bigger is only sometimes better

So, I went to ALA, again. My first ALA was Midwinter, in Boston, which I attended because it was drive-able (and I got to stay at the Four Seasons at conference registration rates). I presented at New Orleans, and went to Anaheim to present and attend various trainings and workshops, then went to Chicago because that’s home, and I went this year to participate in some panel discussions and also to accept the 2014 HARRASSOWITZ Leadership in Library Acquisitions Award. At each of those, I attended sessions, as well, and had a chance to hear speakers I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. (The problem this year was that the conference was in Las Vegas. Envision 15,000 librarians at a conference, spanning hotels and conference facilities. Now imagine that those hotels are Vegas casinos, full of Vegas casino denizens. And 15,000 librarians. It was as surreal as you would expect. It was also 112 degrees. WTF.)

Complaints about Vegas aside, ALA does one thing really well: It brings together huge numbers of libraryfolk, and makes it very easy to network with just about anyone under the sun. But it’s huge. I always leave feeling like I got information and access I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else… but that I didn’t get everything I would have hoped for. This week I’ve seen four different things that made me think about the value of smaller venues for professional development.

This week is the registration deadline for LILAC, the Library Instruction Leadership Academy. Now, everyone I know who’s attended says that ACRL Immersion is the way to go for InfoLit professional development, but if you can’t afford that, and you’re regional to New York… here’s an option.

I saw a plug for the Great Lakes E-summit on the NASIG list, and sent it on to our Collection Development Coordinator. The program looks like just the kind thing that would feed into our current conversations about collection building in really useful ways — those are exactly the issues on our plate right now.

A former SUNY librarian who has since moved on emailed me about the Access Services Conference in Atlanta, and, again, it’s the kind of targeted program that is likely to be deeply helpful to an institution with just those issues on its plate.

And then the Past Chair of the SUNY Council of Library Directors emailed me suggesting that we look into hosting the ACRL Standards for Libraries workshop for SUNY, at nearly the same time that the Vice-Chair and I were discussing the possibility of the organization hosting a one-day assessment conference.

The ALA annual conference is a thing. It’s a good thing, and it does some things that smaller conferences cannot do… but it’s not the only game in town, by a long shot. There are more games than many of us realize, frankly.

So tell me and anyone who’s reading: what are your favorite small/targeted/regional professional development and conference-type things?



  1. In terms of professional development, I love unconferences. The lack of structure is very freeing to me and it can allow sessions to develop naturally. There is an element of surprise to them since you really don’t know where things are going to go. Some of my best conference experiences have been at unconferences.

    In terms of conference types things, any social event is on my radar. It’s that I don’t get “real” conversations out of sessions or panels, but at least I can have a drink in my hand and dress casually while I’m doing it. While I don’t mind the party scene and hanging out, I’ve moved towards quieter settings and smaller groups for socializing at conferences. It’s a shift from quantity to quality; I’d rather spend more time having deeper and far ranging conversations with people than a series of “hey, how are you, talk to you soon” deals.


  2. I adore the LibTech conference in Minnesota – I started going when I lived out there, but I’ve kept going back when I can because it’s very focused on practical things. (Alas, I missed this year.)

    There’s a lot of “Here’s this thing we did and how it worked” from libraries with similiar kinds of challenges, as well as getting to hear about the awesome things places with more resources are doing. I like getting both. And a lot of general geeky humour of the excellent kind, people enjoying their passions without putting down other people’s.

    There’s also some things about the setup that work very well for me: I often feel overwhelmed at larger conventions, I find I really enjoy networking when it’s me and 6-7 other people and a lunch table (they provide lunch). And it’s a college campus which makes some kinds of “We want to do this in a lab with computers” workshops much more feasible.


  3. For the small library, ARSL(Association for Rural & Small Libraries) can’t be beat.

    It’s often very difficult for a small and/or rural library to find anything at a large conference, like ALA, that they can identify with or bring back to use at their library. ARSL is by and for those libraries.

    It’s also a smaller conference in size and attendance, which I felt made it much easier to network. And, breakfast and lunch each day is included in the registration cost – which is great for anyone on a budget.

    PS. I’ve REALLY wanted to go to the LibTech conference that Jen mentioned, but haven’t been able to pull it off yet. Someday….


  4. I’ll put in a plug for LOEX, the annual library instruction conference. Part of the reason that it’s difficult to register for is because they deliberately keep the registration limited. (And it’s usually in a pretty affordable location and they include most meals with the registration fee, so that helps as well.)


  5. NASIG and ER&L are still small, though not regional per-se. I love them both for different reasons, and would recommend them to anyone involved with serials and electronic resources, from acquisitions to cataloging to management to assessment. NASIG is really good at providing space/time for networking, and ER&L is really good at packing in practical sessions on every topic I’m interested in.


  6. Conferences sponsored by regional ACRL associations are very beneficial. I also like ACRL national every two years, and there is a virtual option too (although the virtual option does not begin to compare with the number of sessions at the in-person conference or the networking opportunities in-person).


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