Conferences Here, There and Everywhere

The adventurous Beth Hoffman has a snapping good blog post on her post-Internet Librarian thoughts about conferences. It would be very easy for me to simply say, “Me, too!” Instead, I’m going to throw out my own thoughts, in full knowledge that I’m possibly echoing a lot of what Beth has said.

To be blunt, whether we’re talking about big-scale professional conferences in far-off places like California or smaller, local gatherings, if a presentation is going to be one or more people lecturing, using Powerpoint slides or even videos, with time for a few questions at the end, I just don’t need to be there. I would rather watch the presentation online, with the ability to watch it again and again, than sit through a live lecture.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m a very bad academic. I was an average undergraduate and made it through library school doing the bare minimum of academic reading and writing. Academic writing sends me into a coma, I take terrible notes and I detest sitting through lectures. If you’re a dynamic, enthusiastic presenter, I will enjoy your session–but in all fairness, I could almost certainly get the same information and inspiration if your presentation were available online.

What can’t I get online? What do I need to physically attend conferences for? I need face-to-face interaction and conversation. I need spontaneous gatherings. I need occurrences of random escapades and shenanigans. I can get some of that online (the LSW Meebo room is great for that), but nothing really replaces in-person socialization.

What else do I need at conferences? I need play time. I need to get my hands dirty. I need sessions that are hands-on tutorials. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, hearing about great ways to use technology is no substitute for actually trying out technologies. You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive first, would you? Wouldn’t it be easier to sell your library on new techniques and technologies if you’d already tried them out?

Now, I don’t really have much hope that library tech conferences will change just because I want them to. But for my own part, I’m going to stop writing proposals for lecture sessions and start writing proposals for conversation and hands-on sessions. We’ll see where that gets me.

Internet Librarian 2007: More Stuff

I thought I was done talking about this year’s Internet Librarian, but then Meredith Farkas (who I didn’t get to hang out with nearly as much as I would’ve liked to) blogged about it, and I feel the need to comment on some things she’s said.

I really do enjoy Internet Librarian, but so much of the material covered in the conference is a review for me. While I always get some insights and inspiration from the sessions, I find that I get the most value from the conversations that take place before and after the sessions.

I feel the same way. I learned about some new software apps at IL this year, but I didn’t leave feeling we’re on the cusp on much newness. It felt more like people were hammering away on the Library 2.0 basics. Which is fine, but I think I’m ready for the more advanced courses now. But between sessions, I spent a lot of time talking with my coworkers and with other conference attendees, and those conversations really felt like something special to me. (Much like when I was an undergrad, when what I talked about with my fellow students outside the classroom was generally far more inspiring and educational than what was covered in the classroom.) (Come to think of it, grad school was mostly like that, too.)

I come back to work with a recognition that I’m not alone in this, that there is a huge network of other librarians struggling to create better subject guides, better information literacy tutorials, better communication tools. The reality though is that we shouldn’t need a conference to share that information.

Yes! And this is something I’m hoping to present on at some point. Conferences are expensive to go to, and not all librarians can take the time to attend them. The internet gives us the ability to network and engage in professional development 24/7. Does this make professional conferences obsolete, at least in some ways? I don’t know, but I believe it bears further thought.

It stands to reason that if the discussions are the best part of the conference for some people, then perhaps more of the conference should be dedicated to those informal conversations. Interested in subject guides? Get a group together to discuss that. Interested in Facebook and MySpace? Form a group to talk about that. People can submit what they would like to discuss and other people can sign up if they’re interested in talking about that. The person who proposed it isn’t the speaker or even the facilitator; it’s just a free and open discussion. Everyone is simultaneously the teacher and the learner.

This is one of the niftiest things I’ve read in a while. I’m all for looser, more free flowing conferences and gatherings.

I also would love to see conferences designed for those of us for whom Internet Librarian is a review and Code4Lib is way over our heads.

Oh boy, yes! Like I said, I’m reading for the more advanced courses. I’ve had enough theory for now. I don’t want to study blueprints, I want to start building gadgets and gizmos.

I have more to say about this, about conferences in general, but not tonight. Let me sleep on it, and I’ll get back to you later.

Internet Librarian 2007: The Bad Stuff

I had a great time in Monterey at Internet Librarian this year, but boy, there sure were some aspects that I found frustrating and infuriating.

Let’s start with the internet access. Why am I blogging about the conference after the fact? Because I wasn’t able to access the free wifi at the conference, not once. Other attendees told me they also had a lot of trouble using the wifi. Apparently, the wifi couldn’t handle so many conference attendees using it at the same time. But I did see people online, and I could never get the wifi to work for me. Could it be because I was using an Ubuntu Linux-driven laptop? Maybe. But at an “Internet Librarian” conference, that shouldn’t be a reason. (Also, I was using my Ubuntu laptop last year and was able to use the conference wifi, as erratic a signal as it was.) Because I rely on my laptop to keep me connected, I missed a lot of opportunities for spontaneous socializing and conferencing; I couldn’t use Twitter, I couldn’t IM, I couldn’t keep up with other people’s blogs. The only internet access I could get around the conference area was in my hotel room (hi-speed cable access, for $10 a day), which was far from convenient and far from immediate. Frankly, I’m appalled at the internet access problems at a conference called “Internet Librarian.” It’s as if the conference organizers don’t take the name and focus of the conference seriously.

This flows nicely into my next point of frustration. Let me first say that I don’t want to harsh on the work the presenters put into their presentations. Some of the presenters are friends of mine, and all of the presenters I saw did at least a good job of presenting at a conference (and some did a great job). But…at a conference called Internet Librarian, I was surprised and frustrated at how many of the presentations were lectures based around offline Powerpoint slides. I’ve seen videos of TED presentations, and compared to that, Internet Librarian generally looks like Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs. I appreciate that the library profession as a whole isn’t rolling in money like Scrooge McDuck, but as many of the presentations I attended pointed out, even on a shoestring budget, you can make dynamic, networked presentations. If I’m attending a conference called Internet Librarian, I don’t just want to talk about the internet, as if the internet were Shangri-La, I want the conference to be a part of the internet, a part of our everyday librarian lives.

So, while I had a great time and would go back to Monterey in a heartbeat to interact with these dynamic, inspirational librarians, I’m seriously on the fence about attending the conference again until Internet Librarian really starts living up to its name.

Internet Librarian 2007: The Good Stuff

Did I have a good time at this year’s Internet Librarian conference? Boy, did I!

For one thing, I got to spend more quality time with some of my coworkers, who were at IL for the first time. We hit the aquarium, which was mindblowing. I think my jaw was in a state of perpetual droppedness as I took in the jellies, kelp forests, touch pools, and more. We ate some great food together (including a wild drive to Salinas to eat at In-N-Out Burger, which was even tastier than I dreamed it would be). And best of all, we had spirited conversations about what we love and hate about our profession and where we’re going as librarians.

Another great part was getting to see online friends again: Sarah Houghton-Jan, Meredith Farkas, Steven Cohen, Michelle Boulé, Jenny Levine, Michael Stephens, Michael Porter, Michael Sauers, Beth Hoffman, Rachel Singer Gordon, David Lee King, Tom Ipri, and Dave Free. As an added bonus, I got to hang out with one of my good friends from library school, Mandy Tuthill, who is one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. I also got to meet more online friends in person for the first time: Karen G. Schneider, Laura Carscaddon, Jenica Urbanek-Rogers, Cindi Trainor, Holly Blosser, Steven Kaye, Jason Griffey, Chrystie Hill, Ruth Kneale, Robin Hastings, and more people I’m probably leaving out (for which I apologize). Seriously, the social networking is one of the best aspects of conferences. I mean, that’s why we blog, IM, use Twitter and Flickr and Facebook and all that other jazz, right?

I attended some very good sessions, too. One of my favorites was Jenny Benevento’s snarky “How to Lose a Tech Librarian” and the companion presentation by Sarah Houghton-Jan and Michael Stephens onstaff technology training. I also liked Michelle Boulé and Karen Coombs’ presentation on free e-learning tools, not just because it was educational, but because Michelle and Karen present well together, like a classic stage duo. Paul Pival and Chad Boeninger are another great presenter pair who gave a great presentation on “Tech Tools for Library Outreach.” They threw out the Powerpoint, talked casually, and provided a Meebo room for backchat. Joe Janes’ Tuesday morning keynote speech was hilarious, thought-provoking, and inspiring. And the Tuesday night presentation by the Dutch “library boys” of the Shanachie Tour was so brilliant and joyful, I almost cried.

I left Monterey early (I mean, really bloody early) Thursday morning feeling energized, enthusiastic, and inspired to dig into more great library work with my brilliant fellow librarians. For all of that, Internet Librarian was a success.

IL07’s a’comin’

One week from today, I’ll be winging it to Monterey for my second time to attend the Internet Librarian conference. Last time, I went alone. This year, I’ll be traveling with six of my coworkers. I’m really looking forward to attending the conference, hanging out with my Johnson County Library comrades in Monterey, and seeing the library pals I usually only get to interact with online. I’ve posted my schedule on the IL wiki, and I’m organizing a meet-up of the Library Society of the World. This year at IL will be a real shindig!