Why I’m Not Going to the ALA Annual Conference Next Week

June 15, 2007

It really comes down to simple mathematics and bang for buck. When I started my current gig I joined ALA after not having been a member since I was a library school student 6 years ago. Since my career up until now was in medical and health sciences libraries I was an active member in MLA and my regional chapter. I didn’t really see a purpose or need to continue my ALA membership and honestly, when I renewed my membership in February, it was done so rather reluctantly. I am still far from convinced that the $90 (it may have been more) I paid to renew is worth what I can get from the organization.

I am at a point in my career right now where I am happy and where I want to be. What I am looking for from a professional organization goes beyond networking and focuses primarily on professional development. I want the opportunity to attend (virtually or physically) workshops and presentations that directly relate to what I do every day in my workplace. Unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of that coming from ALA. There really is not a lot of programming devoted to circulation, reserves, ILL, staff management and customer service and this influenced my decision not to attend the annual conference.

Actually I broke down the expenses and compared it to the conference program. Here is what I was looking at:

  • 3 nights in a hotel ($199/night): $597 plus tax
  • conference registration (I wanted to see most of the program before registering so I waited): $200-$260.
  • travel (gas & tolls): $100
  • food/drinks/misc.: $100-$150

Grand Total: $1047 (this is using the low end of anything that had a range) plus tax

While it is true that my institution would reimbure me for some of the expenses I just don’t think that for me it is an efficient use of funds since after looking at the conference program, the sessions that I can say I would definitely attend are:

Saturday:

  • Leadership or Management:Which is it?
  • Diplomacy 101: Dealing with Difficult Customers

Sunday:

  • Transforming Your Staff
  • Moving Mountains: Exciting Trends in Library Delivery Services

Since these two are at the same time, I would have to decide one over the other.

Monday:

  • Access Services: It’s Not Just Circulation Any More!

This is one session that I am sad that I will miss as from what I have read it sounds very promising.

Now, before we all start arguing, I am not casting judgement on any of the other programming or assuming that it would not be interesting and informative. My point is that for me, these are the sessions that I find relevant to my daily work. I know I would find other sessions to round out my days and many of them would be interesting, however, for me, the expense is not worth it.   And yes, if I had started my job and joined ALA before the deadline for presentations I would have submitted something related to access services.  Unfortunately, I started around the same time as the conference deadline.

Instead of spending my money on the ALA annual conference, I have decided that the Brick & Click Libraries symposium is much better suited to my interests. This is a one day, academic library conference (they had me at one day!) happening at the Owens Library at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, MO this November. Since it is a smaller and one day event, the programming is broken down into concurrent sessions throughout the entire day. After reviewing the program I was able to find a presentation to attend during each session:

  • Are we having fun yet? Putting fun into the workplace!
  • The Impact of Usage Statistics
  • Wikis are Better: Transitioning from Static Research Guides to Wikis
  • Measure for Measure: Developing an Assessment Plan for Access Services
  • Digg This: Tagging and Social Collaboration on the Web
  • Enhancing Library Services through Support Staff Training: A Unique Approach

Cost of Attendance:

  • registration: $125
  • 2 nights in a hotel ($42/night): $84 plus tax
  • roundtrip airfare: $160 plus tax
  • care rental: $80
  • gas: $50
  • food/drink/misc.: $100

Grand Total: $599 plus tax

There are probably many sessions at the ALA conference that cover the 2.0 topics that I plan on attending at Brick & Click, but it is the sessions that are primarily about access services and staff training and development that make this conference valuable to me. And I can get what would take 3 days to see at ALA in one day at Brick & Click for less money.

My point in this post really has less to do with the cost of being an ALA member and attending the annual conference, and more to do with the fact that as a librarian who works in access services, I feel extremely underrepresented in my professional organization. Yes, before you even post it in the comments, I do plan on getting more involved in ALA, but I am not encouraged by what I see. I am a member of LAMA and of their Systems and Services (SASS) committee which encompasses access services, but I see little to no discussion happening. The other factor that I believe comes into play here is that most people who work in circulation, reserves, ILL and document delivery are paraprofessional staff who don’t belong to ALA or attend the annual conference. For some it may be the cost of membership, for others it may be that they don’t feel welcomed. Whatever the reason, I don’t think the number of ALA’s paraprofessional members are a true representation of the number of paraprofessionals in libraries.  We need some sort of group that is inviting to all professional and paraprofessional circ staff.  Something to rally all staff behind and to churn out more programming of our own. I want to be an involved and interested member of my professional organization, I just want more encouragement and interest from the organization’s end.

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2 Responses to “Why I’m Not Going to the ALA Annual Conference Next Week”

  1. Angel said

    First, I have to say that Brick conference does have a couple of interesting programs. I also found interesting how you compared the costs, something I don’t see very often even though I am seeing a lot of people now posting their “I am not going to ALA this year because. . .” posts. Sure, they say that ALA costs too much (it does), but you actually looked at alternatives to suit you. I personally allowed my ALA membership to lapse as well, just did not see the value either. Attending something like Annual would be just an obscene amount of money for me. Maybe the answer for some of us lies in paying more attention to smaller conferences. There would be value in the smaller setting, a bit more efficiency, lower cost, more relevant programs. It is something I think about as I wonder how much, if any, I would like to be involved. I do want to give back to my profession, but ALA just seems so distant and cold. And my state org, while not bad, suffers from what many state orgs suffer: not enough programming for those of us in academia.

    Anyhow, thanks for some food for thought. Best, and keep on blogging.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Angel. You hit on another point that I agree with, but didn’t include in my post. ALA does seem very distant. As an academic librarian, I don’t often see the relevance of what ALA is doing in relation to my work. It just seems like this behemoth of an organization that doesn’t stay in touch very well with the needs of its constituents. I really don’t know how to remedy this other than beefing up local and regional associations and having smaller, more focused conferences and meetings. I, also want to be more involved, I just feel rather lost in how to acheive that.

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