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.