I just returned from ALA MidWinter in Dallas, TX. It was my first MidWinter & my first strict ALA conference (I attended to ACRL in Philadelphia). Here are some loosely organized impressions.
MidWinter is different. I spent the majority of my time, from the unconference first thing on Friday to the LITA Townhall Monday morning, sitting at a round table discussing pressing issues. Interest groups, unconferences, committee meetings, townhalls...these are MidWinter fair. It was nice. There were many intelligent, interesting things said & it's one thing to hear them from a podium & another to hear them from the person sitting next to you. Overall, I would say MidWinter is defined by talking with people while ACRL—which consisted of panels, research papers, & presentations—is more about people talking at you.
But there are downsides to open & equitable conversation. Quite frankly, I like hearing presentations from people at the top of their field. I can learn about innovations more quickly from a structured panel of experts (the LITA Top Tech Trends panel at MW, for instance, was effective) than a digressive conversation with those same individuals. I find this has counter-intuitive implications for instruction, too. We've all been told not to be a "sage on stage" but a "guide by the side" (I apologize for repeating it...). However, that is not always the most effective method of spreading information, especially when you're the most knowledgeable person in the room.
Last but not least, I met a bunch of people I follow on Twitter but had never met. They were, without exception, just as smart & interesting in person. It does cement the correspondence, being able to put not only a face but a body language & mannerism with each person. We're far more human face-to-face than we could ever be in text, static images, & hyperlinks...in case anyone doubted that. I removed a profile pic that showed my face for my favorite Matta painting awhile back in the name of a modicum of privacy & consistency (I try to use the same image across the Internet, like Tom from MySpace [remember him?] whose picture is the same on his Facebook account) so I think it's nice that people can picture me.
That's all, folks. Overall, I think I'll enjoy ALA Annual more, but we'll see. It was nice to work with my committees & converse. Definitely worth my while & a nice contrast from other conferences.