In Defense of Attending ALA

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of “I don’t go to ALA because it’s not worth it” sort of “stuff” online and I have been thinking a lot about writing a post about librarians and continuing education/conferences/money, so here’s what I dumped out of my brain onto the blog.

First, if *I* am the one defending attendance at a conference, we’ve probably all gone too far in our bashing because I will honestly question how much I have learned at an ALA in the last few years (but that’s my fault. I will get to that.)

This morning I read a post in Library Journal that gave some good reasons to go to ALA, but some rather disturbing comments about *not* going. This was what prompted me to blog my thoughts on the matter. I’m not going to link you all to it. You’re librarians. You’ll find it if you want. Without further ado, the reasons you should attend ALA:

  • Networking. Yes, I think this is the most important. This is an extremely small profession and if you ever want to move up, collaborate across institutions, really get to know people, you need to network. I began networking and attending ALA as a shiny, new, baby librarian and some of my best friends in life were the ones I met at that first ALA committee meeting at my very first ALA. We are all big shots now, but we stay in touch. (I am mostly kidding.)

  • Learning. We are in a rapidly changing profession and learning should be something we all do all of the time. Who to learn best from? Your peers. Yes, some people put on great programs and have financial resources to do things that I will never be able to do, but what else can I take away from their presentation? The first few ALA and ACRL conferences I went to were amazing! I found my people!
  • Job Hunting. I interviewed once at an ALA. It was a decent experience. I didn’t want the job, in the end, but I think if you’re on the market, it’s worth a shot.
  • Committee work. Again, if I am defending this, we’ve got problems, librarians. I spent a good chunk of my first ten years in librarianship serving on committees. You know what I learned? First, I learned a lot about group dynamics and how bureaucracies work, but I also learned a lot from other people who knew more than me, were better organized, came to the committee with different experiences to share, and I did a lot more networking. True story, I got my last job because I served on a committee with someone and she thought I would be a good manager. Does ALA have a lot of committees? Yes. Do some people do more work than others? Yes, welcome to life. But, like most things, you get out of it what you put into it. Besides, committee work is what runs our organization. If you don’t want to be a part of it, don’t bitch either.

Now, that all being said, let’s talk about funding. I have a pretty good CV with presentations and conferences all over it and I had about half of those paid for. The other half? I paid for myself. I didn’t always have a kick-ass shoe collection. I had to make choices. I’m not saying you should go into major debt to go to conferences and network. But, I think it’s about time we seriously start talking about investing in ourselves and our careers in this profession. I know a lot of teaching faculty who barely have one research trip paid for before they earn tenure. But, they go anyway. Because their jobs and their passion depends upon it. Yet, what I hear from librarians (often) is, “well, my library won’t pay for me to go.” I know we’re not the highest paid profession, but I would suggest if things are close enough to you, or in state, or if you can get a presentation accepted, to pay out of pocket for some of your professional development. One day, those presentations or conference attendances might be what separates you from someone else in an applicant pool.

So, there’s my two cents. If you’re going to Midwinter, maybe I will see you and we can have wine! If not, try not to be disparaging to those of us who are going, or maybe have to go, and try not to assume it’s not worth our time and we don’t bring back good stuff.

3 thoughts on “In Defense of Attending ALA

  1. Your reasons for going to ALA are good ones for attending professional conferences in general, but you haven’t convinced me that ALA is the one for me. I am a serials/eresources/acquisitions librarian, and I have three really good professional conferences (one is also an organization) to choose from every year, and ALA isn’t on that list. NASIG (conference & organization) has been my main source for networking, learning, job hunting, and committee work since I was a babybrarian. ER&L is my go-to for all things electronic resources learning, and Charleston is great for broader networking and meeting with vendors.

    Maybe if I was a reference librarian or cataloger and didn’t have more focused organizations and conferences, ALA would be the best option, but for me, it’s not, and probably won’t ever be.

    1. Yep! Totally understandable. There are specialty conferences and meetings for instruction, too, but I think we get something out of going to stuff that isn’t in our own areas of expertise as well.

  2. I wanted to add one more thing regarding the cost of attending these conferences. I’m lucky in that at least two of the conferences I attend each year are covered by my university, from travel to registration to meals. However, I still incur the expense of a pet sitter capable of giving insulin injections to my diabetic cat, so I’m paying quite a bit out of pocket already. As much as it might benefit me professionally to do more, financially I can’t justify it. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

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