ALSC Institute vs. ALA Conferences
Just off the end of the ALSC 2014 Institute in Oakland, I want to talk a bit about the differences in two of my favorite conferences.
Held every other year at different venues around the country (next up Charlotte NC in fall 2016), this small intimate conference is focused, youth program heavy and -centric (16 unique sessions, plus at this year's Fairyland extravaganza, a choice of one of over a dozen other breakouts) and combines deep learning with great opportunities to hear from book creators/publishers. This year, local and national authors in attendance and presenting or mingling numbered well over 40. That's quite an opportunity to speak personally with a book creator as well as hear their banter and thinking on panels!
It sounds bizarre to say that a conference with 350 youth librarians is intimate - but it is. You spend Wednesday night through Saturday noon with the same group of people - at meals, sessions and social events. If you choose to take advantage of it, you meet and share with a ton of colleagues as well as run into people IRL that you only work with virtually. One of the true advantages of these "regional" national conferences is that you get a chance to meet many youth folks from the venue's surrounding areas. This year we saw lots of our CA, OR, ID and WA peeps who can't make it to annual. That was worth the price of admission alone.
Admission. Well, here is often where the rub comes. Even with sponsoring publishers and organizations, this remains an expensive conference when you combine registrations, transportation and housing. In terms of sheer opportunity to learn/network, these costs are more than made up for. This year, I paid the whole tab myself (PLA ate up the library CE funds this year) and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Held twice a year these are the muscular conferences that move our association and profession forward. It's an opportunity for librarians to work on committees and task forces that hone leadership and problem solving skills by plunging hands, hearts and minds into the guts of improving service to our communities across types and sizes of libraries.
Vast, sprawling and often confusing, ALA conferences are also an extraordinary opportunity to work with librarians from all types of libraries on areas of passion (technology = LITA; Feminism = Feminist Task Force; Intellectual Freedom = Freedom to Read Foundation...and endless combos) outside of our primary focus. Amazing opportunities to see massive exhibits and get hands-on looks at new and upcoming youth titles are combined with opportunities to attend special events that publishers host (breakfasts, lunches, social hours) and let you rub elbows with book creators is definitely a perk.
In general ALA is far less programmatic. "What?!?!?!" you say, "There are a TON of programs to choose from!". Each division/unit is given a very small number of programs they can sponsor in the leaner paradigm adapted over the past few years. ALSC gets five, yes, I said FIVE program slots. Along with these there are independently pitched programs like Conversation Starters, Ignite sessions and Networking Commons opportunities that help attendees fill their dance cards.
I love the annual conferences for the committee work and networking opportunities across types of libraries. Its the way that I can give back to the profession by working on ALSC committees, task forces, the board and ALA Council. Working with my peers, we make a difference because together we are stronger.
If you can make it to both types of conferences, most excellent. If you need to choose, Institutes are more programmatic/intimate. ALA conferences are great for working hard towards a better profession and giving back to the profession by working on committees and learning leadership skills. Although, I guess I can say I never won a Pete the Cat doll at an ALA conference ;->