Next week is the 95th annual conference of SLA—that's the Special Libraries Association for those of you who prefer the traditional name—and several Information Today, Inc. editors and writers will be there ready to blog. The official dates are June 5-10, 2004, but the board of directors holds meetings both before and after the main conference. The Live from Nashville blog (http://www.infotodayblog.com) will cover as many aspects of the conference as the bloggers can handle. That would include association business meetings, conference sessions, the exhibit floor, and social events. Plus, we'll have backup from some editors not in Nashville.
Why blog SLA? According to Tina Creguer, director, communications, ProQuest Information and Learning, "The Special Libraries Association conference is an exciting event, with news, gatherings, and an exchange of ideas that help shape the library world. The blog hastens the speed of information sharing, and we're always enthusiastic about improving access to information." ProQuest is sponsoring the ITI Live from Nashville blog.
Veteran SLA conference attendees learn never to assume there will be consistency in scheduling from one year to the next. This year, continuing education seminars will be on Saturday and Sunday as usual, but the exhibit hall opens at 11 a.m. on Sunday and there's an Academic Librarians' Roundtable breakfast scheduled for 7:30 a.m., a Legal Division Tax Roundtable at 9 a.m., a Physics-Astronomy-Math Roundtable at 10 a.m., and a discussion of the PATRIOT Act at 10:30 a.m. A Networking Reception is scheduled on Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m. in the exhibit hall. It's been several years since SLA's exhibit hall was open all day Sunday, so it will be interesting to see how many attendees come to Nashville early and/or skip a continuing education course to see the exhibits. The exhibit hall is also open Monday and Tuesday, but not on Wednesday.
SLA is a prime venue for new product announcements. However, thus far the blogging team has received very few press releases. We'll see if this means a dearth of new products or if companies are simply playing their new product cards close to the chest and not tipping us off until the last minute.
Conference sessions are scheduled for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, while tours happen on Thursday. The opening session on Monday will be keynoted by Novell's Carl Ledbetter and Wednesday's closing session keynoter is Vanderbilt's Bill Ivey. Tuesday we manage to start the day without a full blown gathering of the troops.
Last year in New York and the year before in Los Angeles, attendees complained about how things were so spread out. Hiking between the Marriott and the Hilton in New York was no fun, I can tell you from personal experience, and in Los Angeles, SLA even invested in buses to get people around. This year they've been bragging about the conference being all under one roof. It must be a pretty big roof.
Conversations and Connections
For Jane Dysart, Dysart & Jones Associates, the conference is about critical conversations. "As an active SLA member since 1972 (I was 5 years old when I joined!) and a past president of the association (1995-96), the most important benefit of attending an SLA conference is conversations. Networking and face-to-face interactions are so important for learning about what others are doing:
- The successes they've had that we can replicate in our own environments.
- The issues and challenges for which we should be on the lookout.
- The new technologies and products that will assist us in exceeding our clients' expectations."
Dysart's first SLA conference experience was 1974 in Toronto; mine was 1976 in Denver. The annual conferences can be overwhelming, since there's so much going on. If you're at the conference, take time to meet and talk with people. I remember being introduced to Jim Matarazzo in Denver, while Dysart's Toronto conference was where she got to know Judy Field. Reconcile yourself to the fact that you can't do everything. Even the most dedicated conference-goer can't be in multiple places at the same time. Plus, with 7:30 a.m. breakfast meetings and division suites that stay open until midnight, sleep is something that can be postponed.
If nothing else, the program for SLA shows what a diverse group this is. Here are just a few topics I found interesting.
- West Nile Virus
- Reinventing knowledge management
- Dewey Decimal System
- Environmental damage from factory farming
- Legal research
- Energy resources
- Virtual reference
- Data visualization
- Vanishing data
- Cost recovery and cost avoidance
Will I get to all those sessions? I hope so, but some overlap with other things I want to do and meetings I have scheduled. That's the SLA conference way, I suppose.
Blogging is the new communications medium. "We hear so much about how Weblogs have the potential to obfuscate our trade press or usurp our role as reporters," said Dick Kaser, ITI's vice president of content. "But actually I think their true potential is a very interesting fast-to-press publishing platform designed to amplify our expertise as industry commentators and professional journalists."
But maybe the straightforward, diary-like blog is already a dated concept. I'd like to introduce two new blog concepts: team blogs and event blogs. Team blogs are organized blogs written by a team of people. This is not the equivalent of a blog with trackbacks and comments, but a collegial team all focused roughly on the same topic with a common mission. As an example, the Live from Nashville blog has an editorial team that is focused on providing readers with a sense of the conference and insights into new ideas and new products relevant to special librarians. An event blog is a short-lived blog that exists for the duration of an event. As an example—and I'm sure you saw this coming—the Live from Nashville blog is built around the SLA conference.
It would be nice if every SLA member had the budget, time, and inclination to attend SLA in Nashville. For those going to the conference, Dysart recommends reading Dan Trefethen's updated guide (http://www.sla.org/nashville2004/savvy2004.htm). For those who can't attend, there's the Live from Nashville blog.