Affordable professional development

As part of my current campaign for the ALIA Board of Directors election, I had several people (in particular @sharonu@leesaphilip and @gemmas1980) ask me about whether I felt ALIA could or should provide more free online conferences or workshops, which then turned into a wider discussion about the affordability of professional development opportunities.

The simple answer to this is yes – I think ALIA should definitely do this, although how they should do it isn’t necessarily straightforward or simple.

The reason why I think ALIA should do this is because I’d like there to be as wide a range of professional development (PD) options as possible. Don’t get me wrong: I love conferences, I love the variety and the intensity, but I also think that they are just one piece of the PD puzzle. And I think there are a lot of people that can’t go to conferences, for many reasons (not only financial).

Offering a wider variety of PD is also much easier now than it was, say, 10 years ago. There are so many free online tools available, and there’s a critical mass of people who are able to use them, so I think it’s one of those ideas that may have had to wait for certain things to fall into place; I think they are now in place.

Which leads us to the question of how ALIA can offer these things for low or no cost to members. There are two ways to look at this: either the costs involved are paid for by someone else, or there are very few costs involved.

If ALIA wanted to, say, offer an online workshop with a big name workshop leader, there would probably be some costs involved – you’d need to pay the workshop leader, and you’d probably need to use a paid service to run the workshop online, in order to guarantee reliability. But if they could attract sponsorship to do that, then someone else pays for it. Of course, in order to attract sponsorship, there needs to be a sponsor who feels that they’ll get their money’s worth from financing the activity, but this isn’t impossible.

The other path is to look at things that have very few costs involved. I’m going to hold up ALIA Sydney as an example here, because they do a lot of this kind of things IRL. In 2012 they held several events with an entry fee of $5 for ALIA members, something most of us can rustle up. They did this by getting venues and speakers for free – so the $5 basically pays for the refreshments you get and some gifts for the speakers. Could this model be translated to an online environment? If there are members with expertise in certain areas, and a willingness to share, they’re your speakers. What we need is a good online service that can serve as a kind of virtual conference environment. I’m thinking of the Library 2.011 Conference – could we run something like that?

This is the kind of thing that is usually led by volunteer members, so is there anyone out there willing to take the lead? ALIA doesn’t really employ many librarians, but it does employ event managers that can act in a supporting role. I’ll be honest – if I get elected to the Board, that combined with the work I’m doing with the International Librarians Network is about the most I can do, but I’d certainly participate in these kind of events.

So who’s willing to take the first step?

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