Later today I will be heading toward the coast to attend the South Carolina Library Association Annual Conference 2010 in Myrtle Beach. This year’s conference is entitled, “South Carolina Libraries: Advocacy from the Ground Up.” Keynote speakers include:
- Roberta Stevens, President of the American Library Association
- Lynne Bradley, Director of the Office of Government Relations of the ALA’s Washington Office
- Walter Edgar, Southern historian/author and Director of the Institute for Southern Studies at the University of South Carolina
The slate of concurrent sessions includes some interesting topics, and I have some good friends among the presenters. It promises to be a fun and productive time.
I’ll be on Twitter (@jkennerly) and using the hashtag #scla10. Send me a tweet if you would like to connect.
Do you and your staff struggle to find funds or time to travel and attend professional development events such as conferences, workshops, and seminars? If so, have you considered webinars and virtual conferences? A number of online staff development opportunities exist–many of them at very little cost. And in some cases…for free. That’s right. Free.
This is certainly true in the library world. Free (or very low-cost) webinars abound for library staff development and training. Likewise, virtual conferences can be very affordable alternatives when it simply isn’t feasible within your budget or work schedule to hit the road or take to the skies for overnight/multi-day events.
Marianne Lenox has written a post in praise of the free webinar over at the ALA Learning Round Table blog. Her post includes a handy Google Reader Bundle that she put together to keep track of free webinar offerings with relevance to libraries. You can add the bundle to your favorite RSS reader and learn about upcoming free webinars that may be of interest to you or other members of your library staff.
Last week I had the opportunity to attend the one-day virtual summit, Ebooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point, presented by Library Journal. I have attended a number of webinars, but this was my first experience with a virtual conference. I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I heard some interesting speakers and took away some informative thoughts and ideas–all for a very, very reasonable cost well within our limited staff development budget this year. One thing that impressed me was how much interaction was available between attendees, presenters, and vendors. When done well–as was this conference–there is much to be said for virtual attendance at such events.
Do you know of any good sources of information on free or low-cost webinars? Feel free to share them in a comment below.
If you are reading this but don’t work in a library, chances are there are free or low-cost webinars, etc. related to your job or area of interest that are available. Search the web. Ask others in your profession. Check with professional organizations. With a little investigating, you just may find something of interest.
In my previous post I wrote about the value of professional conferences and some of the challenges that can hold us back from attending. Two common obstacles (real or perceived) are lack of funding and an inability to be away from the office for so long.
Let’s face it. When times are economically tough, we look for ways to cut spending. And one of the first budget areas to often see the axe swing is professional development/travel. This really can be a legitimate show-stopper for professional conference attendance. And then there is the struggle of being away from the post for an extended period of time. Sure, the conference would be great, but things would be in utter turmoil by the time you got back–so much so that any benefit derived from the conference would quickly be lost by the need to focus all attention on catching up, extinguishing fires, and cleaning up messes that ran rampant in your absence. Been there? To those who can testify but wish it were not the case, consider the following suggestions.
1. Explore alternate funding sources and discounts.
Professional organizations (library associations, regional networks, etc.), vendors, conferences themselves, and other sources often provide scholarships, awards, and grants for conference attendance. If you or your library is a member of a library association (i.e. ALA, state library association), regional network (i.e. Lyrasis), etc., check to see if they offer discounts on attendance at certain conferences. Most do. LISjobs.com lists some good examples of conference funding possibilities. Carefully check conference and organizational websites. Contact the conference organizers or professional organizations to see what offers might be available.
2.Find a partner to share the costs.
Ever split a meal with someone at an incredible but pricey restaurant? It can make for a memorable experience that is easy on the wallet when you can pull it off. The same principle can apply for conference attendance. Sometimes this can be the tipping point that makes a conference affordable. Do you know a professional colleague who plans to attend, or is at least contemplating, a conference that you are considering? [A colleague--also located in the southeast--and I have thrown around the idea of joining forces (and cash) for a pilgrimage to the SXSW Conference next year.] If you do know someone, why not share the travel and/or lodging expenses? Who knows, maybe you could even split a meal or two.
3. Go local.
Maybe the national conferences are simply too far away to even consider. Are there any local conferences available to you? A state library association conference? A local library-related consortium/group? Even one-day workshops, seminars, etc.–while not the same as a conference–can also be professionally beneficial. And they can do so without straining the budget or pulling you from the office for an extended period of time like a week-long conference. At the end of the day, local professional development opportunities can be just as engaging and worthwhile as the largest of the national events. To quote from an October 2007 post by Debbie Baaske (North Suburban Library System), “Don’t forget about your local conferences/symposiums. Sometimes the best ideas come from your neighbors just down the street.” So true.
4. Can’t travel? Consider virtual attendance/participation.
When travel/accommodation costs and being away are simply out of the question, there still are ways to “participate” in conferences. It’s like I tell students in library instruction sessions: Just because an item is not available in our building, don’t automatically assume you can’t use it. There are ways of bringing stuff from other places to where you are.
More and more, conferences are pushing content from the event through interaction with a conference website and today’s online communication channels. Slides, handouts, video, and audio from presentations are often posted for easy access from the internet. Sometimes a session is even streamed live online. Conversations can be tracked in close to real-time speed on microblogging services like Twitter or instant messaging services. Activities can be followed on a conference Facebook fan page. Photos from the event might appear on Flickr. The online sharing of a conference experience seems to become richer and more creative each year. Some conferences are even held online or “virtually” in their entirety through the use of web conferencing software. There is no real substitute for being there, but following the activities of a conference online can be the next best thing.
So take a little time to identify those professional conferences of the greatest value to your job, consider your options, give it a shot, and reap the benefits of professional development and peer interaction. Let’s go conferencing!
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.