Budgets and Blisters and SARS, Oh My:
Reasons to Attend Conferences in Spite of the Risks

By Sarah Bosarge
If you’re just beginning your journey as an LIS professional or scholar, the idea of attending professional or academic conferences might be new, and maybe even seem like an impossible extravagance on top of the demands of school and life. However, many students who have attended have found the experience valuable, and even fun. Here are some reasons you might consider attending.

To learn more about your interests

One of the primary reasons to attend a conference is, of course, to go to the presentations, workshops, and other sessions. A scholarly academic conference might seem intimidating, but the students I spoke to have had positive experiences and left conferences feeling like they have learned a lot.

You might consider looking for small, specialized conferences in areas you are interested in, in addition to the larger national meetings. Distance MLIS student Bill Kelm recently presented at the Northwest Interlibrary Loan and Resource Sharing Conference which, he said, is a highly specialized conference, but a “must” for those working in ILL.

To network

I attended my first library conference over the summer—the Pacific Northwest Library Association annual conference in Boise, Idaho. Compared to national meetings, PNLA is small and it was the perfect environment for my first conference. I was introduced to several people who work within my focus of academic librarianship and returned home with a pocketful of business cards.

Other students have reported similar experiences at state and regional conferences. Distance MLIS student Tomi Whalen attended her first Washington Library Association conference last spring and was really inspired by the energy and enthusiasm of the librarians she met. Since there were also several iSchool faculty members in attendance, Tomi mentioned that is was a nice opportunity to talk with them outside of a classroom context.

To fulfill portfolio requirements

Having a presentation accepted or getting involved in conference planning might be experiences that can be included in a portfolio—although you may want to check with your advisor first to make sure. Either way, it is exciting to present. Distance MLIS student Mark O’English was part of a team that had a poster accepted for display at the ALA/CLA conference in Toronto last June. Mark thought it might be a little intimidating to present alongside LIS professionals and scholars but found ALA/CLA to be a congenial event. It is not too late to submit proposals for some conferences taking place in 2004.

To have fun

Who says librarians don’t know how to have a good time? For a little bit of added cost, PNLA sponsored a rafting trip and an evening at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. If you can absorb the cost, some of the most popular national conferences are being held this year in places like New Orleans, Nashville, and Long Beach. Even conferences taking place closer to home can provide a nice opportunity to wine and dine if you choose to take advantage of it.

Of course, conferences are rarely cheap. However, as a graduate student, you can often take advantage of student registration rates and even scholarships. Check with student organizations or local chapters of professional organizations for opportunities that might be available. You also might be able to help out with some conferences (setting up chairs, monitoring doors, etc.) in exchange for reduced fees. With a little pre-planning, you can usually find others interested in attending with whom you can share other travel expenses.

So consider attending conferences this next year. To get you started, here are some resources for library-related conferences:

ALA Planning Calendar
Lists future ALA conference dates, including all state conferences.
Douglas Hasty's Library Conference Planner
Provides links to all kinds of travel information as well as a calendar of conferences. Check out the “16 tips for a successful conference.”
Librarian's Datebook
If it ’s not on this list, it might not even exist.

Once you’ve found some potential conferences, you’ll want to become familiar with the information on the conference web sites. Most now offer online registration. Here are a dozen conferences taking place over the next year:

ASIS&T: Humanizing Information Technology
Long Beach, CA—October 19-22, 2003
Student rate $160

American Association of School Librarians
Kansas City, MO—October 22-26, 2003
Student rate $200

ACM Conference on Information and Knowledge Management
New Orleans, LA—November 3-8, 2003
Student rate $200

Public Library Association
Seattle, WA—February 24-28, 2004
Student rate $70

Oregon Library Association
Eugene, OR--April 14-16, 2004
Proposal deadline is October 15, 2003

• Northwest Archivists (no web site yet)
Olympia, WA—May 6-8, 2004

Medical Libraries Association
Washington, D.C.—May 21-26, 2004

LOEX of the West
Boise, ID—June 2-4, 2004
Proposals due December 20, 2003

Special Libraries Association
Nashville, TN—June 5-10, 2004

• American Library Association (no web site yet)
Orlando, FL—June 24-30, 2004

American Association of Law Libraries
Boston, MA—July 10-14, 2004
Grants available, see web site

• Pacific Northwest Library Association/Washington Library Association Joint Conference (no web site yet)
Wenatchee, WA—August 11-14, 2004






Sarah Bosarge is a second year student in the Distance MLIS program.