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A follow-up to the fading conferences post...

I received over 20 interesting comments explaining why librarians don't attend their state conferences in response to my post "Library Conferences: Fading Away" from last week. (My apologies for not sending individual responses back.)

Here are some of the major reasons:

  • Not allowed to attend by administration
  • Not a member of a state library association
  • Too few offerings of relevance (multi-type library conferences make school librarians feel unwelcome)
  • Personal expense too great when schools won't/can't pay (5)
  • Librarians serving multiple buildings would be out of a building too long
  • Commitments in buildings/district - emergencies
  • Participating in more webinars, online conferences, blog reading - PLNs satisfy needs
  • New to building
  • Conferences are "old fashioned" -  20th century
  • Multiple conferences means being selective, and the local library conference is not always the best fit

Yet scattered among the reasons for non-attendance were some heart-felt endorsements of this long-standing means of providing training, communications, collegiality and inspiration.

Are traditional state library conferences going the way of the eight-track tape? I'd suggest that school library associations ask themselves some important questions about their conferences...

  • Should school library organizations partner on conferences with other groups like reading, technology or public library organizations?  (Technology organizations have been partnering with administrate organizations to their mutual benefit.) See Cathy Jo Nelson's comments about why inter-state conferencing is difficult. One thing I've always liked about ISTE is that "techies" mingle with teachers, administrators, librarians, - all kinds of educators. It's a richer stew of ideas than single field conferences.
  • Is the conference content relevant, pertinent, the "right" topic? Literature, technology, information literacy - each appeal to some members. Perhaps the question should be if there is a good program balance.
  • Do we control the cost as much as possible? Do we need desserts at every meal? Will one paid keynoter do instead of two? Are there less expensive venues for conferences? With so many attendees paying their own way, how can planners reduce expenses? On a related note, one can have very successful small conferences if one plans with that in mind. Groups of 80-120 have wonderful experiences.
  • Are we giving members tools for obtaining funding to attend?* Every district has SOME staff development money. The trick is knowing how to ask for it.
  • Are we asking the membership about their needs and planning conferences around those needs? Conference evaluation sessions are more important than ever, but we should also be asking those folks who don't attend about how we can help them as well.
  • Do we need hybrid conferences, much like we are now offering hybrid classrooms, combining F2F sessions with online opportunities? Our national technology and library associations are pioneering these efforts. Can state associations provide online involvement for those who can't physically be there?
  • Are associations raising revenues by other means? My sense is that state associations can't count on the cash cow of conferences as much as they once did. So, either associations cut costs - buying less lobbying, sending few print publications, relying more on volunteers and less on paid positions, etc. - or raise dues, charge for online learning experiences, or sell publications. Or merge with other small groups.

Count me the camp of those who love F2F conferences**. I hope they are around for a long. long time. But like the profession itself, they will need to change - or die.

* Johnson's Secret Strategy for Obtaining Conference Funding: Don't ask to go to "a conference" - ask to go to specific conference sessions that relate to your school's goals. Get the conference program ahead of time. Oh, and then report back about the conference after attending. Is your organization producing a list of conference sessions well before the event is held?

** Full disclosure - I supplement my income by speaking at conferences so I am not 100% objective in this regard. But I DO love going to conferences even when I am not speaking or being remunerated!

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Reader Comments (7)

Great reflections on the question of how state conferences meet members' needs! Just as the profession is evolving, our methods for learning and making professional connections have to change too. Blended learning may be one solution - connecting f2f in smaller groups on a local or regional basis, and then using technology to make connections with the larger community. This is definitely do-able at the state level! Hybrid conferences also seem like an interesting possibility . . . the cross pollination of ideas and interests is probably a very good thing and, along with capturing a wider audience, it's an intriguing opportunity for vendors. Finally, I love your observation about paying attention to the people who can't (or don't) come to conference. We need to understand their needs and preferred learning options, and then help build professional development solutions for all those that are ready, willing, and able. It's not OK to leave people out or leave them behind . . . we're all in this together!

November 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKelly Brannock

I manage to go to conferences and be funded by my administration by being accepted to speak/ present/ help organise them. I ask permission first to see if I could be supported if I was accepted at a particular conference, I then submit my conference paper, usually am accepted and then am allowed to go. I am heading to Nice this week, and will be going to Turkey in May, the school gets recognition as I am representing them, and I am seen by admin to be a leader in my field as I am accepted to present what I am doing. Kudos both ways.

I think one of the problems is that people do not see the conferences as meeting their needs - however, many people are not willing to step up and tell us what they have been doing in a practical hands on way. They do not believe what they are doing is anything special, but the best parts of conferences are learning how to do things in a different way, even if it means how you got your students self checking in and out and reshelving the books properly - may be boring to you - but to someone else it just may save their sanity and give them the idea to change their systems in some small way to give them less admin time and more time with the students.

The people who do step up are sometimes doing things that are way way ahead of the pack - this will always lead to frustration, and envy and maybe a feeling of why bother ... so I think the answer is that more people need to be willing to share what they are doing - it may not be new to you - but will be to someone else.

I also think that Librarians need to present at non specific librarian events - to tell all what you do matters to others, such as administrators and other teachers.

I love f2f conferences as well -it is just so much fun to bounce ideas off people when you have made time to do that and nothing else is intruding.
Off my soapbox now....

November 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDianne McKenzie

Wow thanks for a link to my little rant. I should have linked back to your original post too, as your post about fading conferences coupled with the listserv discussion were the true inspiration behind my thought processes that came out in my blog. Thanks for constantly providing push back to stretch my thinking. That is such a GREAT way to make me rethink my stance on issues. This thread was awesome by the way. Glad I subscribe to the feed AND the comments.

November 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Nelson

Thanks for synthesizing all of the responses you got into this post. It is good to see that so many librarians still value F2F conferences and all that they offer. Should conferences continue? Absolutely, but just like libraries, they must adapt in order to survive. I appreciate your starting this conversation and keeping it going.

November 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLen Bryan

Hi Kelly,

Having been state conference chair myself a few times here in MN, I recognize how difficult it is to change "the way we've always done conferences"! But if attendance continues to fall, that it's not just an economic blip (given the different needs/expectations of younger librarians, it may not be), we will have to do things differently. I do hope we can keep the best of what makes our conferences valuable to our members.

Thanks for the comment,


Hi Diane,

Your suggestion that one get to conferences by presenting at conferences is great advice! Thanks for sharing it. Many of us find that the real experts are ones who put philosophy into practice!


Hi Cathy Jo,

I enjoyed your post and it deserves wide readership!



Here, here!


November 15, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I haven't been to WEMTA in several years. I feel that I can find out more actively reading blogs.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Mielke

Hi Nathan,

Different learning styles/preferences, I suspect. Online to me still seems a pale substitute for F2F. A generational thing, perhaps.


November 15, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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