On Not Attending ConferencesJanuary 6, 2011
This weekend many of my librarian colleagues are attending the ALA Midwinter Meetings in San Diego, while many classicist friends are heading off to San Antonio for the APA/AIA meetings. (And various people I know are going to MLA, AHA, and whatever the acronym is for economists – it is clearly The Weekend When Academics Go To Meetings.)
I’ve never been to ALA, though I hope to attend ALA Annual this summer, when it will be in New Orleans, a city that is both within driving distance for me and is home to several friends, at one of whose houses I am likely to find a free place to stay. I have been to AIA/APA several times – while I was in college and grad school there were several meetings in major East Coast cities near where I then lived. (Athens, GA, in contrast, is really near Atlanta, but not very near much of anyplace else – it’s TWELVE hours by car to Washington DC, which I used to think of as far south!) These meanderings highlight the reasons I haven’t been to a big national conference in many years: location and cost (with the personal addition of my kids, who are now old enough to leave behind for a few days. I have known brave souls who have brought an infant or toddler to professional meetings, but I am not made of such stern stuff.)
The UGA Libraries are currently not funding travel to professional conferences, and even when there was funding, it was for only one meeting a year and never actually covered the full cost of attendance. While as a state institution, our budgets are tighter than some, I don’t know many colleagues who can travel to conferences without spending at least some of their own funds on the trips. Are in-person conferences, especially the big national ones, worth the expense? Last year there was a fair amount of talk about conference attendance being down, due to the economy. I know ALA is moving – though slowly – toward making virtual participation in committee work possible. The Kosmos Conference was held partially virtually this spring, due to an Icelandic volcano, and was a truly interactive virtual experience – but that is a small conference, where most of the people already knew each other or knew of each other’s work.
I would love to be attending AIA/APA this year, not least as I have just gotten connected back in to my old academic networks and friendships, and people are going whom I would love to see. And I would like the opportunity to talk up the Ancient World Open Bibliographies project. But I wasn’t willing to pay for myself to go – I have too many other priorities (like, a new roof on my house). I am interested to see what the ALA experience is like this summer, and hope to see some of my former library colleagues whom I miss there.
What’s your feeling? Are academic conferences valuable enough for you to pay out of your own pocket to attend them? Should libraries or departments fund travel to them, and if so, at what level? How can we better articulate the benefits of conference attendance in the face of very tight budgets (and in Georgia at least, skepticism from the media and the legislature)?
As a final note, I would love to host some conference reports from AIA/APA here – I am putting out the word to my Facebook friends and I would happily host comments made by readers of about their experiences and any exciting connections made.