes to have virtual conferences, with much lower overhead and the ability to serve many without having to pay for meeting rooms and travel.

What’s that you say? You’d miss the chance of meeting new and interesting people in a virtual conference? Seems like Face Time and technologies like it could answer that issue. And what? You’d miss traveling to interesting new places and being able to write it off for professional development? You’ve got me there. But given that very few among us have robust travel funding, it seems like both individual librarians and libraries where budgets are being stretched way too thin would benefit enormously from the virtual approach. I’ve been a believer in virtual committee meetings for years, too (who out there would miss lengthy, in person committee meetings? I’d really like to know).

Admittedly, the Library 2.013 Worldwide Virtual Conference doesn’t offer virtual exhibits. But then again, the price is right: it’s free. Virtual conferences offer us such a great opportunity to meet globally, and act both locally and globally—I hope to see more of them in the very near future.

What do you think? I’d love to hear others’ thoughts about this.

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Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980s, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early '90s (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at claguard@fas.harvard.edu, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.

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  1. PLA is for me – it’s big enough, and often held in cities I haven’t been to (so I come a day early). Plus, there is just something about scoring print galleys . . . yes, I know, I can get them electronically but my eyes get tired. Plus, I’ve met some very fun people there!

    Otherwise, more focused conferences could be very helpful virtually.

    • Hi Sarah,
      Yeah, your point about meeting fun people at conferences is a good one, although I have to say that I’ve met a lot of great, interesting, fun people through my work in writing for the library literature. It seems like there should be a way to have the meet and greets for a virtual conference… personal holographic projection, anyone?
      Thanks for writing, and best wishes,