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Should You Attend a Virtual Conference? #ALAVirtual2020

Now that the 2020 ALSC National Institute will also be transitioning to a virtual conference this year, it seems like virtual conferences will be our new normal for awhile. How do you know if a virtual conference is right for you? Here are some pros and cons from my own ALA Virtual experience.

Pro: You can spend the entire conference in your pajamas and no one will judge you.

Con: No one can compliment your cool collection of children’s book-themed t-shirts.

Pro: No airfare, hotel stay, or food budget means virtual conferences can be much more affordable, especially for those of us who have never been able to attend national conferences before.

Con: Instead of seeing a new city, you only see your couch, and instead of enjoying some tasty conference dinners out and about, you’re stuck with what’s in your own fridge.

Pro: Many of ALA’s session this year were on demand, meaning that you can join late, pause, and rewind when necessary. No more feeling torn between two great presentations!

Con: Watching a video talk often just isn’t the same as seeing one live, with a community of like-minded library staff around you. Q & A sessions can also be a little more difficult to conduct over video.

Pro: Virtual conferences don’t disrupt your daily life in the same way. There’s no jet lag, no days lost to travel, no family you have to leave behind.

Con: There’s also little to no networking, meeting new people, and the kinds of conversations you can only have with a fellow library staff. A virtual conference can be a much more solitary experience than an in-person one.

Pro: Digital exhibit halls means all your ARCs are ebooks, so you don’t have to mail heavy boxes full of books back home.

Con: If you’re like me, ebooks just aren’t the same.

Pro: Stimulating talks on interesting topics can recharge your brain and bring a new perspective to your work.

Con: It’s easier to get distracted in the middle of a talk, by your phone, your child, or your cat, and you can lose that precious momentum you need to return to work invigorated, if you aren’t careful.

So should you go to a virtual conference? Ultimately, it depends on what the most important parts of a conference are for you. I’ve never been able to attend a conference as large as ALA before, because of the expense, so the trade-offs were worth it for me just to be able to attend.  But if networking and meeting new people are your favorite parts of a conference, you might need to adjust your expectations accordingly.

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