The Debate Over Conference Participation

There is a fascinating discussion going on across the biblioblogosphere (and on the ALA Council list) about Jenny Levine’s comments about ALA policy regarding compensation for presentation at conferences. While some are posing this as a “generational” issue, or as an unfortunate financial reality that we should all simply accept, there are a wide range of thoughtful (and not so thoughtful) comments posted on multiple blogs linked through Jenny’s posts.

Having been a conference presenter and organizer for ACRL and ALA (and AASL), I know the problems that come with ALA’s strict policy regarding compensation. Likewise, I know that many people have complained about the multi-layered costs of membership in our professional associations (with ALA dues forming the foundation onto which divisional dues are built) and the financial demands made of those wishing to participate at all owing to equally arcane rules about attending both Midwinter and Annual every year during which you serve on a committee (kudos to those sections exploring virtual meetings and virtual committee membership!). All are symptoms of a larger problem affecting our association(s).

We talk a lot about wanting to increase active participation and about recruiting the next generation of leaders for our libraries and our professional associations, but policies like these provide a real hurdle to people dealing with stagnant salaries and declining budgets for travel and professional development. I have been lucky to be able to participate in a number of ACRL programs and I have benefited greatly from that participation, but it came at a high price and I can see why others might balk at it.

I hope that ALA Council will take these concerns seriously and I hope that ACRL will remember them when related concerns come up at meetings of ACRL Leadership (as they have in almost every meeting I’ve attended over the past few years).

5 thoughts on “The Debate Over Conference Participation”

  1. I thought the whole thing was totally overblown – a tempest in a teapot. I think Walt Crawford did a fine job of explaining that the ALA rules on payments for conference presentations are pretty clear. This whole thing could be easily avoided by (a) make sure all the parties involved are totally clear on what the expectations are – when, where, how much, the cost, etc. – before it’s too late and (b) if you aren’t happy with the deal or are unable to comply then don’t get involved. Points A and B go for ALA and all other opportunities for presentation and publication. That said, this could also be managed like sensible adults. I had a similar situation at a state library conference where a panelist I invited was only coming to my session – and had no interest in attending the conference. A conversation with the conference planners enabled them to see the folly of charging this panelist with a registration fee. No harm, no foul. The panelist helped make our presentation a success. ALA conference planners should be able to figure this out, and have the flexibility to act on it.

  2. And, in reality, I know many people also follow the advice of simply coming to your panel, doing your part, and going on home. To me, it’s not that one cannot get around these strictures, but rather that the strictures do not take into account some of the regularly-occurring situations, e.g., full-time LIS faculty (who I believe should be as eligible for compensation as any other full-time faculty member), retired librarians, etc.

    Again, for me, it hasn’t been an issue (except when I’ve been trying to recruit people for programs – and thanks to everyone who agreed to contribute to my programs over the years for no compensation), but when even something as simple as a reduced conference registration rate might make the difference between someone being able to stay within their travel budget or not, and when there are regularly occurring anomalies (see above), I think the system is too strictly defined.

  3. I’m glad you pointed out that it is a real obstacle to participation in ALA/ACRL when a committee member is required to attend two conferences a year (Midwinter and Annual). And what about the year that ACRL has its national conference? I think it is unreasonable to expect committee members to attend 3 conferences that year (in the space of approximately 6 months). To me, this sends a message that only members who work at institutions that support travel or have the personal means to finance travel can participate on committees. Is this the message that our professional association wants to convey?

  4. That’s why the College Library Section of ACRL pioneered the idea of the virtual meeting for midwinter – which allows more folks to participate – and with email and chat – you can certainly invite participation from those who can’t always attend the annual conference. As long as we get the work done, who really cares about a physical meeting. Again, my response to the original post – let’s get serious about virtual conferences and meetings. You may not have seen it yet (few have) but ALA has created a virtual community web space that will greatly facilitate the ability of all ALA committees to meet virtually, share documents virtually, etc. That should really help virtual meetings take off – and then more people will be able to join in the fun. Of course, if you have a regional or local division chapter – and you want to be involved – there is plenty of work to do this the local chapter. Don’t overlook it. Look for an article about the virtues of virtual conferencing in the Feb. 15 issue of Library Journal – which should help to better promote the idea of NOT traveling to conferences – and don’t forget ACRL is pioneering the VC as well – with what they did during the last national conference – and the ACRL virtual conference that will be held April 20-21, 2006 (which we blogged about here last month).

  5. If I might add to this…. people should also speak out and ask their ALA unit leaders to create more opportunities for virtual participation. I know in IS we are asking people to declare when they volunteer if they are interested in a virtual appointment. The more people who ask for this opportunity – the more ALA unit leaders will have motivation to pursue it. As Steven mentions, ACRL-CLS has pioneered the effort. It is a member organization…. members can change the status quo.

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