by Beau Steenken
The first law library conference I attended was the 2010 SEAALL Annual Meeting in Colonial Williamsburg. I was a library student at the time and could afford to go to one regional conference as part of my job-seeking activities during the spring semester leading up to graduation. At the time, I chose SEAALL over SWALL despite the fact that it was significantly longer trip from the University of Texas where I was a student. I would like to say that I made an informed decision based upon the number of institutions with open positions in each region, but I should probably cop to the fact that the location also played a part in swaying me—I have a masters degree in history of the early modern Atlantic World and am generally a complete colonial history nerd. Indeed, besides meeting with potential employers and attending conference sessions, I managed to visit a few historic sites post-conference. I also had what I still consider to be the world’s greatest sandwich, something a local taproom & grill called a “Carolina Surf & Turf,” a combination of pulled pork bbq and tangy crab salad on a single sandwich!
Since my initial foray into conferencing, I have attended AALL every year and SEAALL every year save one. I also started going to ORALL in fall 2014. I have visited Denver, Columbia (more colonial history was involved), Philadelphia (more colonial history), Tampa, Boston (more colonial history), Decatur, Seattle, San Antonio (colonial history of a different sort), Columbus, Philadelphia again (yet more colonial history), Fort Wayne, and, most recently, Dallas.
Dallas served as the site of the recent SEAALL/SWALL joint meeting, hosted by the wonderful librarians of U.N.T. During the conference, I found myself reflecting on the nature of conferences due to the fact that I was attending a joint meeting of the two regional associations between which I was forced to choose when embarking upon my law library career.
On the one hand, I follow a similar pattern at all the conferences I attend (besides taking advantage of their locations to tour colonial history sites). I still split my time between networking (albeit in less stressful fashion since it is no longer in connection with a job search), attending educational sessions (although I now always add visiting the exhibit hall to learn about new products), and sampling (ok, probably beyond sampling) the local cuisine (though nothing has surpassed the Carolina Surf & Turf).
On the other hand, each conference definitely possesses its own culture and character. AALL strikes me as a frenetic whirlwind that features a lot of breadth. Every second is filled, and each activity is pursued with a different cast of companions. My approach to regional conferences is more focused, and I feel like in some ways they offer more depth, especially in terms of networking. At regional conferences, I find that a lot of the participation overlaps so that I end up doing multiple things with individuals I meet. Thus, I feel like I better get to know my colleagues from other institutions. Also, the regional conferences develop their own fun little quirks, like “seaallsucker” at SEAALL or the annual euchre tournament at ORALL.
In many ways, the joint SEAALL/SWALL conference this year felt like a blend of the two types of experience. There were more attendees than at a normal regional conference. As a result, there was some turnover in cast of participants from session to session and from activity to activity, but I still saw faces multiple times, leading to deeper connections. Also, while there were chances to catch one’s breath that would not be present at AALL, the programming struck me as more varied than at a typical regional conference. (Sessions that stand out in my memory included Pablo Arredondo of Casetext pitching the WeCite project, and Barbara Bintliff’s flag-waving appeal to rally in support of UELMA.) In many ways, therefore, SEAALL/SWALL was a combination of the best features of both conferences big and conferences small.