Exiting the library on a cold winter evening...
On Wednesday I was able to attend New Jersey's VALE Conference, which as usual was a very rewarding experience professionally. More and more, I believe that nothing can fully replace in-person attendance at meetings like this, because there is so much fast, free-flowing dialogue. It's true that a person can grasp the content of what was presented by reviewing the materials afterward, but a good conference involves participation as much as absorption. Also, this is difficult to quantify but I always notice a certain energy in the room when librarians with a common mission are assembled together. Burnout is understandable in any profession, and an opportunity to collectively remember who we are and what we are doing is invaluable.
In fact, the more I know about it the more I'm impressed that the academic library community in New Jersey is able to hold this conference every year. Registration is always free, and it's my understanding that it is organized entirely by volunteers. This speaks volumes about the commitment of those involved. The conference is deliberately scheduled at a time when classes are not yet in session, so that as many librarians from as many institutions as possible are able to attend and represent themselves and their specialties. The workshops and speakers are always highly relevant, and the opportunity for information-sharing is, again, invaluable. Although I didn't present this year, last year I displayed a poster, and the conference prior my boss was part of a presenter's panel. Over the course of a year, there is no other time the community comes together like this. As the web site explains, VALE is truly a grass roots organization, in that it is not dependent on the state government or on any one institution in particular, although some institutions do take on more responsibility than others.
I wanted to say all this because when I review my notes from successful conferences like this one, in order to try and summarize for colleagues who weren't able to make it, they are inevitably inadequate. What I learned as an individual was likely different from what others would have learned, and due to multiple simultaneous sessions I was not able to attend everything. As much as possible, participation in this one-day event should be expected for academic librarians in New Jersey.