By Watkins, Christine
American Libraries , Vol. 29, No. 11
When autumn leaves fall, chapter conferences bloom. Two conferences in late October - the Michigan Library Association (MLA) in Grand Rapids, October 21-23, and the Illinois Library Association (ILA) in Chicago, October 24-27 - offered a chance to survey a range of topics and programs on the minds of librarians in 1998.
Both conferences were well-attended, well-presented affairs - MLA drew 915 paid registrants for a total of 1,144 attendees including exhibitors, and ILA had 1,198 paid attendees for a total of 1,740 including exhibitors and exhibit visitors. The formats were roughly similar - a day of preconferences, and two-and-a-half days of programs that included two days of exhibits. The conference themes reflected what seems to be the tension - granted, an often creative and increasingly accepted tension - between technology and traditional library services.
"Something for Everyone . . . at the Library" was Michigan's theme, with plenty of technology programming balanced with author events, a museum reception, and a circus theme for the annual auction. "The State of Service in the World of Information," the Illinois conference theme, likewise offered a wide range of programs addressing the complex role of libraries in their communities.
Benton research takes center stage
Some topics were on everyone's minds, including the research from the Benton Foundation on how the public views libraries (AL, Feb. 1997, p. 55). A preconference, "The Future's in the Balance," was presented by the Urban Libraries Council and the Benton Foundation in cooperation with ILA October 24-25. Similar workshops are planned for four other cities around the country in 1999 to work with public library directors in improving the media's and the public's understanding of what libraries and librarians really do. An MLA session presented by Becky Cawley, director of the Northland Library Cooperative, also addressed the Benton research and gave a useful hands-on tour of the importance of creating an accurate image of library services for both the public and funding bodies.
"We have three primary goals at the conference - continuing education, networking and social opportunities for members, and a chance to see products and make buying decisions," said MLA Executive Director Marianne Hartzell. "Those priorities shape the way we allocate our time and resources."
The conference program reflects those goals, with 10 blocks of concurrent sessions offering between five and eight programs each. Plenary sessions included keynotes by ALA Executive Director William R. Gordon and Detroit Free Press columnist Susan Ager. Ticketed breakfast and luncheon sessions featured ALA President Ann Symons and several authors, including young adult favorite Graham Salisbury.
In addition to an all-conference reception at the Gerald R. Ford Museum and an evening "dine-around," the social highlight seemed to be the Thursday evening auction, with both live and silent items. "The auction has taken on a life of its own," Hartzell said. "I sometimes have to remind people this is a conference that happens to include an auction, not an auction that includes a conference."
Conference evaluations indicated an even higher-than-usual level of satisfaction. The focus on authors throughout, including an "author's festival" featuring 10 authors available not only to sign books but to talk about appearing at library programs, brought positive comments from attendees, and a program on national training opportunities for hosting live author events at libraries drew more than 70 people. …