Local vs. National Conferences

by Sara Dixon, Head Editor, INALJ Kansas 

Local vs. National Conferences 

Sara Dixon PhotoLast weekend, I attended the Kansas Library Association Annual Conference, my first conference as a gainfully employed public librarian. And. It. Was. Awesome. It was great to meet so many librarians in situations similar to mine. I found out that my “small” town library is in fact much larger than many libraries in the state, and no matter the size, librarians are doing innovative, wonderful things! If you are considering whether to attend your local library conference, I would strongly encourage it. Having attended the American Library Association’s Annual Conference last June, I was able to take away a few main differences that I’d like to share.

Job Search Assistance: When I attended the ALA Conference, I was still on the job hunt. So, unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to attend many of the informative sessions if they weren’t revolving around the job search. But ALA had so many great workshops and services in the Job Placement Center. I didn’t see much in the way of job help at the KLA Conference. I was able to talk about INALJ with several people, some of whom actually knew about us and some who did not, so of course I told them ALL about it. But, if you are on the job market, that’s not to say that the sessions weren’t helpful at KLA. There was still plenty of professional development to be had: I found out about several new web tools, the latest in YA novels, and some great marketing ideas – all of which could be discussed at interviews and taken into new jobs.

Networking: Networking at a local conference is just plain easier. At ALA, I was able to meet with people from INALJ, which was awesome, and through some of those connections, I made more connections. Librarians are just about the coolest people I know. But there are about fifty million librarians* milling about at ALA, and that can be/was overwhelming. At the KLA conference, I was able to make more meaningful connections. We talked in more concrete terms. Most of us are in rural areas, and you have to approach library services differently in a rural area than you would in an urban setting. There were luncheons built into the conference that allowed more casual discourse. In a two minute conversation over lunch, I got one of the best solutions to a problem I was having reaching out to my community. I even ran into people I knew from my library job back in college.

Vendors: At ALA, I got so many books, it was difficult to carry them all back to my hotel. Several of those books were signed by the authors at the conference. It was pretty surreal meeting Alice Walker, even for two seconds. Other than book vendors, I didn’t have much to do with that extensive area. It was a bit overwhelming, especially for an outsider, like I was (or felt) at the time. When I went to the vendor area at KLA, I met a few vendors I had already spoken with on the phone. I got some immediate assistance for some technical issues I was having. I was disappointed there were no author signings and super cool demonstrations of programs/services/machines I could never afford, but it was straighter to the point, if that makes sense. “You have what I need? Let’s talk.”

Basically, both conferences were special experiences in their own rights. But I found my local conference to be helpful on an entirely different, more personal level. Of course, I must give the disclaimer that this was my experience, and I cannot begin to try and speak for anyone else. Plus I was in entirely different places in my career. But I encourage you to make the distinctions for yourself. Local conferences are definitely easier on the wallet, and just as, if not more rewarding.

What are your thoughts on local vs. national conferences? Share in the comments below.

*Fifty million is just a rough estimate. 😉