Sunday, March 28, 2010

Too Many Decisions! Which Conference to Attend?

I am very jealous of the other librarian at my school who gets to go to the Association of Independent School Librarians conference in Nashville in April. It looks like it will be great, but I cannot go for two reasons: we serve the school better by not being gone at the same time, and I already went to the American Association of School Librarians conference in November and plan on attending ALA Annual in June.
So why complain?
AASL and AISL compete for the same librarians. They are very different conferences, and in an ideal world, we could all go to both. From what I can uncover, in the 1980s the independent school librarians (from the Independent School Section of AASL) felt excluded from and ignored by  ALA and AASL. They felt as a group that their unique needs weren't being met, and in particular, conferences had little relevance. They started AISL, with a yearly conference just about our issues (please tell me if I am mistaken). Frankly, I would love to see the amazing and active librarian leaders from each group merge the conference into AASL/ISS - imagine the preconferences, the leverage, the support, the sessions, and the parties we could have if we were all at the same conference!

I love conferences, but I hate deciding which to attend each year. Considering library budgets, school budgets, staffing, and time away from the students and teachers (or your family), we need to look carefully at each conference and make some important decisions. I interviewed several librarians about their thoughts on which conferences they like best. Here is what I found - please comment if you have something to add!

Conference Breakdown:
AASL - every other year in the fall
  • Great networking with all types of school librarians (I met some of my library heroes there, like Buffy Hamilton and Joyce Valenza!)
  • Good exhibit floor with several vendors
  • ISS section always has some specialized sessions, a school tour, and a social. 
  • Great chance to meet many authors
  • Large selection of sessions and pre-conferences to attend
  • Casual alternative sessions in the "Blogger's Cafe" (new this past year)
  • Great first-timer conference, because there is so much to do and so much going on, a good overview of the profession
  • Too much about public school issues and programming
  • AASL is too big and sometimes has ignored ISS
  • Difficult to be involved in AASL if you don't know the right people (I'd disagree - they have been very welcoming)

AISL - every April
  • Small, one hotel, very intimate.
  • Sessions are often at the independent schools.
  • Lots of free time to network and enjoy each other
"[W]hen I went to my first AISL meeting I felt like I had come home.  It was just for librarians like me.  They had the same problems, they had the same kids, headmasters, faculty, you name it.  They had great ideas.  It was a wonderful networking opportunity.  It was great way to make really fine friends.  It was a way to get involved and work and see something done quickly without dealing with a bureaucracy.  They wanted something done, I did it.  Now I run the list and the website and work with the technology committee.  It's wonderful...If ... I had a new librarian and was advising them to go to only one conference, it would be AISL.  It is the only conference where independent school librarians gather for three full days to talk only about their libraries and network.  It's incredible.  I wouldn't miss it for the world."
 - CD McLean, Librarian, Berkeley Preparatory School, Tampa Florida
  • Few vendors
  • Few authors - but you really get a lot of time with the one or two who are there
  • Less session choice (although this year's session choices look really great)
  • Some newer librarians have complained that it can feel clique-y (AASL gets the same complaint, by the way!)
  • Too much free time to be social, not enough serious professional development
  •  Sessions are sometimes at a beginner level, need more advanced topics (although this year's sessions look more varied)
Internet Librarian/Internet@Schools - The west coast one (Monterey, CA) and the international one (London) are in the fall each year. East Coast  is in the spring.

I haven't been to this one yet, but I hope to attend this fall, because AASL is every other year.  Many people love this conference. The only complaint I have heard so far is that school librarians don't  like to be separated out into their own conference, but would rather be integrated into the regular conference. Attendees enjoy learning from all types of librarians.

ALA Annual - Every Summer
This is the big one. If you like lots of people, vendors, authors, and parties, this one is for you. Some independent school librarians feel lost at this conference; we come from such small communities. But others look forward to getting inspired at ALA, to network with the ISS group, to learn from other types of librarians (This is where I first heard of LibGuides two years ago), and meet authors (you can really get to know some, and hear others present). ALA has ISS sessions, school tours, and socials. It is less intimate and a bit overwhelming, but if you jump right in you can have an amazing professional development experience. Go to sessions about library design, technology, and issues concerning university librarians; all of which have information to bring back to our schools. And, since this is during summer, you do not have to miss school for it!

ALA Midwinter - every January
I haven't been to this one yet. I think it is mainly important for those wanting to do committee work, although I am hearing that for some committees you may not have to commit to going to this conference too, but can Skype in and electronically meet. More on that another time.

YALSA's Young Adult Literature Symposium - every other fall, alternating with AASL
This is a newer conference, and I haven't attended yet. It has a literature focus, and I hear that YALSA is very welcoming and fun to be a part of. Librarians who attended last time found it very valuable, and enjoyed the focused topic.

But There are MORE!
And what about state library conferences? Regional consortia professional development days? The School library Journal Leadership Summit? The International Association of School Librarians conference? And conferences that aren't just for librarians, like ISTE and CUE?  What about curriculum mapping conferences? One-to-one laptop program training conferences?
And what of NAIS,  the People of Color Conference, or other more school-wide issue conferences? Jump-starting creativity and promoting libraries are just two of the many reasons why we should be going to conferences outside of librarianship (read about it here and here!).

How can you balance the above with all the interesting library conferences? Add all this up, and mix in a bit of school retreats and field trips, and you could be gone from your library more than present.

How do you decide which conferences to go to, and how many? Do you have a favorite conference not listed here? What are your conference plans for 2010-2011, and why? Please share your ideas!


  1. One that you don't have listed is SLA. I know that it might seem like it's not a good fit for those out of the Special Libraries Association, but in fact they have the best conference program of any I've been to yet. They are on top of thing, up to speed with technology and cover topics that can be used across fields - bringing together the best of multiple worlds into one conference.

    I also try to attend any conference that's local (aka cheap) or that will provide free registration for speakers ... that way I get to educate my colleagues and learn from them all without having to shell out extra money.

  2. I enjoy attending my state's educational technology conference, ICE (Illinois Computing Educators) held each year in February in St. Charles, Illinois. There are always sessions for school librarians and many other sessions that tech-savvy librarians can apply to their students and schools. A great place to network and meet ed-tech savvy folks, there are also wonderful keynote presentations from some of the leading thinkers in educational technology and education reform.

    Naomi Mellendorf, Associate Librarian
    Maine South High School
    Library Resource Center
    Park Ridge, IL

  3. Reat post! Making the decision about which conferences to attend will always be difficult. Last year I attended both the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and their Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) post-conference fo the first time, both of which were absolutely awe-inspiing in terms of author presence.

    At ALAN, I enjoyed being around those with similar interests in YA lit, some of whom were coming at the same texts from slightly different disciplinary angles. I've got this November's Orlando meeting on my calender!

    Wendy Stephens
    Buckhorn High School
    New Market, Ala.

  4. Interesting post! I am attending the 2010 AISL conference in Nashville; as a Canadian TL I find that AASL/ALA are just too 'American public school-focused' for my interests. I also attend OLA which is the Ontario Library Association conference, held in February in Toronto. I enjoy attending this conference because it is for all types of librarians - I often attend Public Library or Health Library sessions, and get good ideas!

  5. Thanks for alerting us to even more great conferences! Nicole - I will have to check out SLA next tine it is close to Los Angeles. Wendy, NCTE looks great too. I am excited to learn of even more choices. Thanks!

  6. Elisabeth,
    You mentioned state conferences briefly at the end of your blog...I went to a California School Library Association (CSLA) conference a few years ago and it was fabulous! Much more manageable than the national conferences like ALA, and the workshops and speakers are nicely targeted to what we do! I found it a much more efficient use of my limited time and money and came home with great ideas I could actually put into place.