At the closing session of SLA Denver 2007, I heard SLA President Rebecca Varga announce the total attendance as 5,046.
I think that's what I heard. I just searched the net for confirmation of the figure but can't find anything about it--not sure what that means. Shouldn't SLA have something about it on their website? Not to rush anyone, but what are they waiting for? Did I miss it? I don't see a link. Well, eventually.
Varga said words to the effect that she was "very pleased" to announce that number, but looking over previous conference attendance figures, it doesn't look good at all, especially considering the high-profile opening and closing session speakers (Al Gore and Scott Adams). Denver doesn't seem like such a bad place to go for a conference either. No worse than other places SLA has ventured to lately.
If we go back as far as 15 years, Denver attendance was third lowest. Only Nashville (3,852) and Los Angeles (4,652) were lower. 5,046 is nothing to write home about, and is a big drop from last year's attendance at Baltimore of 5,844.
What conclusions can we draw from this?
Al Gore didn't pull them in. No one can seriously make a case that Gore brought in a lot of people to this conference. He's a politician, and he is a speaker-for-hire. That's pretty much his job these days. I imagine he was paid a pretty penny for bringing his song-and-dance routine to SLA. I'm kind of heartened about this because I don't think members should be pulled in to the convention by a politician and I'm skeptical any should be invited as the featured speakers.
There are risks in lassoing a politician as the keynote speaker. It is tantamount to an endorsement, especially when the SLA CEO was an appointee by the administration of said politician. Funny thing about politicians, they have a way of dividing people, and in this case, association members. The risk is in ripping apart SLA and creating divisions where none were before by trotting out such a controversial figure while no one on the other side of the aisle showed up.
Varga also mentioned at the closing session that a speaker had been invited to SLA 2008 in Seattle but he backed out. I didn't hear any mention of who what person was, but I'll go out on a limb and suggest it wasn't a prominent Republican. And that's what SLA needs to invite, in the interests of political neutrality. This is the Special Libraries Association, not the Janice LaChance Association. When it reflects the biases of one or a few of its leaders rather than the ideals it should embody, all is lost. God help SLA if they invite Michael Moore next year. Obviously, I don't think they get it.
Denver is not a place a lot of members want to go to. What else should I think? I had never been there before, and I wasn't that impressed with the place. Too many aggressive panhandlers on the 16th Street mall, and too many "skid row" type boarded up stores for my tastes.