Where There’s a Conference, There’s a Way
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!