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Perspectives on the Post-Pandemic Library Conference Scene

by | Nov 9, 2022 | 2 comments


by Steven J. Bell, Associate University Librarian, Temple University Libraries

Fall has arrived and along with it what looks like the reinvigoration of the on-site library conference. Fall months were always prime time for state library conferences, scholarly communication and open community gatherings and, of course, the Charleston Conference.

Photo by Andrei Stratu on Unsplash

I first dipped my toe back into the conference scene with a one-day visit to the 2022 American Library Association Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. Even though there was less robust programming and reports of post-attendance COVID among some attendees, there was something special about returning to face-to-face engagement with my fellow attendees. More librarians are ready to once again venture out to conferences. Event organizers are ready to welcome them with open arms. That said, some programs are hedging their bets with virtual options or some hybrid concoctions.

My October-November conference season is taking me to three onsite gatherings, the Pennsylvania Library Association Conference, Designing Libraries IX and the Textbook Affordability Conference, plus two virtual programs, the Open Ed 22 Conference and EDUCAUSE virtual. Open Ed 22 continues as a fully virtual program. EDUCAUSE went for more of a best of breed approach by offering a fully onsite conference in Denver, followed by a fully virtual conference one week later. Those who register for the in-person event can also attend the full virtual conference. The Charleston Conference is going a similar route, with separate onsite and virtual programs, about 10 days apart. Unlike EDUCAUSE, those registering for the Charleston virtual conference get access to the onsite conference recordings. We’ll no doubt to continue seeing a variety of approaches to hybrid conferencing, until, perhaps, one  or two preferred models emerge.

State library association conferences will offer some academic library sessions, but the bulk of the programming is geared to public libraries. I’ve written previously about the benefits academic librarians gain from paying attention to what their public library colleagues are doing. State library conferences offer great opportunities for that connecting with public librarians and attending their presentations – while still having access to a more limited offering of academic library-focused sessions – and the Pennsylvania Library Association Conference did not disappoint. I highly recommend it. In addition to learning from public library colleagues, I rediscovered the joy of going to another city and connecting with colleagues, both old and new. Finding a great new place for a meal while exploring the conference venue is always a plus. No chance of that happening at a virtual conference.

Conference planners are getting more creative with the ways they are organizing and delivering content. Pre-recorded content is gaining in popularity as a way to create more presenter opportunities. It works reasonably well for any kind of presentation, be it a traditional panel session, a lightning talk or a poster session. Attendees can access this content at a scheduled time or whenever it is convenient for them to do so. My presentation at EDUCAUSE is an interesting hybrid session. I’ve already recorded my talk, but I am required to be present at the time for which it is officially scheduled. I won’t be speaking in real time. As my recorded talk plays, I’ll be commenting on it in the chat and answering questions. That may sound slightly weird, but it is just one more version of our future conferencing experience, as presenters and attendees.

What about the conferences where I’ve been or will be in sessions, exhibits and receptions with many others? Was I  or will I be concerned about COVID? Not so much. I can’t say it wasn’t or won’t be on my mind. Like most librarians, I imagine, I’m fully vaxxed and boosted, so the odds seem in our favor. But we also know that we continually hear about this or that person who just tested positive. Masking is now limited at best, and I saw few librarians wearing them at conference programs. The librarians who want to return to a normal, routine conference experience are willing to take some calculated risk to do so.

Those of us who fortunately have the privilege to do so, will take our chances attending onsite conferences, resigned to the reality that despite our preventative measures we’ll probably catch something sooner or later (or have already done so) and then we’ll just deal with it. That may come off as a bit cavalier, but that’s where we seem to be right now. For those who cannot or will not conference, or are just staying on the sidelines for now, having the ongoing opportunity to attend virtual events is a welcome option. It might get better or worse this winter. For now though, I’m looking forward to spring conferences. ACRL 2023 – here we come.


  1. Liz Evans

    Sadly, I think many of us are in the same position as my library where all professional development/travel funds were stripped from budgets during the Pandemic, not restored and we just can”t afford to attend, even virtually, such valuable opportunities.

    • steven bell

      Hello Liz. Thank you for sharing your comment. It is indeed unfortunate, and somewhat shortsighted, that your institution has cut professional development funding . I am sure that you are your colleagues do take advantage of the many no-cost webinars and recorded conference sessions that are increasingly available However, that is not quite the same, as I write, as having the ability to connect with colleagues for networking and learning. I hope that your institution will reverse this policy in the near future, recognizing that supporting professional development is a necessary function of organizations – not to mention critical to recruitment and retention of staff.


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