Saturday, September 17, 2005

Math vs. ALA

Let's look at some numbers.

Just how many votes does it take to get elected to council? ALA publishes the vote count along with the elections results. In the most recent election, everyone who received over 2000 votes got elected. Last time I asked, ALA had roughly 61,500 personal members, Which means you've got to convince just over 3% of total membership. That's not terribly intimidating, especially if we get some people working together. My guess is that most people have never heard of the majority of candidates.

So, assuming that we can get some folks elected, the next step is getting to conferences. What's a realistic budget for the frugal councilor? Well, we're talking six conferences: New Orleans(?), Seattle, DC, Philadelphia, Anaheim, and Denver.

First, there's ALA membership and conference registration, both of which are significantly cheaper at the student rate. Plan ahead and renew/join at the student rate just before you graduate! (Is that ethical? Shh, I won't tell.) There are a bunch of variables affecting membership rates, but the maximum is $100 a year. And be sure to take advantage of the early bird registration rate ($100 for midwinter, $125 for annual).

Next we've got transportation to the conference. In my experience, you can get from major airport to major airport just about anywhere in the lower 48 for $200 to $400 if you buy early, and the conferences tend to be near airport hubs. If you don't live near a major airport, or you live within a few hours of a range of airports, get creative. To get to ALA in Chicago this summer, I took a bus three and a half hours south and flew out of a neighboring city. I got to have lunch with a friend of mine in Seattle, and I saved about 200 bucks on airfare. The conferences are spread out geographically, so even if it costs a lot to get to one location, odds are you can get to at least one out of six for fairly cheap.

Then there's hotel, food, and transportation.

How many days are we talking? The conferences are usually advertised as nearly a week long, but some of that is pre-conference stuff. I thought you could get by on three days, but it looks like council meetings were spread out over five days for annual in Chicago. That means a five night stay, unless you want to skip the last meeting and send a proxy. Youth hostels run about $30 a night, and the couch of somebody who knows somebody you know is even less.

If you need to get anywhere, take public transit. I spent under $20 on bus fare the whole time I was in Chicago.

As for food...you have to eat anyhow, right? Let's just count the amount that is over what you would normally spend. There's a certain amount of socializing that happens over meals, so brown-bagging it the whole time might not be an option. Here's a hint: vendor receptions in the evening = free food. Besides, librarians tend to be generous. Someone might even buy you lunch (especially if they can bill it to their per diem). If you feel like a mooch, make a mental note to buy dinner for some poor library student a few years from now when you can afford it. Can we agree on $30 a day for food? 5 for breakfast, 10 for lunch, 15 for dinner. Even the ├╝ber-frugal among you has got to spend at least $5 a day on food at home, so I'm only counting $25 a day.

Am I forgetting anything?

The grand total per conference is:

112.50average registration
300average airfare
150hostel bed
20bus/subway
125food
-----
$707.50

Add in membership, and you've got $1515 a year, or $4545 (ouch) for the whole three year term. Less if you're a student, can stay with a friend, or if you can get funding from your employer. If you can find a free place to stay for half of the conferences, get your job to pay registration fees once a year, and have a student membership the first year, that already knocks almost a thousand bucks off the total cost. I'll trade you a couch in Seattle for one in Anaheim.

Not exactly a small chunk of change, and admittedly financially unrealistic for more than a few, but not a bad investment in your professional future. Granted, you could manage a nice vacation for under $1500, and Buenos Aires may hold more appeal than Philadelphia in January, but being around 20,000 library-types for a couple of days is an adventure, too.

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