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* Monday, December 19, 2005

Continuing Conference Conversations

Next month will mark the four-year anniversary of this blog, and interestingly, the most hotly debated post I’ve written since January 2002 appears to be last week’s rant about ALA presentations and conference registration fees. It really seems to have legs! I got a heads up on the discussion going on over at the ALA Council mailing list, there are (as of this moment) 30 comments on the original post, and Technorati picked up 14 blog posts about it. (If you’re interested in reading through the ALA Council discussion, it starts with message #16675, Rochelle’s post about “honked off presenters,” but you’ll have to scroll down the page and watch for different subject lines. Rochelle gets bonus points for such a great title!)

Overall, I think it’s been a good conversation, but I do want to clarify a few things for the record.

  • Contrary to what some ALA councilors are assuming (apparently they feel free to comment on the situation without reading my original post), I’m not asking ALA/PLA to reimburse me for travel expenses or provide me with an honorarium. I am ONLY asking them to waive the $165 registration fee for a half-day of a conference I am otherwise not attending.
  • My organization, the Metropolitan Library System, does support me in my efforts to do presentations like this one. They are already paying for my airfare, hotel, and meals in order for me to give this presentation, and I just don’t think it’s right that they should have to pay an additional $165 for me to stand up on stage (technically penalizing them for me being a member of ALA). I couldn’t travel as much as I do without their support, so I want to be very clear that no one should fault them in any way. They’ve been very understanding during the last two years as my schedule has taken me away from the office more and more, because they do believe in the educational value of what I do and in the internal value of what I bring back as a result. So say what you want about me, but please don’t question them.
  • A few folks seem to be questioning the abilities of the person that planned the program Michael and I are presenting, and that’s just plain wrong, too. Although I haven’t seen ALA’s/PLA’s checklist, I feel confident she is doing exactly what she is supposed to be doing. We’re three months out from the conference, and she’s checking in with me to resolve various details. In fact, she’s confirming the same details I got in an automatic form letter from PLA itself. When I noticed the registration requirement in her message, I contacted her and explained that I’m not attending the conference itself and that I wasn’t sure I had a line item left for this type of fee. She wasn’t sure how to proceed, and frankly, if there are ALA councilors who didn’t know about this policy, no one can fault her for not knowing. She wouldn’t have the authority to waive the fee anyway, so she did what any reasonable person would do – she asked someone at PLA. Their response (not hers or mine) was that if I wanted to avoid paying the fee, I should wait to become a member of ALA until after the conference in March. So while I have explained here before why I was finally ready to join ALA, the organization itself advised me to wait or pay up. At this point, a lack of time to just fill out the form saved my organization money, and if you think ALA doesn’t have a lot of extra funds to burn, try an Illinois library system sometime. So again, say what you want about me, but please leave my program’s planner out of this.
  • A fair amount of the discussion seems to be about me as an “a-lister” (a term I dislike to begin with) and how I can command attention, speaker fees, etc. I’m not even sure where to start with this one, but how about with a reiteration of the fact that I wrote the original post because I was far more upset that Michael had to pay any money at all out of his own pocket in order to give this presentation. I at least have my organization’s support behind me, but Michael doesn’t. I’ll say it again for anyone that missed this the first time: he’s paying his own way to Boston, his own hotel costs, his own meals, everything, just to be able to stand up on stage that Saturday morning. He’s not attending the conference, and he’s coming directly from the Computers in Libraries conference, where everything WILL be paid for by a commercial company. Michael’s not complaining that the organization he has encouraged all public librarians to join is charging him an additional $65 to stand up on that stage, but I am. It’s not right. Here’s someone who loves libraries so much that he’s going through all of this hassle, while pursuing a PhD in the profession for heaven’s sake, while driving to Chicago one weekend a month to teach at Dominican’s library school, while already doing presentations for peanuts, and he shouldn’t have to pay even more money to do this one thing. I consider Michael to be one of, if not THE, leading library blogger right now, and PLA is lucky to have him, let alone have him paying his own way to get to the presentation in March. It’s absurd that I have to hope my friend is willing to let his ALA membership lapse for two months just to save himself from paying the registration fee out of his own pocket. For me, this isn’t about my status; I take offense at the policy for ANY presenter in this situation, because as Meredith notes, none of us are getting rich as librarians.

    Which brings me to my next point – money. Some folks seem to think that I’m making tons of money off my blog or my presentations or whatever, but I want to set that record straight, too. I feel pretty confident that I make less money at my job than you think I do, but there are other perks (like organizational support) that help make up for it. I’ve been adding things up in my mind, and I’ve made a total of about $200, one free Treo 650, and a few free software programs in four years of maintaining this site, and the $200 and free Treo were from a text ad on my What’s on My Treo 600 page (which I haven’t had time to update in more than a year). I have turned down numerous offers of sponsorship or ad placement over the years on any library-related page of my site because I wanted to be able to say what I want to say without any question of my intent, goals, or motivations. The only real money I’ve been making off this site since fall 2002 when some of my posts appeared on the GoUpstate website is the work I do now for the ALA TechSource Blog. I’ve been completely up front about that, too, and so far I’ve been so busy that I’ve only billed them for one month. And while I’m thrilled to be blogging for ALA and I am most definitely NOT complaining, the paycheck from it isn’t exactly pushing me into a new tax bracket. So while Blake charges me way too little for the resources I take up on the LISHost server, I’ve still paid out more to maintain this site than I’ve made. So don’t think that I spend my nights counting the money under the mattress, because there isn't any.

    In addition, until this last year, I didn’t charge an honorarium for my presentations, period, exclamation point, and end of sentence. If an organization can afford it, I do charge a fee now because MPOW needs to recover costs for what I do and the time I’m not in the office. They set the price, and we’ve used a sliding scale or waived it in some cases, especially for small organizations. I never charge a member library, fellow library system, or Illinois library/organization (although, sometimes they offer it anyway), which is just one of the many ways I believe that I/we “give back” to the library community. I turn down as many invitations as I accept, but never for lack of an honorarium (mostly it’s a lack of time or I’m already booked for that time period). I’m lucky enough to be able to make those kinds of decisions, though, whereas some other valuable voices out there, like Meredith, don’t, and that’s a real shame. If waiving a day of registration fees helps get that person there, I think ALA should do everything in its power to make that happen.

    While it is indeed an honor to be asked to speak at PLA, I had been trying to limit myself to two presentations per month (a very general guideline since I often go over that), so I would give up my spot in a minute to get someone like Meredith or any number of other new voices up there instead. I think I gave at least 25 presentations this year (which is most likely lowballing it), so for me it’s not about my CV. I’m upset about the policy for all of us, not just me, and I hope ALA seriously reconsiders this one. My suggestion is that if the person isn’t attending the whole conference – if they’re only coming to give the presentation – that their registration fee for that day should be waived, member or not. If nothing else, I’m intrigued by this commenter’s idea to give press passes to bloggers.

I think the best comments so far have come from Karen Schneider when she brought up the issues of how we serve our profession and whether ALA is still relevant to today’s librarians. It would be interesting if there were generational aspects to this as well. All of which would be great discussions to have, and maybe that would be the best thing to come out of all of this. Because as far as I’m concerned, I’ve vented, I’m going to give the talk at PLA unless someone tells me not to (either on their end or on mine), and then I’m going to have to make a decision in April about joining ALA or potentially speaking at one of their conferences again. I'd hate to be faced with that choice (again), because for me, this one issue is separate from how I feel about the rest of ALA, and I'd still like to join.

So thanks to everyone that took the time to read my post and comment, wherever it landed. If you have more to say, too, leave a comment below....

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