I’ve been thinking about a statement made by Rachel Frick as the closing keynote speaker for ER&L 2013. She basically gave this statement as a challenge in her presentation: Courage of Our Connections. She says, around minute 43:15 that librarians need to think about how we attend conferences and contribute and not just be there. This was a very fresh thought in my head when I returned to my library to have a P&T discussion topic on should we, as library faculty & professional appointees, be listing conferences attended on our CV and talking about them in our narratives. It was a very thoughtful discussion and in the end the decision is left up to each library professional to choose to list relevant and engaging events attended.
I grew up in the age of punk rock & the D-I-Y culture starting in the late seventies up until now. Audience participation was/is part of what made/makes attending music events/SXSW/craft fairs & art coops from the age of 13—until now very relevant and worthwhile commitments to me. You were/are part of the action, part of the time spent together, part of the vision of the event as it was happening. It was never about just standing around and just being there. It was about meeting up with people, flailing around sometimes, helping to serve food/drinks, printing t-shirts, posters, stickers, and most of all supporting your friends and the people you felt a connection with through your mutual enjoyment of the event.
So what is active conference attendance for a librarian? What defines contribution when you are not able to get a presentation slot, roundtable discussion heard, poster session accepted? Here are five ways that can be used to gauge successful engagement at a professional event:
1. Speak up during Q&A sessions with praise, an attempt to further the presentation that has just been given, to ask follow-up questions, or to constructively challenge statements made during the presentation. In other words, join into the conversation as invited.
2. If participating in an open discussion such as a roundtable event or an unconference, participate and bring ideas to the table that are relevant to the event as it occurs. This is hard and requires more thinking on your feet and trying to make rapid, relevant connections sometimes. Being actively engaged in professional events is always slow starting but often good ideas spark great enthusiasm that can be built over the course of the event.
3. Tweet/share a facebook post and/or write blog posts about events you attend that interest you. Follow tweeting etiquette and do not write/tweet comments you would not say out loud or face-to-face to the presenter. Write about follow-up thoughts or ideas a presentation has spawned. Keep the conversation going.
4. Another way to keep the conversation going is to share with your colleagues not in attendance at the event either presentation slides and/or live streamed coverage of the event and what you liked most about the ideas/initiative presented.
5. Try to meet new people who you’ve never had any contact with before during the social events of the conference. Use a presentation that you’ve just seen together as a conversation starter. Follow your new connection on twitter, connect with them on LinkedIn, friend them on Facebook or follow them through ResearchGate or Mendeley. See if they have a blog you may want to read and write thoughtful comments.
In the end, conference attendance can be and should be recognized as a notable endeavor and does further one’s ability to do a better job and become a better engaged professional. Don’t just be there: listen loudly, engage, & contribute.