I am going to try to squish twenty-plus years of going to, speaking at and organising library conferences and events into this post. Oh, can’t be done – I’ll split this into three posts instead.
1. On Going to Conferences
There is nothing to beat a really good conference or training event: to learn new skills, to find inspiration, or to build a sense of professional community. I still remember the first rare books conference I attended, in 1996: all about amazing book bindings, at Durham – we stayed in this castle!
Durham Castle, from Squirmelia’s flickr stream, licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
The factors that make great events are not exactly earth-shattering.
There’s the content of the event – what it’s about, how it’s covered, who is doing it. Above all, presenters or teachers with expertise, enthusiasm, understanding of the audience, and the presentational skills to convey these things. Good organisation helps too.
However, I’ve found value even in events where some speakers weren’t great, or that were badly organised. This is because the very best thing about conferences is the networking. Special collections librarians and archivists are often solo workers or the only one of their kind in a larger library. How lovely to spend time with other people who understand, have same problems and share ideas! Yes, social media is brilliant, but you can’t be completely candid about your problems in a public forum. And it’s so much nicer to deal with people online once you’ve met them in real life.
I was all set to give some tips about attending conferences, but these from Joeyanne seem to say it all. Especially the bit about travelling light!
These days I can’t write about conferences without mentioning the funding problem. Training budgets are squeezed or non-existent if you are lucky enough to have a job – particularly if you are on a short-term contract. While I was CILIP RBSCG Treasurer there was a noticeable rise in people who had jobs but were paying for their own attendance at conferences and even day events which one would see as directly relevant to the job e.g. cataloguing.
Getting funding is about looking for bursaries (many big conferences offer these) or making a case to your employer (if you have one) that what you want to attend is relevant and will help them. If you speak at a conference, you should get travel expenses and often a free place. There are many networking and training events which are free or cheap for delegates, such as the Library Camps. I’m not saying it’s easy – it’s not!
What about when you get back? It’s all too easy to chuck notes and bag in a corner, mean to revisit the ideas later, but then to be overwhelmed by the day job and lose all that momentum. I’ve found that blogging very soon after if I can, and reading blogs by other delegates helps with this – I wonder what others have found?