I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a day of SLA (free of charge even!) because I was presenting as part of ‘Speed Geek’ (a speed dating idea with 7 “presenters” on technology) where people could ask whatever questions they wanted.
I attended a couple of presentations and enjoyed them. Both presenters were not only clearly knowledgeable about their topic, but were good presenters. (You can see the notes I took under the SLA tag).
I think my only problem was that the sessions were 90 minutes long. For a session where there are numerous people talking about the same topic but not necessarily the same things, it works, allowing for a generous amount of time for Q&A, but it also means that people tend to zone out (which I saw at times) especially if it’s a sole presenter and isn’t the most engaging.
So, I have never actually been to a conference before that is big enough to have an info-expo. There were so many vendors and a few not only had a big booth, but brought their own carpeting!
Vendors were giving away a lot of merchandise, some of which was different including an iPhone sound amplifier, shoe shine, and USB wristbands. While many books were being sold at the discount, one vendor was even giving away their display books on the last day (which didn’t really make sense to me, because why wouldn’t you reuse them?).
I can see why it’s a big deal for vendors though. They can make offers or even deals with those who have the authority to do so, or at the very least, convince people they have a good product and then take that impression back to their organization.
Admittedly, if I wanted to talk to a vendor, it’s also a lot nicer to get a person instead of just a random person on the phone to ask questions of.
Too Big for Me
Honestly, if I hadn’t been presenting, I wouldn’t have gone.
The main reason: it’s not the most relevant conference for me. However, there is also the factor of the price and what you get out of it. SLA is a fairly expensive conference (even when attending locally, because registration is over $700 even at early bird pricing or $500 for a single day).
For that price, you get about 4 sessions a day (for 3 days) and the expo. There are plenty of water stations, but no other refreshments and 1 sandwich lunch if you get the full registration. Admittedly, if you go for the whole thing, there are supposed to be events in the evening that you can attend.
I also feel really lost in such a big conference. I was lucky to see some people I knew, and I got to meet up with a couple of friends who happened to go as well. While it didn’t feel crowded because the venue was so big (felt too big in fact), there were too many people for me. I think I max out at 400 people.
Discouraging Low Attendance
I think I was also a bit discouraged by the attendance for our session. Granted, we were in the worst possible slot, because it was right after lunch, and the last general presentation slot on the last day. Nevertheless, when you have over 1000 attendees, I expected more than 15-20 people to show up to the session.
I’ve been told that you have to experience at least one big conference as a librarian. Well, now I’ve done it and I don’t plan to do it again.
While I can see the value for others, I just don’t see it for myself.