Skip to content

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.

Posted on this day, other years: