How many ACRL members share this sentiment? I raise this question because of a comment submitted to a previous post about the ACRL virtual conference, asking if any thought has been given to making the ACRL Virtual Conference a free event. And that’s a good point to raise. After all, there are a fair number of free web conferencing opportunities being promoted throughout the year. Why does ACRL charge a fee to attend the conference? Is this just another way that ALA tries to vacuum money out of its members’ wallets (or conference budget line)? Honestly, I have no intimate knowledge about the economics of the ACRL conference, so I don’t have a good answer to the question.
I do know that putting on a virtual conference has costs attached. The organization that provides the conferencing infrastructure has expenses, and ACRL can’t expect to use their (in this case, The Learning Times Network) resources for free during a two-day conference. We couldn’t expect to use the New Orleans Convention Center for free, could we? I’m sure there were other costs as well. Perhaps ACRL could do more to find sponsors who would support the cost of the virtual conference, allowing them to lower the registration fee. On the other hand, I think there may be some positive outcomes because ACRL does charge a fee for their Virtual Conference. Consider the following:
What if ACRL did make the virtual conference free? Would you register? I think more members certainly would. And would they show up? When any program or event is free those who registered have less of a commitment to attend, and I do believe that virtual conferences require a certain commitment factor. By commitment I mean making sure you have taken the time to test your PC before the conference to make sure it works and you are ready to log in the day of the first program. I mean investing in a microphone so you can participate more fully. I mean clearing your calendar so you’ll be free all day to log in to conference sessions. If the attitude’s going to be “maybe I’ll give this a try the day of the conference” it’s not going to work well for you, the presenter or other attendees. To my way of thinking, having a registration fee in place helps to ensure those who attend are seriously interested and have made a commitment. That’s going to make it a better conference experience all participants.
Perhaps ACRL could make some of the poster sessions and a selected presentation archive or two available for free after the conference. Not only would this be a great gesture for the members who didn’t attend, for whatever reason, but it might encourage them to do so in the future after getting a taste of virtual conferencing. I’m sure there are going to be many free virtual webcast events throughout the year, such as those offered by the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community, OPAL, Web Junction, SirsiDynix, and others. If you try them and find virtual conferencing is a form of professional development that appeals to you, give some thought to registering for a fee-based, more intensive experience like ACRL’s virtual conference. I think you would find it to be a great value for money considering how much you can learn right at your desktop. And speaking of great value, there are several presentations and poster sessions that I can choose from to use for staff development (ACRL is fine if you use your conference registration to log in and share a session with others – up to a year after the conference – but it’s not kosher to pass your conference login account to others to use as they wish). As an administrator how much might you spend sending staff to F2F conferences and workshops to get the same level of training. From that perspective the registration fee is an even better value.