What Do Library Workers Want From Professional Conferences?

What Do Library Workers Want From Professional Conferences?

Samantha Schmehl Hines (University of Montana-Missoula College, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8632-8.ch096


What do library workers want from professional conferences? This question was the subject of a nationwide online survey administered to a randomly selected audience of library workers. Survey results showed that most library workers attend conferences, and their preferences were for face-to-face, topical events. The primary consideration for event attendance according those responding to the survey was the content presented. Issues of cost were also highly important to respondents, although funding for professional development was reported to be generally stable or even increasing. Of lesser interest to potential conference attendees were issues of location, vendor interaction, or the opportunity to perform committee work. Some future trends predicted include a growing acceptance of virtual events, a declining importance on location-based events like state library association conferences, and a need to review the roles of vendors and exhibitors in conferences.
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Most literature regarding conference attendance is proscriptive, including tips on how to make the most of the experience or how to get involved. Some of these are highlighted in the “Additional Readings” section of this chapter. Among more academic writings, the most thorough and recent examination of the topic was conducted by Robert Vega and Ruth Connell in 2007. An invitation to respond to an online survey regarding conference attendance was sent to a broad selection of listservs, and the quantitative and qualitative results analyzed. They found that the majority of their respondents attend at least one conference a year, and were primarily reference librarians or administrators. The most important factor for conference attendance among their respondents was professional rejuvenation, with networking a close second. Exhibits were also viewed as important. The intellectual content of conferences (papers, posters, sessions, and the like) were not as valued. Service in the form of committee work was primarily valued by academic librarians who had been in the field for a few years, but was otherwise not seen as important. The major detractions of conference attendance were the costs and the travel.

The role of conferences in LIS professional development was examined by Rachel Harrison (2010), who found that conferences did provide unique opportunities primarily with regard to networking and exhibits, echoing Vega and Connell’s findings. She mentions subject-specific conferences outside of the library world as particularly useful for librarians with a disciplinary focus outside the general practice of librarianship, as well as those who focus on a narrower segment of librarianship (Harrison, 2010, 268-269).

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