Sunday, May 18, 2008

Conference a go-go

I was reading Meredith Farkas' post about speaker fees and conferences Is This How We Encourage People to Contribute?
It’s sad that someone who is talented and enthusiastic about contributing to the profession is getting a bucket of cold water thrown in his face. He has so much to offer the profession, and yet, he is being discouraged not only by his own library, but by the organization that is going to make money from his contribution. While I do understand not paying residents of the state to speak at a state conference, those people should at least be given the privilege of not having to pay for the pleasure of hearing themselves speak. Free registration on the day you’re speaking should be a given at any conference.

It seems to be a big issue with library bloggers as so many of them present and some of them are even keynote speakers. The argument is that if they are adding to the profession by presenting at a conference, why do they have to pay registration fees? Why do they have to pay at all if they are only going to present?

My argument is two-fold. First, most associations are so poor they can barely pay for the conference, let alone waive fees. If they didn't organize and find a way to pay for the conference, there would be no conference. You can argue about setting up unconferences, but even those need someone to organize a location, food, and resources.

Second, if the library has such an amazing person on their staff where they are being invited to speak, then the library should pay for it without argument. Libraries on average need to beef up their training budgets so that they can offer to pay conference fees, travel, and room and board. What does that say for the library if it cannot even honor its stars? Worse, what does it say for the profession if we cannot develop our own innovators?

The best libraries are the ones in which all of the staff have gone or had the option to go to conference. My library is a bit small, both on size and on training budget, but I am going to try to get more funding to pay for conferences. I will try first to pay for registration, then work up to travel, and then to lodging. I think I can establish it if I am creative enough. It is so essential that everyone have the ability to attend major national conferences. Many here go to the state conference, but national is a big deal. It is a way to feel connected and not so isolated. It is particularly necessary for a smaller rural library to do that as we are the most susceptible to isolation.


Terry Dawson said...

I agree, the first problem is with the library where people are employed. If we are to seek growth and continuing education for our libraries, we need to pay for it and create opportunities for staff.

That being said, I can somewhat understand the associations. At many conferences, a vast majority of the presenters are association members. If everyone speaking at the conference were to be compensated by the association, it could make the conference unfeasible. Associations rely on contributions from their constituency, and if the only reason to contribute is for the compensation, its a sad comment. But neither should contributors be penalized or required to subsidize their own contributions.

The overall problem is scarcity of resources: when you don't have enough money for daily operations, its hard to subsidize the important, yet non-immediate needs, such as CE.

Jeff Scott said...

It is a tough situation. We need to encourage people to contribute, but I don't think we should lay the blame on the conference people.

For smaller libraries it is very tough since we can't afford to send anyone, or we can't afford someone gone for any period of time.

For state associations, I send eight people of a 13 staff library. I can send only a one or two to national conferences. We all do what we can. However, I would love it if someone was presenting at conference. That would be a ticket paid :)