As I look at the May 1 deadline for my third president’s column, several thoughts come to mind. The first is the severe economic situation facing libraries throughout the country. Examples of how libraries are suffering are found in Boston, New York City, and Charlotte, North Carolina. In Virginia, we can look at how our own public libraries are facing difficulties, highlighted by the situation facing Sam Clay in Fairfax County. The recent session of the Virginia General Assembly included an additional 15 percent cut in state aid to libraries, and public libraries will likely suffer more financial reductions due to the $60 million cut in aid to localities approved by the General Assembly for each of the coming two budget years. The second thought in this time of financial retrenchment is how important continuing education and communication are as we deal with difficult times. In this vein of thought, this month’s column will discuss our upcoming annual conference to be held in Portsmouth, Virginia, on October 21 and 22.
As we look towards October with limited budgets and financial stress, it is even more important that we take time from our busy lives to come together to learn, commiserate, and celebrate what we do for our user communities. In times of financial stress, what value does conference attendance provide for us, our staffs, and affiliated groups such as trustees, friends, and foundations?
In discussing the values of conference attendance, I am taking advantage of Susan I. Smith, reference/instruction librarian at the McConnell Library at Radford University, who is publicity chair for the conference. Much of what follows are her thoughts on the value of conference attendance, and I thank her for succinctly providing me with material that I could use to make this issue’s column both timely and relevant.
The first value is networking. This is an obvious connection, but it goes beyond just shaking hands with people and talking about a shared love of pets at the lunch table; also, it’s not just an opportunity for kvetching about difficult users, budget cuts, and cuts to services (although isn’t it nice to be able to share concerns with others who can understand your experience?); conferences provide an opportunity to IMPRESS potential colleagues, whether it be by displaying your warm personality in a casual interaction (such as a volunteer at the registration table who patiently provides guidance to a new attendee), expressing your intelligence by posing thoughtful questions to the speakers, or displaying exceptional presentation skills as the featured speaker/panelist at a conference session. It’s also an avenue to get involved in our state association. As you meet people in the course of conference interaction, you improve your chances of being selected for committee and organizational leadership positions.
The second value is getting to hear GREAT keynote speakers. Dr. Scott Nelson, Leslie and Naomi Legum Professor of History at the College of William and Mary, will give the opening keynote address on Thursday morning. The author of Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend (Oxford University Press, 2006), Scott will be speaking on the John Henry story (with music). His presentation will emphasize using the treasures found in Virginia libraries. I have heard him speak and he is a thoroughly engaging presenter. The closing keynote address on Friday morning will be given by Wanda Urbanska. Wanda is a noted national figure with a relevant message for libraries that are, both from economic need and a sense of social responsibility, faced with the challenge of conserving and using resources more wisely. Her presentation will be based on the program that she gave at the ALA National Conference in Chicago last summer. The topic “A Greener Library, A Greener You” will incorporate Virginia-specific information along with material not presented in Chicago. While I did not hear her Chicago presentation, I know from friends that her presentation will be both informative and challenging.
The third value is quality conference presentations. These presentations contain something of interest to all attendees no matter what type of library they currently work in. New to this year’s conference will be poster sessions. These sessions give individuals an opportunity to share program ideas, educational concepts, creative solutions to common problems, or personal experience in a less formal setting. Through these sessions, you might learn about new directions that colleagues are taking that could assist you in your own work environment. The success of VLA-ACRL chapter’s conference-within-a-conference is further evidence that conference presentations provide a wide variety of educational opportunities.
The fourth value is location. While I do have an ingrown preference for Williamsburg (surprise?), this year’s conference will be at the Renaissance Portsmouth Hotel in Portsmouth, Virginia. Portsmouth is a historic town by the waters of Virginia’s eastern coastline. Local Arrangements Chair Todd Elliott of the Portsmouth Public Library is planning a wonderful menu of tours and off-site venue visits. In addition, historic downtown Portsmouth is a short walking distance from the hotel, and downtown Norfolk is but a short, free ferry ride away. After the conference, extend your stay with a visit to the nearby beach or visit historic attractions at Williamsburg on your way home.
The fifth value is cost. Local conferences are far more reasonably priced than national ones and include savings in time spent traveling and staying in a hotel.
Let us come together in October in Portsmouth to share ideas, network, relax from the daily work grind, and fellowship with one another!
SEE YOU THERE!