Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Thoughts on the American Library Association Annual Conference

The American Library Association Annual Conference returned to Chicago this year. I enjoyed attending programs and wandering through the exhibits, as I always do. I collected some new ideas about library buildings and services, discovered a few new reference resources, identified some new books to read, and heard several authors speak, so it was a successful conference for me. Still, I would like to offer a critique.

Registration was curiously inconvenient. Instead of being in one of the wide open areas of McCormick Place, somewhere close to where attendees entered the building, it was way, way down a long hall and up an escalator in an area that was not really adequate for the numbers of people who lined up to register. It was also time consuming for those who had pre-registered because the association wanted to look at everyone’s ID and swipe their electronic card. No one could get a badge holder and conference packet without going through the process. Because there were only six stations and thousands of people checking in, the lines got very long. I spoke to one friend who waited in line for an hour and a half to get the badge holder and conference guides. Security had to block the entrance to the registration area at times to control the numbers, which also blocked one entrance to the exhibits.

The small Conference-at-a-Glance: A Guide to Programs and Events was the only guide I found that had all events at one time listed together. Everything else (print and online) divided the programs into tracks. Because it was hard to know the track of a program from looking at Conference-at-a-Glance, it was hard finding the description in the Program Guide. Referring page numbers would have helped.

I live in the Chicago suburbs, know lots of area librarians, and the conference had high attendance, over 25,000. Why did I see few people that I knew?

McCormick Place has some great public spaces with pretty stone surfaces and public art, but I wish it were closer to downtown Chicago. I would enjoy dashing out of the conference center to get tastier food than was offered on site. Also, I would have liked to go to a program at a hotel and still been able to get back to the conference center for the next program on time. I just stayed at McCormick Place, as did some other librarians with whom I spoke. I wonder how well attended were the programs in hotels. Were there librarians who just attended programs in hotels and never got to McCormick Place?

I liked that there was a shortcut escalator from the exhibits to the meeting rooms on the fourth level.

I enjoyed seeing the authors on the Live @ the Library stage in the back of the exhibit hall, but some were hard to hear over the roar from the exhibit hall. It reminded me of being at the Chicago Botanical Gardens, where the flowers and landscaping are beautiful but the constant roar of trucks on the Edens Expressway lessens the experience. Can these author presentations be near the exhibits in a quieter place in the future?

I really did enjoy the conference, as my other blog entries attest. I still have a couple of reports coming. I look forward now to the LITA Forum in San Jose at the end of September.

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