The joint meeting for the Music Library Association and the Theatre Library Association in 2021 will now be completely virtual. The following is a message from the MLA Board President, Susannah Cleveland, that was posted on the association’s email list yesterday.
At last, we are able to announce, formally, that the Board has voted to cancel our face-to-face meeting next spring and, instead, opt for a virtual meeting, following the recommendation of the MLA/TLA 2021 Task Force. Since that report was shared with members at the beginning of July, we’ve been working with the conference hotel to negotiate terms that will be of mutual benefit for them and for MLA. We have an agreement in place now that allows us to cancel the 2021 hotel contract in good conscience, which we did last week. I heartily apologize for the delay in this decision and message, but negotiations have taken longer than hoped.
I am very excited about the prospects of a virtual conference, and I hope you will be, too. It gives us many ways to connect with one another and to encourage greater participation from people who have not been able to attend in-person conferences in the past. Our virtual chapter meetings have seen robust attendance and participation, and we expect a similar effect with this national joint meeting between MLA and TLA. Our program will be comparable in breadth and scale to our usual meetings. Because of the differences in format and delivery, the Program Committee and the meeting task force are currently looking at scheduling options that will allow the conference to be spread out more than our usual three days to avoid online-meeting fatigue. We have, for years, batted around the idea of virtual conferences, but the affection that members have for a face-to-face event has stood in the way of an experiment with this idea. This year will be an enlightening way for us to see how effective this approach can be for MLA while simultaneously facilitating future conversations around periodic repetitions in the future. As we look at ways to create a successful virtual conference, please remember that you can contribute to that discussion in our Humanities Commons forum; member feedback needs to be a driving force in the reshaping of this event.
The Task Force outlined very well the rationale behind the recommendation to cancel the in-person meeting, and the Board concurred with their conclusions. The most important consideration for everyone has been to prioritize the health of our members. With so many unknowns about the future of COVID-19, we could not, in good conscience, maintain any hope of travel or meeting without creating a situation that was unsafe. Financial considerations have also had a very large effect on this decision as well. The knowledge that many members who might usually attend a conference will likely have little-or-no institutional financial support for registration and the additional travel expenses that are incurred with an in-person conference this year weighed heavily in our factoring of whether we could create meaningful opportunities for participation and dialog with substantially fewer participants. And, of course, the financial implications for MLA have been considerations as well.
We are on path to wrap up a deal that will have much better financial outcomes for MLA than anticipated, and I’ll share that news as soon as it is finalized, within the next month. We will likely need to charge some amount for registration for a virtual MLA conference to help offset penalties incurred by our cancellation and to cover the cost of an online meeting platform that is robust enough to support MLA’s needs, but we expect the registration costs to be significantly lower than that of a face-to-face conference.
As I close, I want to acknowledge the extensive work our current and most-recent Convention Managers (Andrew Justice, Sylvia Yang, and Wendy Sistrunk) have done to advocate for our organization with the hotel, clarify questions from the Board, and comb through contracts. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, but these folks have risen to the occasion admirably, and they deserve our appreciation.
Please let me know if you have any questions, with the proviso that I won’t be able to share details about the financial end for a few more weeks, when our agreements are finalized. Thank you for your patience, and I look forward to seeing you all virtually in March.Most sincerely,