Daily Archives: November 7, 2010

Not Halfway But It Could Be A Start

Are you attending ALA Midwinter – assuming you still think there should even be a Midwinter conference? How about ACRL 2011 in Philadelphia? A west coast colleague recently asked me for some advice on getting to the Convention Center from the airport. It made me realize ACRL 2011 is not that far off if the west coasters are already planning their trip east – as I recently did for my trip to San Diego.

As I was making my Midwinter conference plans I came across John Berry’s editorial in the October 1, 2010 issue of Library Journal titled “Half Way to ALA”. Basically the column is about the inequity in our profession (I’m sure it’s common in other professions too) whereby administrators and senior librarians are much more likely to be subsidized for conference travel than their newer and possibly younger colleagues. Berry admits this is nothing new, and recalls that when he was coming up in the sixties a friend of his suggested the “half way” solution. What was it? To help their newer-to-the-profession colleagues to attend the national conferences, the friend thought administrators should subsidize half of their expenses. I’m guessing that one never got past the idea stage. Andy Woodworth is also thinking about the “Half Way” idea over at his blog, and he wonders if there are other ways to sponsor the newer-to-the-profession librarians so they can attend the big conferences.

Woodworth and those who commented on his post provide the new-to-the-profession librarian’s perspective on Berry’s opinion piece. Let me offer a reaction from a not-so-new-to-the-profession librarian. I have a suggestion that might help this situation, though it’s not quite as “out there” as half-way – maybe it’s more like a tenth of the way – but we need to start taking action somewhere – not just talk about the problem. If enough of us senior folks helped out even to a small extent it could provide subsidies to far more academic librarians to at least attend ACRL 2011. I can’t say enough about how important that is, not only for their professional development, but simply for the fact that it adds a vibrancy and dynamic dimension to our conferences, and that makes it a far better experience for everyone. At least that was the way I felt after Seattle in 2009.

And I can’t make the point strongly enough that we must avoid turning this into some sort of generational conflict issue. It isn’t about newer-to-the-profession colleagues being at the conference instead of us senior folks because we won’t get as much out of it as our newer colleagues would. That’s nonsense.This is about having good representation from across our entire professional demographic. That’s what will make the conferences a better experience – not another US versus THEM debate.

Berry’s “half-way” idea should really get us senior academic librarians and admin types thinking about this issue and what we can do to improve our conferences by making sure our newer colleagues are well represented and getting the opportunity for professional development. If we are committed to the future and sustainability of our libraries and our profession don’t we have an obligation to make sure the next generation is well prepared to take this enterprise into that future? I think Berry ignores a solution we already have in place – at least for ACRL. The solution is becoming a Friend of ACRL, and donating money to the organization and scholarship funds. According to the Friends page, there were 15 scholarships for the 2009 ACRL Conference valued at about $9,000. For an organization of this size with the average member age at approximately 48 – that’s abysmal. I believe ACRL currently has about 13,000 members. Let’s assume just 1,000 of those are senior librarians making decent salaries – and getting a subsidy to the conference (yes, I fall into that category). If each one gave just $100 a year – that’s $100,000 for scholarships so instead of just 15 we could subsidize another 75 newer academic librarians. Now we’re talking some real representation at the next generation at an ACRL conference.

I just renewed my ALA membership. I once again made a contribution to maintain my Friend of ACRL status, and gave extra for the scholarship fund. I’m encouraging you to do the same the next time you renew your ALA membership. I know there are lots of charities and causes that need our help, and you only have so much to give. But give some thought to Berry’s editorial. I think you’ll agree we senior librarians need to do our part to bulk up the scholarship fund to an amount that reflects how we really feel about this profession – and our commitment to help our newer colleagues get to the conferences.

I know this isn’t quite what Berry was hoping for – it’s sure not half-way, but it’s a start. I sure hope this brightens up his day.