When Jenny Levine expressed some frustration at ALA’s policy regarding speakers at ALA conferences who are ALA members–that is, no expenses, no free registration, nada–I commented that this wasn’t unusual for a professional assocation, and that I thought it made sense in terms of conflict of interest. You can see my comment among the growing multitude of comments, but here it is as well:
It’s a standard ALA policy that members of the organization can’t be paid for speeches at ALA conferences (that are part of the conference proper). That’s probably true of many organizations, as it’s fairly basic conflict-of-interest stuff. I think it’s a necessary ethical policy, in fact.
I suspect you’d find the same to be true of ASIST, for example, and probably most state library associations.
In other words, you’re not paying them to present at their conference–you’re paying them to attend your conference. If it’s “them,” then you’re not a member–and you should not only get in free, you should probably receive some compensation (not that I want to get PLA in trouble…). (At least, I’d demand a full-conference registration–but that’s me.)
I’m no Jeff Jarvis or Jenny Levine. I know damned well that if I’m not able or willing to participate, they can find someone else who can do just as good a job–particularly on a panel. And I’ve turned down a couple of invitations where the finances didn’t make sense.
You can read the whole sequence of comments. One person seemed to assume that I speak because of submitted proposals (never the case, at least in the last 10 years). Marydee Ojala confirmed that many (most?) professional associations bar expenses, honoraria, or freebies for internal speakers as a matter of policy. I see talk of petitions, suggestions that invited speakers are the only programs that conferences have (which has almost never been the case for state and national library conferences that I’ve attended), and so on and so on.
Lots of other bloggers have commented as well–including some of those who are “on the speaking circuit,” which I’ve never been and don’t want to be.
What I’ve learned from what I’ve seen yesterday and today (not including posts since 9 a.m. this morning, which I’ll read after posting this):
- Quite a few frequent speakers apparently pay their own way–their own travel costs, hotel expenses, etc.–and do this quite a few times a year.
- Some of the frequently-invited speakers don’t expect or get honoraria and pay their own way.
- Although I haven’t seen it stated, I can only assume that some people work at places that don’t mind having them gone a very large percentage of the time–and it sounds as though some of them even get (limited) travel support for those speaking engagements.
All of which leads me to believe that I really have no business arguing for or against policies in today’s field, because I’m so out of touch with what’s going on, and likely to stay that way.
It’s not that I haven’t spoken. You can check my full vita here or (for PDF-haters) a selective vita here. When it says “[Invited]” that’s what it means: I did not submit a proposal, I wasn’t part of a planning process, I certainly don’t have an agent drumming up possibilities (all of my speeches put together might add up to one speaking fee for a “name” speaker, or they might not).
If it says “[Invited]” and it wasn’t in San Jose, Palo Alto, San Francisco, or somewhere else within about 45 miles of Mountain View (or during ALA, Midwinter, or the Charleston Conference), you can bet that whoever I was speaking to paid full expenses: travel (flights and ground transportation), hotel and meals (usually for the full conference, if it’s a conference: I try to attend the whole thing), registration. Most of the time, there was also an honorarium: not enough to get rich on, but maybe enough to cover a little of the vacation time and preparation time. After various extended negotiations due to misunderstanding, I’ve even put together a page laying out expectations for speeches.
That’s apparently peculiar for those who want to be known as speakers these days. Apparently, if you’re to be established as an Expert or as the Go-To Guru on a topic, you need to go for it–spend your own money and your own time so you can speak ten, fifteen, twenty times a year.
Maybe I was lucky. I never particularly thought of myself as an Expert on any topic, at least not enough of an Expert that you’d automatically invite me to speak on it. And I’ve never been in a position where tenure was a possibility or where professional speaking and writing had a direct impact on my job performance ratings or salary. So I had no particular motivation to beat the bushes for speaking invitations.
I had almost 14 good speaking years, some of them years when I turned down invitations because I was unwilling to be gone any more often (or work was reluctant to have me out too often, although that’s never been a huge issue). Invitations have declined recently, and that’s OK too.
I can only think of one or two cases where I turned down an invitation because of the size of honorarium or lack thereof, although one association made expense reimbursement so unpleasant–and generally was such a hassle to deal with–that when I was invited the next year I simply turned it down without further discussion. (Not a library association, fortunately–one in a semi-related field.)
In any case, I clearly don’t understand the dynamics of today’s frequent speakers, which means I don’t understand the dynamics of the whole speaker/conference situation these days. I don’t plan to change my own patterns; although I love state library conferences and the like, I don’t love them enough to subsidize them.
So I’m backing off on this discussion. Those who are on the speaking circuit (or who want to be) and those who rely on “circuit speakers” for their conference programming should debate the issues; I’ll lurk on this one.