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How Do We Serve?

I thought the holidays would be blogging catch-up time, but in all honesty, my 78-year-old mother has been ill and that has taken up all the slack in my life. She’s doing much better, thank you, but you can understand how a blog can drift away while I’m doing the delicate dance of work and family. I also still have one essay due back to USF for which I had received a very generous extension. I’ll be in the homework collar this weekend to make up for lost time and get this thing done… because I would like a little Christmas this year.

Meanwhile, I have thought and written about Jenny Levine’s frustrations over ALA’s policies regarding speaker compensation. In a nutshell, as an invited speaker to a PLA conference, she’s still expected to pay conference registration fees. Much discussion has happened on the ALA Council list, and many posts to Jenny’s blog.

There are no easy answers. Financially, you can’t comp everyone who speaks at an association conference. On the other hand, let’s not get pious about association participation. Most of us do it for our professional good, as Councilors readily acknowledged. Furthermore–and to me this is the most intriguing conversation not taking place–many librarians, such as Jenny, are contributing to the profession in new and different ways. Would we really want a world where The Shifted Librarian had never come into being? Jenny’s personal blog has a huge readership and is widely admired. How do we find a way to honor and acknowledge Jenny’s work in the profession? How do we build models for activities such as conferences that are fiscally reasonable, fair, and encourage participation?

I love to present, but the stories from commenters on Jenny’s blog hit home. Kathleen de la Pena McCook notes how, now that she asks for a donation to a scholarship to offset the three days she loses in travel, she no longer gets as many presentation offers. I can connect. When I was flavor-of-the-month in the late 1990s, while the filtering discussions were heated, I would sometimes get asked to speak for free or just about close to it by very large library organizations… or the expectation was I would stay in a hotel room by myself for several days to save them money (this in the days when a Saturday night stayover made a difference). I often did this, as well, out of duty and what have you. But attentions shifted, and I got older, and my family and job became more important, and now when people invite me it can be the most delightful opportunity, but if I lose a day of class it’s not worth it to me; or if it’s three days of my life (two of which are personal vacation time) it’s not worth it; or if it’s to 12 people it’s not worth it (with a few notable exceptions, talks about MPOW in California always being worth it, since most small gatherings of librarians are really sleeper cells of information evangelists). It’s not that I don’t love LibraryLand, but the reality is, at the remains of the day, it just doesn’t love you back, not on the really deep level where love happens. Plus I do try to give back in other ways, as the PUBLIB co-moderator and LITA blog champion and whatnot.

So comping everyone for talking at ALA is not realistic, but neither is inviting Jenny to speak and then asking her to pay for the honor. Somehow we need to figure out how to make all of this work–and maybe find new ways of engagement that don’t set up insoluble problems.

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  1. Angel wrote:

    I am not sure, but does a distinction need to be made? I mean, if I submit a paper to a conference, which I have done, it is a given I pay to go to the conference as well. This is done in academic conferences all the time, and no one bats an eye. Having said that, when you invite someone prominent, meaning they did not submit a proposal, but are invited on the fact they are prominent experts, I think those folks definitely should not be charged. So, I can see if you are a presenter at a panel at ALA or one of its affiliates, you should pay for attending (maybe not as much as those just attending, but I am sure that could be worked out). I understand you can’t comp everybody. However, if you invite someone of the caliber of Jenny or yourself, I would expect the organization to provide them a break, especially if it is an invitation to something they would not have done otherwise. In a way, seems to me like asking someone for a date, then asking them to pay for the honor of dating you. Maybe I am old fashioned.

    Friday, December 16, 2005 at 6:26 am | Permalink
  2. RichW wrote:

    Actually you CAN comp every speaker’s registration fees. It’s done by THOUSANDS of events every year. Heck, many conferences even comp the speaker’s hotel for a night.

    Your speakers ARE the content. Without them, there is no conference. Until open sessions and attendee-driven content are the norms, this will continue to be the case. Jarvis and Jenny are abosultely right to complain. And complain loudly.

    Perhaps in evaluating speaker compensation, associations like ALA would become more judicious in how they select content and speakers. The result would most likely be (a) less outlay in comps; (b) a tighter program with more actual experts and fewer “networkers pretending to be experts”.

    Just one person’s opinion. I speak a couple of times annually. And not only will I no longer pay registration fees, I won’t show up if there’s no internet connectivity that would allow me to run my business while at your event. If I lose speaking gigs because of that, I really don’t care. It’s their loss, not mine.

    Sunday, December 18, 2005 at 11:16 am | Permalink
  3. Rich, your points about the positive outcomes for having fewer speakers are interesting. ALA is an unwieldy conference with a program schedule that has a lot of overlap and duplication. One of the costly outcomes is that we have very few cities we can meet in because we need so many meeting and program rooms.

    Though I will say that PLA (where Jenny is scheduled to speak) has historically been a much more lithe, flexible conference. Also, I have been comped a day’s registration when I was invited to speak at PLA. Since then, I’ve been turned down to speak once, attended without speaking once, and in 2006 will speak after submitting a program form. I feel that in these last three cases, expecting me to register is reasonable.

    I would hazard offering one day’s registration would work for any speaker, regardless of circumstances. “Do you need a day’s free registration” could be a check-off on the speaker requirements form. I would bet the speakers who were planning to attend the conference in any event would not elect that option anyway.

    By the way, the most irritating thing PLA ever did with respect to its conference before this issue was send out a message warning PLA members that if they didn’t get hotel rooms through PLA they might not be eligible for the conference shuttle. If the same room is available for a third of the cost, it’s not PLA’s business if I don’t reserve it through them, nor after paying airfare and registration should I be chastised for saving money for me or my organization.

    Sunday, December 18, 2005 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  4. Chuck wrote:

    The ALA speaker flap is a sympton of a larger disease of our profession; a disease whose other symptoms you see all the time.

    Librarians often feel like and are made to feel like they are being done a favor by being allowed to work in a library, interview for a job, speak at a conference, etc. Similarly, we don’t demand to be paid what we are worth, advocate for the proper budgets, tech. support, furniture in good repair or office supplies.

    I’m not so naive that I think that one reference librarian crying in the woods about her salary will suddenly get everyone “they chedda” as the kids say.

    But historically we all have been too timid and accommodating and we are treated accordingly.

    Friday, December 23, 2005 at 7:05 am | Permalink
  5. Hey, I’m with you. I’ve got a few other stories in that vein.

    Friday, December 23, 2005 at 11:04 am | Permalink
  6. Anonymous wrote:


    Post those stories, if you can. It’s a discussion the profession needs to have.

    Friday, December 23, 2005 at 11:16 am | Permalink
  7. Some of them need to bide a wee, if you know what I mean.

    Friday, December 23, 2005 at 11:50 am | Permalink

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