A person I’m friendly with in California wrote me last night asking for advice about a speaking gig he just got. He’s pretty new to the speaking thing (though he is excellent) and wants to grow his reputation as a speaker, but also doesn’t get funding from his institution for professional development:

I got accepted to present at the 2008 California Library Association conference, which came as excellent news. That’s the good news in this e-mail.

The not-so-good news is this: “All conference related expenses, including registration fees, travel and hotel, are at your own expense. As a courtesy to speakers, the early conference discount rate will be offered regardless of when we receive your registration. We expect to have registration materials and hotel information available in mid-July. Be sure to check the CLA website for this information.”

Is this normal? I didn’t expect them to pay for anything, really, but I figured free admission/registration to the conference is the least they could do considering I’m presenting at their conference and providing content. I’m not surprised to have to pay travel expenses, but the fact that they also want me to pay registration fees kind of makes me mad, and certainly makes me a little less enthusiastic about spending my time, money and vacation days. My employer is not very forthcoming with conferences/educational opportunities, so this is all on my own time. The fact that they expect me to cover EVERYTHING just doesn’t make me feel particularly valued as a professional or a participant in the conference, and almost makes me want to pull out of the whole thing.

Is there anything I can do about this? Do you think it would do me any good to send an e-mail stating my case here? Should this bother me as much as it does? I know I’m not at the level of getting paid for this, but at least a free pass to the conference would make me feel a lot better. I know you’ve probably been down this road before, so any insight would be much appreciated.

This story just makes me sad. It’s sad that someone who is talented and enthusiastic about contributing to the profession is getting a bucket of cold water thrown in his face. He has so much to offer the profession, and yet, he is being discouraged not only by his own library, but by the organization that is going to make money from his contribution. While I do understand not paying residents of the state to speak at a state conference, those people should at least be given the privilege of not having to pay for the pleasure of hearing themselves speak. Free registration on the day you’re speaking should be a given at any conference.

To me, it’s less about the money and more about respecting the role that speakers play at the conference. This sends the message to speakers that their contribution is not appreciated. It makes them feel that they’re being used. And for someone who is paying for the whole thing out of their own pocket and is contributing to the profession for the love of it, it is extremely discouraging. For people from have-not libraries, this is an impossible situation. Really, is this how we encourage people to contribute?

I’ve been treated very well and very badly when I’ve spoken at conferences and state conferences in particular do not have a great track record of treating in-state speakers well. What I told my friend to do is decide what is acceptable to him and what isn’t, but also to consider what he might lose from not speaking at this conference (future speaking invitations, job offers, etc.). We all have to decide for ourselves what our minimum level is and not tolerate anything that dips below that. But also, we have to make sure that we’re really willing to walk away when we don’t get what we want.

Once I’ve agreed to do something, I suck it up and do it, but I’ve learned to get all of the information ahead of time. This year, I got bitten again; this time by my own state library association. I’m still giving the talk, but I made it clear that I wouldn’t speak there ever again until they changed the way they treat their speakers. In Vermont, that might actually make a difference. In California, one person is a drop in the ocean.

Why are we willing to put up with paying registration to hear ourselves give a talk? How can we change things like this? If my friend refuses to speak, it won’t make a great difference. If 20 or 30 people refuse to speak, they would be a force for change. The problem is that when it comes to speaking, we tend to act as individuals. We never know how much the other guy gets paid or if other people get a different deal because they complained about it. There is so much that is hidden behind the curtain to the point where we’re rarely told everything until we’ve already agreed to speak. How can we make the process more transparent? How can we band together, share information about this stuff, and become a force for change?

Also, what would you tell my friend here?