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Attending conferences? YES!

Chicago AttendingI know budgets are tight. If you could see my finances, you’d wonder how my family is eating every month! But I won’t sacrifice the professional conferences this year and I hope you won’t either. You see, when times get  tough, we need to gather together even more closely and work together to advocate for our programs. If school librarians stay home from a multi-library-type conferences like ALA Annual, how will other types of librarians know how important our programs are?

Your voice is needed nationally to speak on behalf of your students, your schools, and your programs. Your participation is needed on committees. When you attend, you are an ambassador for all school programs and you send a message to other types of librarians. 

I will travel to this conference with enough cash to pay for my train ticket from the airport to the hotel and back plus enough for tips and maybe one meal. You can ask my 3 roommates and they can confirm that I don’t bring money with me. So how can I attend?

The ALA wiki has a page called Annual Conference on the Cheap with suggestions and here are some additional comments from me: 

Room: Networking and working at the state level helped me develop contacts and relationships so I have roommates. The room bill is much more manageable divided up. If one of them had to leave early, in the past I’d post on the ALA wiki and seek another roommate to help split costs. I know some people need solitude after meetings and don’t want roommates, but I don’t have that economic luxury. I have even posted on LM_NET before and met the wonderful Grace Oliff at SLJ’s Summit.

Meals: I watch for vendor meals and treats. I prefer a hotel that includes breakfast, but I can just as easily eat a piece of fruit and snack bar. If I graze throughout the day on vendor treats and the snacks my roommate Allison brings, I find I only need one big meal. I’ll attend banquets if possible and receptions. The ALA wiki indicates which meetings have food so you can plan ahead. This is still a work in progress so keep checking back. I also put my meals on my google calendar so I know when and where to be. 

Perks: When I was asked if I’d run for executive board, I said yes before I realized that during your 3 year term on exec board, your expenses are reimbursed for most of the conference. I think this is the peak of participation perks. Get on council, get involved, and run for executive board. (Of course there is a great deal of work involved, but I’m gliding over that) For my birthday present, my friend bought me a ticket to the Scholarship Bash so I can love the Art Institute while being with my friends. You might try asking for this in the future from your friends and family. It helps the Spectrum Scholarship and you have a wonderful evening event.

Sponsorship: There are people who want to help send you to conferences. Some vendors help with expenses. Some state associations will pay your expenses if you represent them at Affiliate Assembly or other events. Some civic organizations have grants. You can approach local groups to sponsor your trip and agree to come back and share. If you are desperate enough to attend, you can find a way or make a way

Travel: I am not embarassed to ask for help or to share expenses. I might make new friends and ask to share a cab if I had to take one. If one of them gets reimbursed from their library, even better. I’ll shamelessly tag along because I am there to help school libraries and I like making new friends at conferences. I use the ALA busses sponsored by Gale as much as possible. Sometimes I’ll walk. I know my hotel is 1.8 miles from the conference center by car and I know I "could" walk that if I had to (and if I packed my blister packs).  I’ll take the train downtown instead of a cab. It’s faster and I can relax and talk to people on the train. Yes, it’s true that I talk too much, but you can meet really great people all over the world that way. 

Day trips or exhibits only: If I lived in the city where the conference was held, at the minimum I’d be going there for at least one day or getting an exhibits only registration. In fact, I’d take a huge group with me including some teachers to go through the exhibit hall. You can get exhibit hall plus and supreme passes now to attend the big opening sessions and hear the speakers.

Time from work: This is not a problem during ALA Annual for school librarians which is one reason I love that conference. During the year I feel torn trying to get the professional days to attend every conference and event I need to. This summer conference is more relaxed. During the school year, I keep track of some of the benefits I am bringing back to the school: supplies like post-it notes, paperclips, free books, author contacts for visits, etc. If they could, the school would help support or let me use fund-raising funds to send me because they’ve seen the value in my attending. 

I am putting a value on my attendance and sharing this with others. I hope you will value conference going and make every effort to attend. If my room wasn’t already full, I’d offer to share, but I know there are many others out there in the same situation you are. Ask. Seek. Go.

Be sure to read SLJ’s article about doing Chicago on the cheap.


  1. As one of the three roommates (in D.C. there were five of us in one room!), I can vouch that everything Diane has said is true! We have a great time, get to know each other quite well, make lots of friends, and get to work on behalf of our profession. What could be better!