An Understanding of Sorts

I have to publicly apologize to TLA for misreading their email, which I think was not quite clear. I am sorry for the confusion. I am not sure I am sorry for the flap. I still think that I should not have to pay to go to the conference, if I chose to do so. I still think I should be paid for my time. I did sign the contract knowing I would be paying my own way to get there and that I would not be compensated in any real way. I hate that our profession makes us be martyrs.

Here is the response I recieved from TLA, reprinted with permission, of course:

Dear Michelle,

There has been a misunderstanding. No one is asking you to pay for the preconference, conference, or anything. The email from the TLA office was an email to all Texas speakers (members and non-members) in case anyone wished to attend the full TLA conference (beyond the date of their session). If so, we offer all Texas library professionals (whether they elect to be a member of TLA or not) a discounted rate, if they wish to attend other sessions.

We are delighted that you are presenting this preconference and know that the information will be of great value to the participants. We very much respect your time and certainly understand if you prefer not to attend the full conference. We simply wanted to let you know that, as a Texas speaker, you could avail yourself of the lower rate for the full conference if you so wished. We’re sorry for any confusion; the note from ****** was intended in the hospitable spirit for which TLA is well known. We love the TLA conference and appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge with your colleagues around the state.

I am very interested in any recommendations or observations you have to make preconference planning at TLA better. I know that your attendance numbers have really swelled, reflecting the strong interest in the topic. I also know that experiencing such an increase in attendance creates its own set of problems, and we will work on developing solutions in the future.

If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me.

Patricia H. Smith

Mr. Rochester would tell you that I tend to feel things violently and fly around with little logic occasionally. I let myself do that this time. I am sorry I was so angry so fast. I am not sorry that my big mouth got this conversation going, yet again. Do we have to do this every year? *sigh* Below was my response to Patricia, which sums up how I feel.

I really appreciate your response. I apologize as well, for flying off the handle. I will teach the preconference. In speaking with some of my colleagues, I am not the first person to have made this mistake of needing to be registered. Some of them simply went to their event anyway. Maybe an explanation that we are not required to register is needed. At other conferences which comp speaker attendance, this is made very clear from the beginning.

I would like to extend my feelings that people teaching preconferences, regardless of affiliation should be paid for their time and efforts. Similar conferences, like Internet Librarian, pay their presenters $700 for a half day conference. I know TLA pays out of state people to come and speak and what is the difference between them coming and myself. I have no affiliation with TLA other then my locale. I am still paying my own way to San Antonio.

I am happy to teach about the topic I love, but I do not believe that I should be a martyr to do so. I hope that TLA will be a leader in our profession and stand up for speaker rights. I am sorry about the flap this caused, but I think it is a topic worth discussing.

TLA and I will agree to disagree. I just want to encourage people not to be taken advantage of when they are asked to speak somewhere. The good news is that the preconference is very popular and a lot of librarians are going to benefit from hearing about 2.0 tools. The bad news is that this is the last preconference I am going to do for free. It is too much work.

–Jane, off to work on that preconference

15 thoughts on “An Understanding of Sorts

  • March 28, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    Michelle, what I think is screwed up is that you think you should apologize at all. It’s crazy that you are bringing in many thousands of dollars to their conference (single-handedly) and they don’t even have the decency to say “hey, thanks, and feel free to come to the rest of the conference for free!”

    Super uncool.

  • March 28, 2007 at 9:10 pm

    I’m with Meredith. I admire your willingness to admit to a fiery temper, perhaps poorly aimed — but there’s plenty to be mad about even if their communications aren’t as bad as you originally claimed.

  • March 29, 2007 at 10:48 am

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate here: The state library associations (such as TLA, CLA, etc.) depend largely on the net revenues generated by the conferences to underwrite the costs of most of their other activities. So, it is a case of being between a rock and a hard place: Do you (the association) pay an honorarium and maybe even travel expenses for all speakers (or even most speakers), therefore cutting into your revenues? Do you then increase the registration fees, therefore making attendance even more problematic for many (underpaid, but let’s not go there) librarians and staff? Do you increase dues (again, putting membership even more out of reach)? Or, do you do away with many of the good programs that the associations conduct on an ongoing basis? It is a no-win situation. I am not advocating one solution vs. another, just simply pointing out that it is not as simple as it might appear.

  • March 29, 2007 at 11:41 am

    Rosario, you do make some good points. However, for a TLA member to attend the entire conference, it costs $175. If you are a nonmember it costs $335. LIRT is willing to spend $995 for me to have a hardline internet connection for one day. I just think if they can spend that much money on Internet Tubes, they can pay for me to go to the conference if I chose to do so.

    I am not going to the conference. I am just going to do my gig and I am leaving. I had some other thoughts, but I forgot. When I find them, I will add them.

  • March 29, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    The revenue arguments do not address the disparity in treatment between myself and Michelle, nor do they take into account that fair treatment of all speakers may actually increase association membership.

    The speaker-inequity ship has sailed. It is no longer a question of whether this situation can persist; it is a question of how to fix it.

  • March 29, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    I wub you for your fire – don’t ever change! Unless you have kids…then you’ll have to change a bit. I bet in this instance more arm waving would have helped. It’s like the cow bell.

    Got some good stories for ya when I get back to the States.

    Smooches darlin!

  • March 29, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    Well, at the very least I hope they can re-word the emails they send out to speakers regarding registration.

    I see a disconnect between what Rosario says and the fact that LIRT was willing to pay $1K for the Tubes. (Which seems preposterous, but these fancy hotels seem to be able to get away with that.)

    I’m with Dorothea on speaker compensation. They need to handle in- and out-of-state speakers fairly and equally.

    If you continue to talk with them about this, I’d be interested to read more about it, even if it is just summarizing conversations. Like you said, these things come up and disappear all the time. I’m hoping to continue my recent trend of presenting, but me and my student loan debt will be hard-pressed to do much for free.

  • March 30, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    Just to add a bit to this most interesting discussion: I’m not sure it’s valid to compare InfoToday conferences to library assoc conferences. InfoToday is a for-profit company. They’re ultimately in it for the money, and of course they’d treat speakers well – that’s part of their business.

    Library associations, especially the smaller regional ones, are all non-profit organizations that survive pretty much on their yearly conference fees. They want to get good speakers, too – but that’s not their only purpose.

    I should probably fill in the blanks more here – I’m seeing a difference, but not spelling it out very well.

    All that to say I still agree that even in-state speakers should, at the very least, not have to pay to register for the conference – that’s simply idiotic.

  • April 1, 2007 at 1:09 am


    Ann Ewbank, President of the Arizona Library Associaton here. This is a great discussion, and I think that you bring up a lot of points that folks get frustrated with when deciding whether or not to contribute to their state library organization. However, I would like to offer another perspective- that of being responsible for the financial solvency of a small state library association.

    Rosario is correct when she says that conference revenue largely funds mid-size and small associations. Granted, we run an 18-20% profit margin on our conference (AzLA has just under 1000 members and about 800 attend the conference) but that conference has to fund ALL of our activities for the year including our administrative support.

    If we waived the registration fee for speakers we would lose approximately $10,000 (100 spekaers x $100 registration fee). For a small library association, that is a lot to lose! $10,000 represents our entire author budget, to put it in perspective. I couldn’t imagine having our conference with no authors, and I think that would negatively impact our attendance.

    Most folks understand why they need to pay registration fees in order to keep the association and the conference afloat. A couple of years ago, before I became involved in the financial aspects of conference planning, I would have agreed with the majority of you and your comments, but now that I have seen the bottom lines and all that goes into planning and executing a conference- and the fact that the conference keeps the association financially solvent- I have a different perspective.

    We require all of our in-state speakers to register for the conference and they are not eligible for honorarium and travel. We are member driven and volunteer, and if they work in libraries in Arizona (should be members) or are members of AzLA then a session is a volunteer contribution. This is clearly stated in our proposal submission form.

    We offer honorarium and travel for those who would not normally attend our conference to broaden our knowledge base. We set aside money to do this. Outside expertise is a premium and we want to bring in the best we can with the limited budget we have.

    If you would like to view our proposal submission form, you can see it at

  • April 1, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    As someone who has been involved in state associations and run a conference, let me add this perspective. The state I was in, would register all speakers for the conference. Speakers were also provided with lunch on the day of their presentation. The only distinction was that an honorarium was not paid to “in-state” speakers. I feel that is part of one’s professional duty to support one’s own state association by contributing to the local members of the profession. In the interest of fairness, I would note that it was a much smaller state where most folks would drive in for each day of the conference. I would think in larger states (like the one I am in now), that distance from the conference site would mean more flexibility in arrangements.

    It is true that the conference is a major source of revenue for state and regional associations. However, that is what budgeting is about. You simply price and/or plan to treat speakers well.

    I had always heard that Texas treated its speakers extremely well…but I may have only heard from “out of state” speakers.

  • April 1, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    I don’t mind speaking at a conference in NJ for free. In fact, I have probably given over 50 free sessions around the state for a variety of library systems, co-ops, conferences, etc. MPOW is good about reimbursing my mileage for these gigs and I like the sense of contributing to the profession. But I do take exception to having to pay for the conference on the day I am speaking. If it is a 3 day conference, at least waive the fee for the day that I speak is all I ask.

  • April 2, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    Well, I’m glad you’re coming and doing my group a huge favor. You won’t be around for Bites With LIRT, but I hereby pledge to buy you lunch or dinner or a whole lot of drinks–your choice!

    I understand the financial issue of not waiving registration fees for every single speaker but we do in fact do it for many of our speakers already because they are out-of-state folks. It’s just the in-state non-members who are not comped. I’d be curious to find out how many folks fall into that category in Texas, and how many of those would agree to speak or teach again.

  • April 3, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Hey guys, just for clarification, the whole “LIRT was willing to pay $1K for the Tubes” is a little off. LIRT did not go into this preconference expecting to make a lot of money. We’re only charging $40 for a full-day preconference. What a deal!

    Michelle stated from the first that she wanted Internet access, and I agreed. This is a preconference about online tools, after all! She also expressed concerns about wireless access, and I agreed (it can be flaky, and I don’t like to count on it). TLA, as a matter of policy, does not provide Internet access, so I arranged it directly with the convention center. Total bill: $995 for a day for hard-line access for the presenters. Attendees can get wireless access for $12.95. I’m not happy about that, but it’s what we were able to get.

    So, the reality is, if this preconference hadn’t had 100 people sign up, LIRT would have lost money. A lot of money. But it’s a good topic, and I have every confidence that Michelle (and Gary Wan from Texas A&M– let us not forget that Michelle isn’t doing this all alone!) will provide great information for the folks who attend.

    And yes, it’s a shame that conferences don’t comp registrations for speakers. And I really hate that I can’t pay Texas librarians for their travel and expenses when they present at TLA. I’ve really hated that I can’t get paid, too, when I speak at state and national conferences, but that’s another story. We’ll just keep fighting that battle.

    Danielle Cunniff Plumer
    Chair, Library Instruction Round Table
    Texas Library Association

  • April 4, 2007 at 9:55 am

    I think most of this issue, and the controversy which ensued, could be avoided simply by speakers being clear about their terms before accepting the gig. No one but me sets the rules for the terms I will or will not accept outside of what my day job requires me to do. Period.

    This includes setting my own speaking fee for my state association of which I am not a member. If they refuse to pay my fee, then fine, I don’t have to appear. I also choose for which venues I will speak pro bono. This certainly includes any professional association of which I am a member, but some others as well. This is my prerogative as a speaker.

    The bottom line is this: as a public speaker you can only be abused by lousy terms if you allow yourself to be.

  • April 4, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Yes, hindsight and all that…

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