I’ve been thinking a lot about service expectations, professional development opportunities and privilege. A lot has been written on the connection of conference attendance and privilege, conferences are expensive to attend and in the academic world that you often essentially pay to present your research. If you’re lucky enough to have a job that includes a professional development fund your travel and attendance might be covered but for many individuals these expenses come out of pocket. I’m very lucky (and privileged) to work in a place that has consistently supported my participation in conferences. I also have the time and financial stability to be able to attend professional development events and serve on professional committees without putting myself at financial risk.
I still think conferences can be valuable and have the potential to offer opportunities for connections with colleagues and skill building. I really look forward to the NCPH annual conference for this very reason and I have been on the organizing committee of a handful of conferences. However there definitely needs to be a more open dialogue about the financial challenges associated with attendance that is faced by students, early career professionals, and those in positions of precarious employment. In the academic world there is a huge sense of urgency that you need to build your CV by presenting at conferences but the very people who most need to build their CV through conference presentations are the ones who can least afford it. This sense of urgency is perhaps not a potent in the Canadian archives and library field but it is definitely still there – especially if you want to open career possibilities.
It’s important for conference organizers to think about what financial barriers their registration fees, hotel choices, and funding options place on attendance. Room sharing, attending smaller regional conferences, and other creative cost saving approaches can help on an individual level. As someone who lives in a region that rarely holds conferences related to my profession I understand the very real expenses associated with traveling for professional development. But this is a discussion we need to be having on a larger scale and is something we need to consider when running events. Creating opportunities for digital professional development, informal networking meetups, or running shorter less expensive single day events is one way to help with this. Similarly, joining planning committees and organizational committees where you can bring concerns and alternative suggestions can help.
Conferences are expensive to run, I get that. But there also needs to be a way that we can acknowledge the implicit privilege of conference attendance and work to create more inclusive spaces. This is particularly important for public historians and heritage professionals who work with communities and want to cultivate more community involvement. If we want to build meaningful collaboration and diversify our profession we need to create spaces for that to happen.