Monday, April 10, 2017

LIS Conferences and Their Attendance

Rayburn House Office Building (5)I like "watching" LIS conferences both up-close and from afar.  One of the things I take note of is attendance.  While some are growing (e.g., the Charleston Conference), some have had recent attendance challenges (e.g., ALA, SLA and CIL).  Many people have pondered why.

I  began going to LIS conferences in the heyday of the 1990s, when people, organizations, and vendors spent more on them.  There were also fewer conferences.  Now people have a wider variety of mainstream and non-traditional professional development events, which they can attend in person or virtually.  Social media assures that anyone can dip a toe into a conference, without being there.  And with tighter budgets, we are all being more selective about which conference/event to attend.  More information professionals/library staff split among a growing number of events.  Mathematically you can see how a conference would have lower attendance.

We need to stop pondering why our conferences aren't attracting as many people as we'd like, and begin acting on what we know about the situation.  Perhaps some conferences need to be revamped.  Maybe it is time for some to end or to merge with another event. We likely need to rethink their purpose (which may include providing necessary operational funds for an association) and their budgets, and consider what benefit we really want these events to deliver. We need to stop holding onto what that conference has been and allow it to morph into what it should be now.

And we need to do this SOON.

Nota Bene: Because I have kept track of  this for several years, I asked a colleague to get this info for me.  This year, the attendance at the Computers in Libraries Conference was about 10% less than 2016. According to what I heard from day 1 of the conference, attendance was 1307 including exhibit only participants (1069 without) and would probably reach 1500 with onside registrants.  Participants came from 44 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. as well as 16 countries outside the U.S. The number of international participants was done.  Some of that may have been due to the current political climate.


stevenb said...

ACRL 2017 had yet another record setting attendance. There were also a larger number of first time attendees. Maybe it is the exception. I think it's generally true that with many more online, regional and topic specific events (along with reduced budgets) the traditional big conferences are struggling.

Maybe this isn't a problem but a correction.

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

Steven, I wonder if ACRL's pattern of holding the conference every two years helps?