SLA Annual: The numbers, the enthusiasm, and the law of two feet.

Lone Udinese Fan
Last week Udinese played a match against Sampdoria in Genoa. The takeaway from the match was the single Udinese fan named Arrigo Brovedani in the stands. The lone voice cheering his team on to a 0-2 victory. By all accounts he had a pretty great time.

Brovedani is sort of my hero.

Which sort of also brings me to some follow up from my most recent post. Last week I echoed my good buddy Chris Zammarelli’s concerns about the registration fees for SLA 2013. Friday Deb Hunt, 2013 SLA President, responded to the SLA Blog that looks beyond the numbers. She addresses many of the common concerns raised – the number of sessions and length, the cost of conference halls, paid registrations, and shrinking (or nonexistent) professional development budgets. I really appreciate her response of the openness and understanding. The part worth noting in my opinion is this:

Notwithstanding these and other improvements to the conference experience, SLA staff and conference planners recognize that some members simply will not be able to attend SLA 2013. Employers are cutting professional development funding, salaries are being frozen or cut, information professionals are being laid off—the list of barriers to conference attendance is long and stubbornly familiar. We’ve tried to compensate by offering a virtual conference option, but even those who took advantage of it admit there’s no substitute for immersing all of your senses in the sounds, sights, ideas and energy of a few thousand of your peers. I speak from experience when I say that you come away from an SLA Annual Conference feeling exhausted and energized at the same time.

And that’s why you simply cannot leave conference attendance to your employer. Your professional development and, ultimately, your career are too important to put in someone else’s hands. One of the most important virtues that SLA (and, for that matter, any good professional association) teaches is self-reliance, which includes taking charge of your growth and advancement. By putting aside money to attend an SLA Annual Conference, you demonstrate that you value your career and profession.

Chris also received a response from SLA’s Director of Business Development and PR John Walsh, which he posted on his blog. Go read it. Really. Do it now.

So this is where I stand – I’m not happy about the $529 (though I can’t complain about the airfare since it’s in my home state for once!), but I understand it. To use a tired metaphor, the ship has sailed for this year… and probably until 2015. It’s easy for us to call for more cost cutting and responsiveness, but I really don’t see how much more can be cut. I know from my experience as a conference planner we really are trying as a group to bring engaging and relevant programming to the conference on a shoestring budget. (Oh man… the cost of planning… that’s a whole other story.) Which then sort of goes to the heart of the matter.

$529 is a not an insignificant amount of money. It’s about 1/3 of a the costs of printing 500 7″s on colored vinyl. It’s roughly 1/2 to a 1/4 of most people’s professional development budgets (if they exist) and it doesn’t include the travel and hotel expenses. Attending conferences is expensive. There’s not other way around that. At the same time though, what are you going to do for yourself and your profession? Hunt’s point about you taking control of and responsibility for your career, I think that’s the most important point. I have several dear friends from SLA are fortunate enough to get reimbursed for most if not all their expenses. I also have several friends who pay mostly out of pocket. I think most people, myself included, are somewhere in the middle. Work pays for some, I pay for some. I feel I get so much value from SLA that I continue to volunteer and will continue to attend. I do it for myself and for my career. It’s a choice I can afford to make. I understand not everybody can afford that though, and that’s where we as a group need to work together to find sustainable solutions. Other venues, such as the Library Society of the World are other options that might work for some people, though I also worry about the self-selecting nature of these groups. (But aren’t all groups?) I still don’t have an answer really other than you need to do whatever professional development you decide on for yourself. If work pays for it, great! They’ll benefit from it, but really it’s your responsibility. What are you going to do if you lose your job? I hope you don’t have to experience that, but it’s worth thinking about. I’m not saying everybody SLA is the only option. We all know there are other options, and if that’s a better fit for you then go for it. It’s sort of like the “Law of Two Feet” from unconferences. If you’re not getting what you want out of the organization, then find one that meets your needs. Or… get involved. Sitting at home on the sidelines, pointing fingers, and complaining doesn’t really work. Do something!

So in the end, nothing’s really changed but SLA’s responsive transparency in this situation has helped make me feel better. I wish we had the numbers back when the $529 was announced, but it’s not going to change the fact that as 2013 Chair of the Transportation Division I have to be there. I also still really like SLA, a lot. So I’m not ready to throw in the towel. If I’m the only person in San Diego, I’ll enjoy myself like Arrigo Brovendani. As long as SLA continues to work on being open with the membership, I’ll continue to be a member.






One response to “SLA Annual: The numbers, the enthusiasm, and the law of two feet.”

  1. Heather ODaniel Avatar
    Heather ODaniel

    The law of two feet was presented by Harrison Owen for those that may want more information. It’s basically a concept of self responsibility and the reason, as suggested, I no longer serve SLA after many years of service with no personal benefit.

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