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The Benefit of Professional Conferences

March 16, 2010

Registrations. Travel plans. Hotel rooms. Name badges. Informational packets. Learning sessions. Vendor booths. Vendor goodies. Meals and camaraderie with professional peers. Sound familiar?

Professional conferences. Carefully planned professional development events (and, sometimes, the stuff of legend).

Some folks are the ultimate conference attenders. Let’s call them the “ultimate” class. If there is a professional conference being held in their field, you can count on them being there. (Counted here would be those regularly invited to present at conferences.) On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who never attend professional conferences or, if they do, it is a rare sighting. The “rare” class. And somewhere in between are those we might class as “moderate” or “middle-of-the-road” conference attenders. They attend their share of conferences, but not at the same level as the “ultimate” class. Perhaps they attend a conference every other year, or they have their one or two favorites that they attend regularly. (For the record, I fall into this camp.)

For those who find themselves in the class of “rare” conference attenders–particularly those who never attend conferences, I realize there are a variety of reasons why this is so. Three reasons often at the top of the list are: (1) I don’t have the money, (2) I can’t afford to be away from “the post,” and (3) I just don’t see the benefit. A lack of funds or the genuine inability to be away from the workplace for an extended period of time (i.e. one-person libraries) can be very legitimate reasons. (I, myself, needed to sacrifice–due to budget cuts–going to a conference this year that I immensely enjoy and have attended for the past three years.) And then there’s the third group.

If you are one of those that just can’t see the real benefit of attending a professional conference, I can appreciate where you are. I, too, used to wonder about the advantage of trekking off to a multi-day conference. Over time, however, I discovered their value by simply diving into the experience. For me, it was a simple need for hands-on education.

There are countless other librarians who would be much better ambassadors for professional conference attendance than me. I don’t burn the circuit by any means. Nevertheless, may I offer a few observations from my own experience? I believe there is much to be gained from attending conferences. I have been to enough to realize the benefits. At conferences you can:

  • Learn from others in your profession–and perhaps in your particular area of expertise (What works? What doesn’t work? This is real, practical professional development in action.)
  • Share with others your thoughts, experiences, etc. (Conferences are not just for taking. They are also excellent opportunities for giving.)
  • Take a break from the daily routine and tasks which can be refreshing and re-energizing (It is simply amazing how much a handful of days focused on your profession yet removed from the daily grind and countless interruptions of the job can encourage and invigorate your calling to the profession.)
  • Have a real opportunity to step back and reflect on your job and the bigger picture of your profession (Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. Conferences allow you to pull away from the daily mechanics and be more philosophic about your job, your profession.)
  • Network, network, network (I would argue that one of the greatest benefits of conference attendance is simply meeting other folks who do what you do.)

I would love to hear from those out there who count themselves as seasoned conference attenders. You know who you are. What else might you add to the list to encourage our fellow professionals to at least consider attending professional conferences?

For those who would like to attend a professional conference but count themselves among those who struggle with the cost or the ability to get away from the office, there is hope. Yes, there are creative ways to address these concerns and perhaps benefit from time spent with your professional peers. This will be the topic of my next post. Be sure to check back.

One final word. I had librarians in mind as I was writing this. However, my comments hold true for anyone in any professional circle. So let me encourage you–if you have never attended a professional conference, give it a shot if at all possible. You might discover ways to grow professionally. Perhaps you will return to your job with a renewed spirit. And, who knows, you may find that you simply enjoy it.

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