Last year was a great year for me with regard to professional development. I attended ACRL in Philadelphia, ALA National in New Orleans, PaLA in State College, a small professional development conference in Clarion, PA (where I was a presenter) and a District Workshop held in State College (where I was also a presenter) in addition to several small workshops and Webinars. Before 2011, I had attended all of 1 day each at ALA Midwinter 2008, PaLA 2010 and REFolution (2009? Maybe?) in Grantville, PA and that was it. Good fortune and some personal initiative allowed me to have a banner year last year, and I’m very grateful to have had those opportunities. The problem with lots of conference-going in one year is that it will lead to inevitable disappointment when the same does not hold true in other years.
I know already that I will not be able to attend ALA Midwinter or ALA National this year. I won’t be going to Croatia for the LIDA Conference, either (but I can dream). However, this year, I am starting 2012 as a new member of the PaLA Public Relations/Marketing Committee, and I look forward to working with some great people I already know and meeting new people along the way as well as being involved with PaLA 2012 to be held in Gettysburg. I know there is a big, statewide development in the works, soon to be unveiled, and I’m excited about the potential impact that initiative may have on current perceptions of the value and relevancy of libraries, librarians, and library services in Pennsylvania.
I’m also looking forward to attending PLA in Philadelphia this March. I’ve never been to this particular conference, and I’m hoping it will live up to its reputation. There are some great sessions scheduled that will fit in nicely with developments in my own library system and the office where I work.
That said, in skimming the schedules for PLA and ALA Midwinter (which is mostly a business-conducting conference, I know) and in thinking back on the conference sessions I attended last year, there are some glaring omissions in scheduling, at least in my opinion. I didn’t check the credentials of every presenter, but I looked at many, and I’m not seeing anyone outside of the library world (or publishing/book world) listed as a speaker (aside from famous personalities selected for keynote addresses), although I bet there are a few–very few. I also didn’t see any sessions that address the nonuser’s or non-librarian’s point of view or the point of view of the people who believe libraries are becoming irrelevant and will not be sustainable in the future. While I understand that professional conferences are held mostly to further the profession, since libraries are for the people, the “great equalizer”, and considered by many (mostly in the profession) to be a cornerstone of democracy, well, then shouldn’t multiple views be presented? I wonder if anyone has ever invited Seth Godin to speak? Or perhaps Bill Maher? Jim Collins?
If you read the principles set forth in The Library Bill of Rights, ALA’s statement on Intellectual Freedom, and ALA’s Code of Ethics, there’s lots of language about “presenting all points of view.” I realize these fundamentals are meant to ensure fair and equitable treatment of library users and address other areas of how library services are presented and how librarians conduct themselves; however, it seems to me that we should respect opposing viewpoints at our conferences as well. And maybe we have. Since I am a fairly new conference attendee, maybe the voices of dissent have been invited to speak. Somehow, I doubt it. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
For instance, the following are conference sessions that I believe would benefit libraries and librarians more than any one session on digital content, programming, getting along in the workplace, teens, or any author luncheon. Set aside for a moment your skepticism about whether these sessions could actually be pulled off, which admittedly would be difficult. Think instead about the insight they might provide-
1. “Ten (or more) Reasons Why Your Library Does Not Provide Essential Community Services” A panel of non-librarians, nonusers and local government officials offer views about why they believe the public libraries in their communities do not deserve tax-dollar funding.
2. “I Can Get That Somewhere Else Faster” A panel of non-librarians and nonusers discuss the reasons why they don’t use the resources offered by public libraries in their communities.
3. “Libraries Have Web Sites? And e-Books? And DVDs?” A panel of nonusers, who have not set foot inside a library since 1971, offers insight as to the existence of the perception that libraries haven’t changed in 40 years.
4. “If You Work in a Library, Then You Are a Librarian To Me” A panel of users discuss the irrelevancy of the MLS to the fulfillment of their library needs.
5. “We’re Not Librarians, But You Should Listen To Us Anyway” Seth Godin, Jim Collins, and other non-librarians discuss the potential for libraries and librarians to change their game.
You get the idea. As important as it is to go to conferences to learn from other librarians, network, get affirmation, information, and confirmation that we are all in this together and on the right path, I believe it is equally as important to listen to outsiders and to acknowledge a different perspective even though it may not be one that we want to hear. Listening and acknowledging doesn’t mean agreeing. It just means that we, as a profession, are open to all ideas and viewpoints just like we’re supposed to be.