I just recently returned from two fantastic regional conferences, ARLIS/SE in Birmingham, AL and VRALocal in Nashville, TN. These are both small conferences focusing on art and visual resources librarians in the southeast. Since I attended both ARLIS/NA in Washington D.C. and ALA Annual in Las Vegas, NV this year, I couldn’t help but think about the vast differences between attending major conferences and smaller chapter or regional conferences. I found both types of conferences rewarding, but in entirely different ways. So what’s so great about attending local conferences?
Perhaps the best benefit of attending local conferences is that they are so much more affordable, which is especially important to graduate students! They tend to be shorter than the major annual conferences and, since they are local, they are easier to reach. The registration savings alone can pay for hotel, gas, etc.! I was able to get to both Birmingham and Nashville by car and they were close enough that I could drive the distance after work. Although I had never spent time in Birmingham or Nashville before, I didn’t feel the added pressure to go sight seeing that I felt in Washington D.C. or Las Vegas this year, which can extend the trip and cost more money. I enjoyed seeing what I was able to fit in during the two-day conferences and I know I can easily return. Affordability makes it easier to attend more conferences and reap even more benefits. I’ve been to three smaller conferences this year, whereas I would normally only be able to afford one major conference (and would have to pick between ALA, ARLIS/NA, VRA, SLA, and SAA).
Easier to forge connections
Let’s be honest, even with a full itinerary, sometimes larger conferences can feel like an endless string of presentation after presentation or attendees rushing to their next scheduled event but hardly interacting. At small conferences, there may be just a few choices on the itinerary, or none at all, but in my experience there is far more focus on cultivating connections. If you attend the same local conferences on a regular basis, you will begin to see the same people and really get to know your local library community or those who do similar work to you in your region. Smaller conferences are more intimate, so I feel more comfortable asking questions or approaching the speaker(s). This works from a presenter standpoint as well. I gave a short presentation at ARLIS/SE this year and I was amazed at how comfortable I felt. I was in a small conference room at the Birmingham Museum of Art and, since I had met nearly everyone in the room before, it was like talking to old friends. Local conferences are a great way to ease into presenting at conferences.
Your attendance counts more
Whether it’s due to smaller attendees, or less competition, there’s no doubt that it’s easier to feel more involved in small conferences. Even though I participated at ALA Annual as a member of the Student-to-Staff program (read about my experience here), I was still merely a small fish in a sea of amazing librarians. As a member on two ARLIS/SE committees, I truly felt like my attendance was important and necessary so I could give my committee report in our business meeting. At VRALocal, I believe I was the only Visual Resources Curator in the state of Georgia who attended, and it felt important to represent my VRC. Next year, I’m on the planning committee for ARLIS/SE 2015, which is being held just an hour away in Atlanta, GA. Our chapter is hosting the annual ARLIS/NA conference in New Orleans, LA in 2017, so this will be great practice for planning a large scale conference. I know next year’s ARLIS/SE conference will be just as rewarding since I’ll be involved with every step of planning it.
More focus on building knowledge and skills
There is nothing better than leaving a conference feeling inspired and rejuvenated, ready to take on your next project, thanks to a fantastic presentation. But sometimes I’m left wondering how exactly to get started doing something just as awesome at my library. The VRALocal conference was fantastic because there was a focus on building knowledge and skills. I attend a small workshop on Digitization Workflows that was immensely helpful as a new Visual Resources Curator. Each participant left with a workflow guide and received access to a Box account with templates, charts, and automation files. This alone was worth the cost and time of attending for me.
Although attending local conferences may not seem as “sexy” as ALA Annual and the like, I think they are just as important and well worth your time! Have you participated in local conferences? What was your experience?