Going Regional: Conference Attendance on a Smaller Scale

By Cate Calhoun

Conference attendance can be intimidating. I have been a faculty librarian at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, since March 2012. My previous positions were unfortunately unable to offer support for professional development, so although I have been working in libraries since 2005, attending and presenting at library conferences is a new experience for me. I had the opportunity this fall to overcome my anxiety and ease my way into conference attendance through two regionally located conferences: The Georgia Conference on Information Literacy (GCIL) in Savannah, Georgia, in September and the Georgia COMO/SELA Conference (COMO) in Macon, Georgia, in October.

The first advantage of the regional conferences is that they didn’t take me too far from home. Travel can be a huge hassle and cause a lot of stress; however, attending a regional conference meant I was able to drive my own car. I avoided the trouble of a lengthy flight and renting a vehicle, and I did not have to rely on public transportation to get from one place to the next. The drive to Savannah from Auburn was not short—about 5 hours. However, the length of the drive was far outweighed by the familiarity of my trusty automobile. Driving to a regional conference gave me a chance to carpool with colleagues who were attending as well. This is a great opportunity to get to know a seasoned librarian and exchange ideas to pass the time.

Because they are smaller and often geared towards a specific audience, for me it was easier to get a proposal accepted to a regional conference than a major national one. I had a poster presentation accepted to GCIL, a low-pressure session that warmed me up to present to an audience at the following conference. COMO accepted my proposal for a 45-minute interactive presentation, and during this session I learned that presenting at a regional conference has the advantage of audience intimacy. Because these conferences have fewer attendees than national or international forums, it allowed me to become comfortable with presenting without having to face a huge audience. At COMO, my session had a small attendance due to the timing and location; however, this made for a very positive experience allowing for discussion and collaboration between myself and the attendees.

This chance to network with my fellow colleagues is my final illustration of the advantages of a smaller, regional conference. Because the participants are in an intimate setting and attending many of the same sessions, there is an increased chance to make connections and seek opportunities for collaboration. At GCIL, my poster presentation dealt with a huge deselection project I had completed at my prior institution. I was able to spend a good amount of time speaking with a high school media specialist who was preparing to embark on a similar project. Knowing my next conference presentation would be dealing with libraries and Wikipedia, I attended a session on that topic at GCIL. I was able to connect with the presenter after the session and invite her to attend my own session at COMO. Two weeks later, I was thrilled to have her in my session, interacting and sharing ideas and opening up potential for collaboration.

As someone just getting started with building a dossier through professional development, these two conferences were a great warm-up to prepare me for larger-scale conferences in the coming months. I feel as if I have broken the ice into presenting and networking, and I didn’t have to go far from home to do it.