Tom Sawyer at Disneyland: Work, Non-Work, and Community-Seeking at ALA 2012
The successful ALA conference experience is one in which conference-goers, through their unique pattern of attendance—at panels, discussions, cocktail hours, breakfasts, parties, meet-ups, tweet-ups, walk-offs, and ice cream socials—are able, by the time they are nestled comfortably in the aisle seats of their return flights, to reflect on a process that has left them in more rarified company than when they arrived. The path we beat (in our sensible shoes) around the Anaheim Convention Center is an externalized “drilling down” through our more generalized interests in the hopes of finding that kernel that is our unique, professional self and upon finding that place, to look around and see who else made it there with us. Without question, ALA Annual is the search for community within a community of communities—and Anaheim 2012 has proven no exception thus far.
Because who wants to be a generalist anyway? Not. Me.
This process of community seeking that we are all constantly engaged with in one way or another, which bears a striking resemblance to a professional development version of the child’s game Sardines, is brought naturally to the fore at conference time and I would very much like to see this post explode into a healthy discussion of best practices in this regard. For instance, I find that conference attendance entails a balancing of things we are obliged to see—either because of our current positions or the positions we aspire to—and things we genuinely want to see or are curious about regardless of their bearing on our livelihoods. This itself strikes me as very near to how Tom Sawyer would distinguish work from non-work and isn’t that intersection just exactly where a conference should reside?
Ladies and Gentlemen: I give you ALA Annual 2012.
ERIK BOBILIN is a supervising librarian for Brooklyn (N.Y.) Public Library.