Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Chicago as ALA Conference Site: Is It Really Working?
As a librarian residing the western suburbs of Chicago, I benefit from having the conference here. I can send everyone in my department to the conference in shifts - we do still have to run the reference desk. My library's librarians benefit from all the opportunities the conference offers. The enthusiasm is high.
The organizers worked hard to present a good conference and people are leaving with many good memories and many ideas for their libraries. Still, I have to question whether Chicago is a good city for the conference.
I see one big, big problem - the distance between McCormick Place (the convention center) and the city center where all the visiting librarians stay during the conference. Complicating matters is the practice of holding many meeting away from the convention center. I heard numerous complaints on the buses about the distances and short times to get between meetings.
The real indication of a problem is the attendance at the remote meetings. I attended programs at the Intercontinental Hotel (where there is a bottleneck at the elevators to get to the seventh floor) and the Hyatt Regency. There were plenty of empty seats at the LITA Technology Trends forum and the RUSA President's Program on Readers' Advisory. I heard friends say that they did not attend because it was such a hassle to leave the convention center and get back for other meetings. I believe ALA needs to look at program attendance figures and see how the remote programs are not working well.
McCormick Place is clean and expandable, but not really warm and inviting. Food vending at this conference was definitely inadequate. Still, it might have been better to have all meetings at the center. There were more rooms. I know I could have attended two or three more programs if I hadn't been off on buses.
Still, there is a benefit from getting out of the sterile environment of the conference center. The city has many restaurants, shops, and parks that are just waiting for visitors between meetings.
If Chicago had a light rail to get people back and forth from McCormick Place, much of the problem would be solved, but that should have been put in place years ago. It would be more environmentally responsible to have the conference in a city that would not require so many bus and taxi rides. People like to walk. I suggest that we try Minneapolis, Indianapolis, or Milwaukee, cities with more accessible conference centers.