Saturday, April 9, 2011
Using Conferences to Build Community
By Jane Gilvin
One of the ways that librarians build communities is through professional association conferences. The Music Library Association (MLA) conferences happen once a year and are planned several years in advance. I had the opportunity to attend the conference when it was held in San Diego in March 2010 and Philadelphia in February. From this experience, I wanted to write an article to share some ways for students to make the most out of the opportunities a conference offers, as well as ways to save money.
First, many conferences offer student rates. Although students often feel financial pressures, attending conferences should be seen as an investment in their future. A student looking for ways to fund their travel can look to professional associations, schools and other sources, many of whom offer full and partial scholarships to students or new professionals. The time spent on writing applications can provide students with money to use for travel, fees and lodging for conferences Registering early and volunteering are two other ways to make conferences more affordable. For example, the MLA has a limited number of volunteer spots for members. In exchange for a certain amount of time spent volunteering, members pay reduced fees.
Two other expenses incurred are lodging and food. Attendees may be encouraged to stay and eat at the location of the conference. This can often be a reasonable fee, however, consider that you may be able to find a better deal elsewhere. A little bit of advanced research can give you a range of affordable options. As recently pointed out on the MLA list-serv, organizations enter into agreements with hotels or conference centers that may include guaranteeing a certain number of paying guests in exchange for lower fees on other services. When making the decision about where to stay, you will want to consider the benefits of staying at the designated conference hotel or an off-site venue. If you are staying at a hotel further away, it might be more difficult to participate in some of the unofficial activities or late evening activities. It also means that serendipitous meetings are less likely to happen. Using list-servs to find roommates is another way to save on housing costs.
The MLA offers two opportunities for new or student attendees to make connections. The first is a mentoring program. On the first day of the conference, you meet with your mentor at an official MLA event. From there, it is left to the participants to arrange meetings. I participated in the program last year, and my mentor was incredibly generous with her time. She introduced me to people in the organization that she knew matched my interests. A second program is the new attendee and student dinner. This is where you can meet your mentor, but even if you do not participate in the program, new attendees and students can meet other individuals who share the same professional and educational interests. Several students formed a new group, the Music Library Student Group (MLSG) last year, and this group is planning activities specifically for students throughout the conference. Student groups are a great way to meet your peers in an atmosphere that might be less intimidating than the social activities geared toward the entire association. It also offers a forum to discuss problems and experiences that are specific to students. Other associations may or may not have student groups, but they often have mentoring programs or orientation meetings with similar opportunities.
Conferences can be exhilarating, invigorating, tiring, expensive, informative and fun. Students can take advantage of the many resources, using conferences and associations as a way to establish their own library and archive community. Whether it is finding like minded people, or people in similar academic or professional settings, or meeting someone in a different position to provide a new perspective, conference attendance is beneficial to students’ personal and professional lives. More information about the MLA conference can be found at www.musiclibraryassoc.org, including present and past conference programs.
Jane Gilvin has co-edited The Call Number for two semesters. She is in her final semester at SJSU. Her experience while in school has included working at SJSU's Special Collections and Archives, a U.S. EPA records center, interning at the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies and the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound. This summer she will intern with the NPR music library in Washington, D.C.