ASSOCIATES (2007, July, v. 14, no. 1) -

Amanda J. Martin
9 Wexwood Court
Stafford, VA 22554

There are many reasons a person cannot attend a conference Ė cost, logistics, or a lack of availability. I work in a special library, often without backup or coverage for my position. Everything falls apart if Iím away for more than two days. Imagining the chaos that an out-to-town excursion would create is enough to make conference attendance unthinkable. But itís important to maintain your skills and keep up with new ideas. Iíve found a solution. This is how to gain from a conference without physically being there. If you combine critical thinking skills and review conference materials, itís almost like being there.

Start with the post-conference brochure. Itís important to get it after the programs are finalized, because preliminary data may just serve to confuse you. These programs are usually online and easy to print out. Read each program title carefully, whether or not they seem immediately relevant. Rank the top five most interesting programs in the margins of your printouts. Then begin reading the program descriptions, starting with the top five to hold your interest and then working through the rest. Note the presenterís employer. Put the presenterís name into a search engine and try to determine their background. Look at their employerís library website and catalog. Does the material presented in these areas seem related to their background or is it something entirely new and different? Look for themes and specific differences. Presentation slides can embellish the paragraph descriptions. Try to stay focused on the main topic. Slides can jump around a bit to keep the audienceís attention. While this is helpful in a live setting, it can be very distracting when itís read like a book without interjections by the commentator. If a concept is unclear, go deeper using your developed research skills. Look on the Internet for more information and look for citations in LISTA. Contacting the presenter with specific questions is also an option, although Iíve had limited success doing so. Conference presenters are busy people, just like the rest of us, and it is difficult to get individual attention when you werenít present for their speech.

Once youíve completed your analysis of the materials, write down your specific impressions. Use these thoughts to map relationships of overall impressions. Connect the specific facts to your thoughts on the subject. Be creative. Iíve found putting these thoughts onto a display board, like those used for posters, to be especially useful to see the big picture on paper. Maybe it will be the foundation of your next journal article. Be sure to reference specific program titles and descriptions to make sure you can cite appropriately if needed. These notes and map will be the only record of your thoughts and impressions, and this journaling exercise creates personalized conference notes.

Remember, innovation is the power to synthesize material into something new and different, and it can begin with one tiny spark. Take the time to move forward professionally with this method. The only cost for using this tool is your time and imagination.

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