Today Medical Library Association (MLA) President Mark Funk sent a note to members of the planning committee for the 2008 National Conference in Chicago. I've been honored to serve on this committee for the past two years.
Mark referred us to a recent blog post that encourages the American Library Association (ALA) to support "virtual meetings" for those members who cannot afford to attend an in-person meeting, or simply do not enjoy the meetings. This was the third of three blog posts in 24 hours that encouraged ALA to facilitate virtual meetings. Mark is very interested in making MLA more accessible to the members who do not attend the annual meeting (which happens to be the majority.) So naturally these posts from ALA members caught his eye.
I have great sympathy for librarians who cannot afford to attend conferences. Hotel rooms alone can cost a fortune, and without institutional support an in-person meeting is simply out of reach for many modestly paid librarians. For these reasons, MLA, ALA and other library associations should find ways to encourage more members to participate online. Conference blogs are routine now, and people should be able to pay a modest fee to get online access to key events as they happen.
Another thread in the ALA posts, however, is that the face-to-face meetings are a waste of time. For example, there's this sentence: "Think out of the box and stop torturing us with F2F meetings that are unnecessary, not to mention personally, blindingly expensive."
"Torture." "Unnecessary." Strong language, and perhaps written in the heat of the moment and not worth parsing. But if this does represent genuine feelings, I must stand up for the value of face-to-face meetings. The informal opportunities that conferences present to chat with old friends, and to make new ones, simply cannot be duplicated online.
We should find ways to include more members in the annual meetings; everyone can contribute to the success of a conference, whether in person or virtually. But let's not go too far and equate virtual attendance with being there in person. Those of us fortunate enough to attend personally should count our blessings.