Ask A Librarian: How does library presenting work? Who pays and when?

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Email from someone asking about how to merge librarianship and public speaking. I may not be the right person for this question…

Does your employer (if you’re employed at a Library) pay (travel, salary and credited work time) for you to attend those conferences when you’re presenting or do you pay out of pocket?

I mostly freelance. So when I worked in a library, I had a part time job at the library and if I was not presenting for the library then I’d just get unpaid time off. If I was presenting for the library like at a local event, they’d give me (paid) time off and usually it was an either/or about who would pay for things like travel and expenses. If it was part of my job, the library would usually pay for travel or at least reimburse mileage. Occasionally, rarely, I’d get paid for my time by the organization, and that money would go back to the library if I was getting my time reimbursed by the library.

This is definitely a tricky issue with full-timers and it’s worth making sure you’re very above-board with your library about doing professional work like this. Some libraries are thrilled to have staff doing a lot of professional development (teaching or attending) and some are less into it.

If you’re giving a presentation at another library (such as staff day or as part of Library program) how are you contacted? Do you pitch a proposal to those libraries or do they contact you first?

I’ve been in a weird lucky place where I think people mostly have heard about me and so reach out? So I got started in 2004 being asked to give a talk for a local ASISt event and then people saw me and invited me to more stuff. I have a lot of flexibility because of my freelancing and my rates are attractive/competitive (honestly they are probably too low) which always helps. Occasionally I pitch presentations, especially for my local conferences. Now it’s primarily word of mouth. And here’s how it breaks down:

If someone contacts me, it’s a job and I expect to get paid, reimbursed and accommodated by the org who contacted me unless it’s a *very* prestigious conference in which case I just ask for entry to the conference (SXSW used to be like this, some very remote library conferences will pay you to get there and put you up, but not pay you otherwise)
If I contact them I assume I am on my own dime but might get free conference entry especially on the day I gave a talk

I was thinking of searching for other libraries outside of my state and submitting a Suggest for Program Proposal directly to that library with my presentation/program description and contact information. Is this something that you recommend?

Depending on how narrow your topic is? A lot of libraries don’t have a lot of money to pay speakers (especially for things like travel reimbursement) but every state has an annual conference and they bring in people for those, so maybe start at the state level in more states especially ones which are nearby to where you are so wouldn’t be a killer travel thing. Assume if your proposal gets accepted you would get free entry to the conference but likely not get paid (is my understanding).

Things like in-service days at libraries are definitely the exception: they like having professionals who can hold up a good chunk of the day, they pay well, and you get to meet a LOT of librarians and really spend time with them, which is something I always feel is special about these events. I do some of the talking that I do at in-service days at local schools as well as libraries which you might consider, again based on your topic.

Also, if you’re asked to speak outside of the United States, does your library pay for your travel accommodations and salary while presenting or are you paid directly by the Library who ask you to speak? – Thank you!

If I go outside the US, the organization pays for me to get there, stay there and talk there. But again, my situation as a freelancer is very different from when people are full-time employed, You might want to ask other librarians like David Lee King, Meredith Farkas or Michael Stephens, people who are in my cohort of public speakers and also full-time employed in library professions.

6 thoughts on “Ask A Librarian: How does library presenting work? Who pays and when?

  1. My experience is that it varies widely depending on your institution. At my first job, I could get paid by the requesting institution (for prepping a talk on my own time) and still take work time to attend and speak at the conference. My past two jobs have been at state institutions that have strict ethics rules that preclude getting paid by an external institution if you’re taking any work time. So now, if I give a talk and want to use work time, I have to do it for free (though I can accept reimbursement for my travel). If I want to get paid an honorarium by the requesting institution, I have to take vacation time.

    Then there are conferences I attend as part of my job at which I might speak. At those, my library pays for me to attend and I don’t receive an honorarium for my talk. I can also (if I can fit it into my workday) use work time to prepare the talk.

    Other than for conferences that are part of my job (where I’ve proposed sessions as part of a conference call for proposals), I’ve always been asked to speak at conferences and for organizations. It would be kind of weird to get an inquiry from a librarian offering to speak for money at my organization, but it would be less weird for that same offer to be made to a state/regional conference. Really, though, I’d suspect that most people are going to ask speakers they are aware of who have a presence (either through blogging, presenting at other conferences, publishing on the topic of interest, etc.). If you have no track record, no noted expertise, etc. why would they want you? I think a “cold call” contact offering to speak (unless you’re also offering to do it for free) would not really endear you to anyone.

  2. Hi Jessamyn! Fun topic :-) Basically, I pretty much do what you described. Here’s my version:

    – If my library sends me to a conference and I speak there, then it counts as work time. So travel expenses, etc are paid for by my library. I can’t accept money for those presentations. In fact, if someone did pay me, I’d need to give that check to the library’s foundation.

    – If it’s on my own time (most of my speaking gigs are that), I take vacation days, and the organization that invited me to speak pays for travel expenses and a speaker’s fee or honorarium. Same with international travel – the organization inviting me to speak will pay for expenses, and (hopefully) an honorarium.

    I have a set “this is my rate” for speaking gigs. Of course, that varies based on a number of things – for example, if it’s in Kansas (I’ll give a discount), did a good friend ask me (I’ll help them out), is it really prestigious or international (they’ll have to pay expenses to get me there, but I’m flexible with speaker’s fees and honorariums because, well … it’s a really cool place or conference).

    Hope that helps!

  3. This is the first thing that really caught my eye in my Feedly. I am generally on board with everything mentioned by you, Meredith, and David. I am not going to add much constructively, but I definitely like to rant about this topic.

    Personally, I have always chafed that the success for myself and many of my friends largely depends on the publication and presentation sections in our resume – which, like graduate school, positions you better for future work, and which — like graduate school — is assumed to be on your own dime.

    “Blog for exposure” and “present for exposure” is very much the reality, and unlike in industries (like web development) where you might have a little extra disposable income (thus disposable time for extracurriculars), a librarian’s investment in publication and presentation is at greater risk.

    What’s a shame is that most of that work isn’t going to pay off. Unless you enjoy the publication and presentation process, without much of a following your article or blog probably won’t be read, and your talk at such-and-such conference might draw a crowd of people who aren’t in a position to further your career. That’s a lot of investment in time and literal cost for a few sentences in a resume: 10,000 words your peers, current, and future employers won’t read.

    Obviously, unless you’re tenure-track or being compensated for academic publication, I’m very much on the blog-before-journal train.

    My previously non-tenure academic library position might be afforded a conference per year, but not membership fees for any of those organization, while the professional development expectation was very real as a prerequisite to climbing the career ladder.

    Getting to a position where libraries or conferences pay you requires a lot of investment, too — I sank how many years and dollars in my blogs and podcasts and publications and whatever before I ever got an invite — and since there really is only so much money to go around, and so many professional librarian speakers, good luck.

    It’s hard for me to endorse writing or presenting without getting paid – or at least reimbursed for registration. I also think blogs that represent these organizations could and should compensate their bloggers, too. I pay LibUX bloggers to set an example that larger — and organizationally backed — blogs should and can afford to follow.

    Rabble rabble rabble rabble.

    Anyway! I’m ranty. In TL;DR, I feel similarly about professional obligation to speak and write as I do about cultural obligation toward college. Unless the topic and the work is professionally enriching, and compensation isn’t your goal, then I just don’t see that the return is worth the investment.

  4. Pretty much what everyone has already said. But, I will add that my bottom line is usually “if you invite me to speak, I’m not spending my own money to do it” … which means the minimum is travel expenses. (This is not what applies to “hey, do you want to propose a panel with me for a conference. That’s my scholarship. Different kettle of worms.)

    My principle also means then that I’m going to think much more about whether I want to “gift” my time to your organization. So, student ALA chapters get lots of love; for-profit companies not-so-much. Which ultimately means it is a big “it depends.”

    My rule of thumb inviting a speaker – be upfront with what I can offer and not. That’s what I value most as an invitee.

  5. To Lisa’s last line above, YES! For the first time I just invited a speaker to speak at a conference and I was totally up-front about our budget and what we could do for them. The speaker said he really appreciated that. I usually end up having to throw out a figure which feels really uncomfortable. Just tell me what you can pay!

    I am also sympathetic to Michael’s “rant.” I think if you go into contributing to the profession with the goal of building a big national presence and make a lot of money, you are barking up the wrong tree. I started blogging because it was cheaper than therapy when I was looking for my first professional job. It was a great way to connect with other librarians, process my own thoughts about stuff, and maybe help some people feel like they were a little less alone. Now that I work at a place with next to no professional development funding, I’m grateful to have such a strong network via social media because that is now my PRIMARY form of professional development. I have no idea why people read my blog and then started to ask me to write and present, but I did a ton of things early in my career (ALA Annual Wiki, HigherEd Blog Con, Five Weeks to a Social Library, ALA Unconference, etc.) that required a ton of work that I did for free because I believed in them and wanted to contribute to our profession. I, as Lisa said, “gifted” my time to things I felt strongly about and it didn’t really feel like work because I loved what I was doing. If you’re only doing things to become “library famous” you’re doing it for the wrong reasons and maybe that shows. I see a lot of new-ish-to-the-profession people getting noticed nationally because of their blogs, articles, or projects and it’s because they are speaking to/dealing with issues that people care a lot about at that time. I don’t know that you can plan your life and focus around that; just pursue things you’re passionate about and that you enjoy doing and have enough self-respect not to accept less than you feel you deserve for your work.

  6. > I started blogging because it was cheaper than therapy
    > when I was looking for my first professional job.

    This SO resonates!

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