What makes a conference worthwhile?

At Information Wants To Be Free, Meredith Farkas asks:

I always come from conferences with great ideas, but it’s usually more from talking to people instead of from going to sessions. Is that something I really need to fly across the country for?

Having recently gotten back from the other side of the country (Seattle) where I was attending SLA 2008, I’ve been thinking about what made it worthwhile for me.

The people always come first for me, whether they are people I’ve known for years, people I’ve just met, or speakers. I love that we have all kinds of technology to keep in touch with each other now, but there is something about face-to-face meetings, and particularly in the conference atmosphere, that is different, and (to me, at least) worth traveling for.

Aside from the wonderful people I met and reconnected with, here is what are a few of the things that made SLA 2008 worthwhile for me. Pretty much all of this is Social Science Division programming – because I am the Social Science Division planner and so went to all of the division programs.

Ilda Carreiro King on teaching adults. I don’t do enough teaching to do much reading about it, so this session was perfect for me. King is a really engaging speaker and I got ideas I could go back and apply to my job right away. For example, I usually do individual instruction (or consulting) for faculty, but after King described the advantages of small group instruction, I decided to offer a small group consulting session for faculty here. And you know what? A small group signed up and came to the session, and I really think we all got more out of it for having a group.

Flying Solo at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology by Jacalyn SpoonSocial Science and Museums, Arts, and Humanities poster session. I’d wanted the division to have a poster session for a while, and put a lot of work into adding posters to our usual joint division open house. The presenters seemed to enjoy having a place to showcase their work, and attendees seemed to like having an open house where they could learn something in addition to networking. I thought the posters were all terrific (I have been to poster sessions where people were pinning pages of 12-pt. text to the poster boards, so it was nice to see very professional, creative posters) and I was so happy and relieved when this was over that I think I ate all of the remaining chocolate on the dessert table for dinner.

Seattle. If I’m going to fly across the country, I like to be somewhere I can explore rather than trapped in a convention center. (Not that Nashville’s paradise-in-a-shopping-mall wasn’t an interesting experience, of course.) Seattle was perfect – mild weather, pedestrian-friendly streets, and a human-scale convention center. A small group of runners got together a few mornings during the conference and explored the waterfront, I visited the Pike Place Market several times, snuck in trips to the public library and the lovely Elliott Bay Book Company, and didn’t have a bad meal the whole time.

Jack Hamann, author of On American Soil. For a long time I didn’t read much nonfiction, and I doubt I would have picked this book up on my own. But since we invited the author to speak at our 85th anniversary luncheon, I decided to read it, and I’m glad I did. Not only was the book good, but so was Hamann’s talk. He updated us on events since the book was published, and described his research at the National Archives. I think it’s good to attend at least one conference session that doesn’t have a direct professional application, and this was the best one I’ve attended in that category since The Island of Lost Maps at the Peabody Library in Baltimore.

Plone Bootcamp in Seattle

I promise this isn’t becoming a Plone blog, but the coincidence is too much to pass up.

The same week I will be in Seattle attending SLA 2008, Joel Burton will be at the University of Washington holding a Plone Bootcamp. I’m not suggesting that anyone pass up SLA for the Bootcamp, just noting that a whole bunch of library and information folks will be in the same city with a (smaller) bunch of Plone folks.

Ontologies: What should you know?

I kept hearing people talking about ontologies, and was embarrassed that I, as a professional librarian, didn’t really know what they were. That all changed when I attended a program by Brandy King at SLA 2007. Not only does Brandy know ontologies inside and out (she developed one for a database at the Center on Media and Child Health) but she is really good at explaining the concept. In fact, she has a new book out. And now I can proudly explain that an ontology is a set of concepts and the relationship between those concepts, and can make for great search results (for example, in the CMCH database).

I’m really excited that Brandy will be teaching a continuing education course (Ontologies: What should librarians know?) at SLA 2008 in Seattle, and that my own Social Science Division is sponsoring it. There is still space in the class, so if you’re thinking about attending SLA 2008, sign up for the course. It will be on Sunday morning, before the main conference kicks off.

Call for Posters: Building Bridges with Collaboration Tools

This is a revision of an earlier announcement – note that there is now a prize for the best poster! (You maybe wondering, what is a poster session?)

The Social Science Division and the Museum, Arts, & Humanities Division invite proposals for a poster session to be held during the DSOC & MAHD Joint Open House at SLA 2008 in Seattle, Washington. DSOC and MAHD will award a one-year SLA membership to the first author of the best poster.

In keeping with the SLA 2008 conference theme, “Breaking Rules, Building Bridges,” the theme for the poster session is “Building Bridges with Collaboration Tools.” Proposals should focus on the use of collaboration tools (blogs, wikis, etc.) in libraries or information work. Posters may include examples of collaboration tools in use, innovative ideas for future uses, comparisons of available tools, or any other idea relevant to the theme.

The poster session will be a relaxed and informal time to share ideas with your colleagues. We welcome proposals from any SLA member, new or experienced, and especially from students. In the event we receive more qualified submissions than we can accommodate, members of the two sponsoring divisions and student members will be given priority.

Proposals should be submitted by March 1, 2008 via e-mail to murray@pop.psu.edu or mail to Tara Murray, Population Research Institute, Penn State, 601 Oswald Tower, University Park, PA 16802. Please include a title and description of about 250 words, and your name, institution, e-mail address, and address. Proposals will be reviewed by a committee for relevance to the theme and quality. We will notify applicants of our decision by April 1, 2008.

The Open House and Poster Session will be held on Sunday, June 15 from 8:00-10:00 p.m.

Wondering what a poster session is? I like this definite from the University at Buffalo Libraries:

Poster sessions are frequently used as a means to convey information in a brief format (typically 4′ x 8′) in classrooms, conferences and symposia, and workshops. Designing effective poster presentations is an art unto itself.

Call for Posters: Building Bridges with Collaboration Tools

Here’s an opportunity for SLA members to share ideas with colleagues at the Social Science/Museums, Arts and Humanities Open House at SLA 2008:

Call for Posters: Building Bridges with Collaboration Tools

The Social Science Division and the Museum, Arts, & Humanities Division invite proposals for a poster session to be held during the DSOC & MAHD Joint Open House at SLA 2008 in Seattle, Washington. The Open House and Poster Session will be held on Sunday, June 15 from 8:00-10:00 p.m.

In keeping with the SLA 2008 conference theme, “Breaking Rules, Building Bridges,” the theme for the poster session is Building Bridges with Collaboration Tools. Proposals should focus on the use of collaboration tools (blogs, wikis, etc.) in libraries or information work. Posters may include examples of collaboration tools in use, innovative ideas for future uses, comparisons of available tools, or any other idea relevant to the theme.

The poster session will be a relaxed and informal time to share ideas with your colleagues. We welcome proposals from any SLA member, new or experienced, and especially from students. In the event we receive more qualified submissions than we can accommodate, members of the two sponsoring divisions and student members will be given priority.

Proposals should be submitted by March 1, 2008 via e-mail to murray@pop.psu.edu or mail to Tara Murray, Population Research Institute, Penn State, 601 Oswald Tower, University Park, PA 16802. Please include a title and description of about 250 words, and your name, institution, e-mail address, and address. Proposals will be reviewed by a committee for relevance to the theme and quality. We will notify applicants of our decision by April 1, 2008.

SLA 2007

Tomorrow I’m headed to Denver for SLA 2007. I’ll be blogging here and at the SLA Blog.

Some things on my schedule:

  • Walking Miles in the Mile High City (free pedometers from the Social Science Division and Thomson Scientific & Dialog!)
  • The Personal Trainer (library services as an employee benefit)
  • Meet the Non-Profit Sector
  • NAFTA at 13: Unruly Teen or Happily Ever Afta (includes a presentation by Jen Darragh, who used to work with me)
  • Visualizing Statistics: Making Use and Sense of Graphs, Charts and Diagrams (I’m moderating)
  • Bloggers Get-together
  • Planning meetings for SLA 2008
  • High-altitude running and good beer!

My conference experience has certainly changed since I got involved in division leadership. I don’t have time to attend as many sessions, but I find I am very focused on the ones I can get to. I may not have time to get to any of the contributed papers sessions this year, but if you do, I would strongly encourage you to go. They are usually sparsely attended, but some of the best conference sessions I’ve ever been to have been contributed papers.