Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Article Note: On what conferences to attend if you are a selector

Citation for the article:

Lyons, Lucy Eleonore. "The Dilemma for Academic Librarians with Collection Development Responsibilities: A Comparison of the Value of Attending Library Conferences versus Academic Conferences." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 33.2 (March 2007): 180-189.

Read via Science Direct.

When I became a librarian, in some ways, I felt like I left a part of me behind in my other subject specialty. I am an English major by training. I was a teacher in high school as well as briefly in college, and I hold an advanced degree in English. The scholarship of English Studies was, and still is, a significant part of my academic interests. However, given my current line of work, there is not as much of an incentive for me to keep up with that part of the world, so to speak. Attending a conference like a regional MLA (the Modern Language Association, not the medical librarians) or NCTE is not seen as a priority here. If I were to ask for permission to go, I would probably raise some eyebrows. In fact, I had memberships in MLA and NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) that I allowed to lapse once I became a librarian, trading them in for ALA and TLA, so to speak. I also had memberships in a couple other smaller scholarly organizations. I have to admit that I miss that, and that I find myself considering whether I should add one or more of those memberships back in. If I am going to be a better selector for Arts and Humanities, it could prove helpful. What I have discovered is that I have not left that part of me behind as I thought I would when I jumped over to librarianship. My liaison work means I have to keep up with the scholarship in those fields as well as a few other new things. It's part of the beauty of librarianship: the chance to learn new things.

The article caught my eye because it has been a while since I have been to an academic conference. It was an experience I used to enjoy back when I used to present in them. I was beginning to specialize in what could be labeled as American ethnic (minorities) theater, presenting on authors such as Luis Valdez and Suzan Lori-Parks. Those were good days. But I am disgressing. I am not in a research university, so I don't have as much a priority as a selector in a large research university, which is the subject of the article. However, and this is just food for thought, getting back to some of those roots may be a good thing. Lord knows I do a lot of work helping students learn the ways of scholarship in various disciplines, and yes, English is one of them.

The article asks what are the benefits and drawbacks for subject specialists to attend library conferences versus academic (subject) conferences. The article is set up as a comparison looking at ALA's Annual and at Annual for American Political Science Association. For selectors, the dilemma is which conference to attend, especially if the budget is tight. Lyons draws in part on an article by Cynthia Tysick on attending conferences outside of librarianship. Lyons then goes on to compare the two types of conferences.

Lyons finds that academic conferences may be more relevant to selectors in terms of the exhibits. This is because small academic conferences tend to emphasize academic publishers as opposed to a broad range of general vendors. In large measure, the classical assumption that something like ALA is mostly geared to public librarians is in play, though the demographics of ALA conferences do not seem to validate the assumption. Lyons notes that, for the 2005 ALA Annual, 42% of attendees were from academic institutions (183). Personally, I just think that the number is simply a reflection of another reality: that academic librarians, especially at large universities, tend to be much better funded to attend conferences than many public librarians and than many more school librarians.

Some advantages of attending the academic conference include:

  • "A short cruise of the exhibition hall at an academic conference, for instance, is equivalent to a long time spent on a literature review" (184).
  • "By skimming titles and examining works on display at the APSA event, it is possible to quickly learn of trends and movements in the field" (184).
  • The exhibitions additionally "provide information specifically designed for students and faculty. For the subject selector who is also liaison to academic departments, such information can be brought back to one's home institution or posted on a subject guide as a service to the department" (184).
  • "In addition to knowing what the scholarship within their field of responsibility has produced, collection development librarians need to know how it was produced--i.e., the methodologies" (185). You get this at academic conferences.
However, library conferences do have the advantage of better peer interactions with other librarians. On the other hand, for a small academic conference, certain things, like preconferences, can be much more affordable than the ones at ALA and more relevant to a subject specialist.

The author seems to suggest that a balance may be ideal. She provides a table with four options for selectors: go to the academic conference, switch conferences every other year, do one of each per year, or have an association of subject selectors to meet more regularly at the academic conference. Some form of those options may work for me. Maybe keep attending the state library conference, but then choose something subject related as well. The article overall does provide some good food for thought.

Note: the Tysick reference above refers to the following:

Cynthia Tysick. "Attending Conferences Outside of Librarianship," College and Undergraduate Libraries 9/2 (2002): 75-81.

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