I’m not on my way down to San Diego today–but in some ways I’d like to be. Meanwhile, I’ve been involved in another discussion on whether ALA should even hold Midwinter. That discussion has mostly been on Friendfeed…and, as it’s evolved, I’m sensing something that isn’t new but I always find a little distressing.
You can call it separatism; you can call it divergence; you can even call it a preferred future, if that’s your preference. “It” is a tendency for types of libraries to become less and less connected.
One proposal out there is to get rid of Midwinter…and allow divisions to hold divisional conferences every year (they’re only allowed to hold them every other year at the moment). (This comes up after it’s pointed out that members already vote with their presence: That Midwinter continues to be very well-attended, even though ALA dropped the “must be at both conferences” rule for committee membership years ago.)
Would that result in the ACRL and PLA and AASL conferences being even larger than they are now? Probably. Would that be a good thing? That’s an interesting question, and one I’m not going to deal with.
It would definitely weaken ALA’s finances (to the tune of about $700,000/year), unless ALA started taking a bigger chunk of divisional conference revenue as overhead.
It would also significantly weaken the weaker divisions within ALA, the type-of-activity divisions (LITA, LLAMA, RUSA, ALCTS)–none of which are big enough to hold true national conferences and all of which are smaller and less robust than the big type-of-library divisions.
More to the point, to me at least, it would weaken the synergy among libraries, and that’s already pretty weak. Academic librarians would find it even easier to treat public librarians (and public libraries) as irrelevant (as some already do, although many don’t); public librarians would find it even easier to dismiss academic librarians as living in ivory towers; both would find it even easier to ignore school librarians altogether (and vice-versa). I think that would be a bad thing. I think it’s unfortunate that most special librarians left ALA long ago, for that matter.
In my experience, the most exciting state library conference (of the 20-odd I’ve attended) is Texas Library Association. It’s also the world’s third largest library conference (after ALA and Midwinter). Oh, and one more thing: In Texas, the school librarians never left the state association. That’s a significant factor in the size and strength of the conference.
For that matter, I’ve consistently found that “multitype” conferences–where either the school librarians haven’t left or have rejoined (e.g., Colorado), or the various organizations have agreed to joint or overlapping conferences (e.g., COMO in Georgia, if I have that right) are stronger and more interesting than others, and that the rare cases where public and academic librarians have split are weaker than you’d expect.
I’m not the one to be making this case. I’m nearly out of the field entirely at this point; depending on what happens in the next two or three months, I might or might not be attending any more ALA conferences at all. I’ve already transitioned to lifelong/continuing ALA membership and, with some regrets, dropped out of LITA after 35 years.
But to me, there’s enormous strength in librarians of all types learning from one another, and the type-of-activity discussion groups, interest groups, and informal sessions at Midwinter have been particularly worthwhile.
Consider this the ramblings of a mostly-retired library person, one who always earned his living serving academic libraries but always had his heart largely within public libraries. And who remembers when California schools mostly had libraries with librarians, and regrets the present state…