By Meredith Farkas | November 18, 2007
I spent last weekend at the Massachusetts School Library Association Conference in Sturbridge, MA. I didn’t get to spend much time there because I had to be back at work on Monday, but I still ended up having a wonderful time. The night before my talks on Sunday, I had dinner with the wonderful group of women (and Chris Harris!) organizing the conference. They were amazing; politically active and fighting the powers-that-be at every step to get social technologies into their libraries and to promote the idea that every school should have a librarian. I felt energized just being around them!
The same held true for the audiences at both of my talks. While the audience definitely skewed a lot older than most I’ve had at technology talks, they were a savvy bunch with some really smart questions and open minds. I wondered if it would be tedious giving the same talk twice, but each one had a different group with different questions that really helped shape the experience. In the second one, some people even shared their own experiences using wikis in the classroom, which made the experience that much richer. I enjoyed it so much, and I hope they felt the same way. Other than accidentally clicking on porn during the second iteration (what happened Information Literacy Wiki?!!?), and an audience member who came in 2/3 of the way through the presentation asking me to reiterate everything I said before (ummmm… no), it went really well. It was also great to see Alice Yucht, who is another one of those people you feel energized just being around. I know in Five Weeks to a Social Library, some of our most enthusiastic participants were school librarians. Are they all this fantastic? I definitely hope to get to speak at another school library conference in the future; it was a lot of fun.
My slides and all the links from my talk are available on my presentation wiki.
The only thing that was not great about this was the venue, the Sturbridge Host Hotel. This is the first time I’ve ever really complained about a venue, so, as you can imagine, it really was BAD. I’d heard from Jessamyn that it was a nightmare to get onto the wireless there, but I assumed that she’d meant “wireless for the participants.” Every place where I have specifically been asked if I needed to use the Internet for my presentation has provided a wired connection. Not so here, and unfortunately, this is one presentation that is 100% dependent on the Internet working, since I have to show a bunch of wikis, wiki software, etc. But, they gave me some card with a login and said that only the presenters would have wireless access, so it shouldn’t be a problem to connect. When I picked the wireless network, though, I got nothing. It wasn’t that my computer wasn’t connecting to the wireless; it was that there was nothing to connect to. I kept telling the A/V guy there (the assistant, not the guy who was contractually obligated to be there) that he needed to kick the router, but he insisted that it was because I have a Mac (funny, since I was able to connect to the wireless in my hotel room in the same hotel) and got on it without asking and started screwing around with my settings (REALLY uncool). I ended up having to use Adam’s cellular wireless card (thereby depriving him of Internet access for 5 hours), which worked beautifully, but if he hadn’t been there, I would have been in a real panic. The wireless was up for my second presentation (hey, guess my computer isn’t defective), but I stuck with the cellular card because at that point, I had no faith in the people running the show.
The other fun thing that happened is that an hour into my first 2-hour talk, the power went out. Not to the lights. Not to the outlets other people were plugged into. Nope. Just the power to the projector, the microphone, and my computer (though I had battery power) went dead. Ok. Great. I had a participant call the front desk to request that the A/V guy come. It took a full 25 minutes to get the power back on, and in that time, I went on with my presentation, trying my best to describe the wikis I was supposed to be showing them. I think I handled it well, but there were no apologies to me from the A/V folks nor any explanation as to why it happened.
I don’t blame the conference organizers at all. They were promised a lot of things and some of those things didn’t happen. When Melissa, the organizer, heard there was a problem, she marched in and started reminding the A/V people of what they were contractually obligated to provide. I know there are a lot of conferences that happen at this facility (MLA, NELA) but I think it’s an abysmal place to have a conference, given the fact that everyone I dealt with there was unfriendly and they don’t seem to have the infrastructure to deal with presentations that require technology (also the dividers between the rooms were paper-thin and it was distracting to hear my fellow presenters through the walls when I was trying to concentrate on my own talk). Perhaps it’s the only location in central Massachusetts that can handle a crowd like that, because I can’t imagine that anyone over the age of 10 (there’s an indoor pool) enjoys going to this place.
All in all though, a great experience at MSLA. The one thing you can say about tech problems is that they really test you and make you a better speaker for the next time they happen.
I’m not doing another out-of-town talk until February, a fact that makes me (and Adam) very happy. I love giving talks, but the travel takes a lot out of me. I’m trying to be more choosy about the talks I give, especially since I can’t be away from work too much. I’ve had some great conference experiences and some not-so-great ones. I’ve had some experiences where it’s like pulling teeth to get reimbursed and others where they’ve said “just send me an invoice and I’ll cut you a check.” I’ve stayed in fleabag motels and luxury resorts. I’ve learned to ask for 1 more night hotel accommodation than days I’m speaking because it’s rarely easy to get a flight to or from Vermont and then you end up spending your entire honorarium on a hotel room. You learn a lot from the good experiences and the bad, and I hope I’m better now at choosing speaking engagements than I was before. I’m really excited about focusing more on the class I’m teaching this January at San Jose State University and maybe starting another writing project in late Spring if Adam doesn’t threaten to divorce me. I will definitely miss speaking over these months, because I love meeting people, giving talks and sharing ideas face-to-face, but it’ll also be nice to be a homebody for a while.