Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thoughts on ILA 2009-Peoria

Now that my 3 days at the Illinois Library Association 2009 Conference in Peoria are over I have time to reflect on the experience. Here are a few thoughts:

1. Peoria. The largest city on the Illinois River has a nice but small conference center in the middle of the downtown district that is accessible to larger hotels like the Hotel Pere Marquette and smaller hotels like Days Inn. There is very little to recommend Peoria. Options for dining are either fast food chains like Panera and McDonald's, sit down fast food like Chili's and Hooters or a few "Irish" novelty pubs near the riverfront. There is no charm to Peoria and the downtown district is very depressed. After talking to a few Illinois Library employees I found out the ILA Conference jumps between 3 locations, Springfield, Peoria and Chicago. Last year I attended the conference at Navy Pier in Chicago and the attendance was good, the programs were full and of course the options for what to do when not at an ILA event were endless. I was told this years attendance was half what was expected, somewhere in the range of 600 attendees. With such low participation I don't see how ILA can continue to hold a conference anywhere outside Chicago where numbers were much higher.

2. Programs. I attended 2-3 programs each day as well as an author/awards breakfast (which was the highlight of my conference experience) and the Fashion from the Stacks dinner/cocktail hour and fashion show (which was the lowpoint). Most presenters presented in groups of 2-3. At almost every one of the programs I attended there would be 1 very good, dynamic presenter and 1 presenter who was either not a good public speaker (lots of ummms, pauses, loss of thought etc) or not prepared. At one particular program the first female presenter was terrific, lively, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. The woman who presented 2nd was a good public speaker but would go off on tangents and was really just not interesting. After she finally stopped speaking half the room emptied and unfortunately there were very little people left to hear the 3rd presenter. Awkward.

3. Bang for your Buck. Hmmm, that's a tough one. The conference is not really expensive to begin with and considering my extremely nice accommodations (I did NOT stay at a conference hotel and booked the room on my own, see post below)rather a bargain as conferences go. Definitely more affordable than an ALA conference but based on the quality and variety of programs and special events not really worth the money. For example, I attended the Fashion from the Stacks Fashion Hour and dinner on Thursday night. Last year during the ILA Conference at Navy Pier this was one of the most popular events of the week. Great participation, great press, lots of fun and a terrific opportunity for networking. This year, and I'm assuming because of the location of the conference in Peoria, this event was a very nice disaster. Lovely room at the grandest hotel in town, plenty of food served buffet style and what should have been a fun cocktail party with dinner and dancing after with ample opportunity for networking and meeting new librarians. There were 2, count them 2 librarians who walked the runway. Apparently another librarian had been in a fender bender and she would have presented an additional 2 designs for a total of 4. How you can have a fashion show with 4 designs I have no idea. (The fashion show highlights creative costumes/outfits created from items found in the library like a dress made out of DVDs or a jacket made from paperback book covers) Picture is of one of the 2 outfits this year.
However probably to make up for the lack of participation, a library director had her teenage staff model fashion through the decades which was fun although had little to do with anything library related. All in all for the $45 cost it was not worth it.

4. Highlight. One of the best programs I attended was the Youth Services Author Breakfast organized by the Youth Services Forum. My Synergy teammate Patricia was on the Forum and another teammate Elsie receieved one of the 2 awards presented at the breakfast. This event was perfectly organized, well set up, and a great way to network with other Illinois librarians. The featured guest speaker was Jill Thompson the most widely regarded female comic book artist working in the profession today. She is the author and illustrator of the Scary Godmother and Magic Trixie series. She also was an artist on my favorite graphic novel of all time, The Sandman series. Jill did a drawing demonstration and passed around her artwork while explaining the process of creating a comic book. Absolutely fascinating. You can see a video of Jill drawing on my Facebook page.

Overall I do plan on attending next years ILA Conference when they return to Chicago. I can only imagine when held in one of the world's greatest cities the conference will be a larger success not only with participation and quality but with increased opportunities to learn, network and be inspired by those in our excellent profession.

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