01 February 2006


Subscribers to my newsletter, The One-Person Library, are used to seeing an editorial about this time of year on the benefits of going to one of the upcoming professional conferences. Now I can bring this message to all of you out in blog-land.

This year I am inspired by a page out of the MLA (see abbreviations below) preliminary program for their 2006 conference in May.

"Seven Great Reasons to Attend MLA '06"

1. Schmooze, that is, network. "Unique knowledge and interests can pollinate new ideas and provide springboards for interesting discussions." Skip a session and hang out in the lobby, or by the registration desk, or in the exhibit hall. See who you can meet there. Walk up to people you don't know and introduce yourself. Ask them about their libraries and tell them about yours. Exchange business cards. (Note to self: take plenty of business cardds. Every year I run out.)
Go up to one of the association officers and introduce yourself--you'll be surprised how friendly they are, even to new members or students.

2. Stay Current. I assume that this is why you go to a conference in the first place. A professional conference is the easiest, most economical way to obtain continuing professional education. You can get 2 to 2½ days of education in one week, in one place, for one airfare and hotel stay. And that doesn’t even count what you learn from the sessions (see next point). The price is usually below that of comparable courses from for-profit companies and the information is specifically for and by librarians.

3. Learn Best Practices. One of the best ways to learn is from the experiences of others. That’s what the sessions at library conferences provide. Other librarians tell what did and didn’t work in their libraries and what new products and services they are using. Vendors give seminars on their new products and systems. You can even present a session or paper yourself, giving your management a better reason to let you go to the conference. (And you’ll learn a lot in the process of preparing your presentation, educating yourself as well as others.)

4. Mentor. “Another way to give back to the profession is to mentor members new to the organization.” Most professional associations and their constituent groups have formal or informal mentoring programs. If you are new to the organization or the profession, find a mentor; if you are a veteran librarian, mentor someone. You’ll both be better for it—and so will our profession.

5. Attend exhibits. Where else can you find such a variety of products and services solely for libraries and librarians? ALA’s exhibits are huge, with every major publisher and systems vendor present. SLA’s are smaller, but still impressive—it usually takes me at least 5-8 hours to get through them all. MLA, AALL, etc. have fewer, but more focused exhibitors. To get the most out of the exhibits, take some unanswered (or even answered) reference questions and ask the database vendors to find the answer. When they demonstrate their wares they will use searches to which they know their system has the answer. You want to know if their system can answer your questions. (I figured I got US$250-500 worth of free searches at every SLA conference.) And of course there are the free office supplies you can stock up on. (I haven’t bought a sticky note, pen or pencil since I started going to conferences. Hint: near the end of the exhibits you can usually take as many of the giveaways as you want—they don’t want to pay to ship them home.)

6. Separate Fact from Fiction. I’d never thought of this benefit, but the MLA article says, “The MLA annual meeting provides attendees with a unique venue for openly discussing innovative technologies and experiences with vendors, allowing you to differentiate between the hype that some publications promote and real world experiences. Vendors offer a number of … opportunities for customers to confront spin or hyperbole head-on, especially during question-and-answer sessions.”

7. Enjoy the city. Although you need to spend enough time at the conference to justify the expense to your employer (or yourself—see below), you should take at least a day to explore the host city. This year MLA is in Phoenix, SLA in Baltimore, ALA in New Orleans, AALL in St. Louis, CLA in Ottawa, ASIS&T in Austin, Texas, ALIA in Perth, LIANZA in Wellington, LIASA in Pretoria, etc.

8. (not on MLA’s list) It’s the professional thing to do. Being a professional means dong all the above. It also means paying for a conference if your employer doesn’t. Yes, you should try to get your employer to pay your way, especially if other professionals get this benefit, but if he or she won’t pay, you should go to the conference anyway. Make it a family vacation, share a room with someone, offer to split the cost with your employer—but GO!

MLA, Medical Library Association, http://www.mlanet.org
SLA, Special Libraries Association, http://www.sla.org
ALA, American Library Association, http://www.ala.org
AALL, American Association of Law Libraries, http://www.aallnet.org
ASIS&T, American Society for Information Science & Technology, http://www.asis.org
CLA, Canadian Library Association, http://www.cla.ca
ALIA, Australian Library and Information Association, http://www.alia.org.au
LIANZA, Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa, http://www.lianza.org.nz
LIASA, Library and Information Association of South Africa, http://www.liasa.org.za

To find other conferences, consult the International Calendar of Information Science Conferences, http://icisc.neasist.org/

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