Some of the most welcome and popular keynote speakers OLA has featured at the Super Conference have been CBC media personalities. Every one of them has prepared by interviewing me about our conference and who are members are, and have customized their talk to specifically engage Super Conference delegates. And, in return, they have received a speaking fee often negotiated with an understanding of the scale of our conference and in recognition that we are a non-profit sector organization.
The arrangement has been completely win-win.
But recent events have illuminated an ethical dilemma that has made it more difficult to engage speakers for conferences. Journalists have standards and practice that includes conflict of interest and integrity in reporting. At the core of some of the recent situations are questions about profiting due to their connection with their job and balanced reporting if you are being paid by a group that could be the subject of investigative journalism. CBC Radio featured this on As it Happens recently.
Though we would not expect to have any punches pulled by these journalists should scandal rock the library world, we are not exactly a scandalous sector (though some of our past keynotes have subsequently behaved scandalously).
The reality is that people in the media are constantly asked to speak at public engagements. Unless that speaker has a deeper connection to the audience, for example, a charity that they regularly support, they will charge a fee that accounts for the preparation, skilled presentation, and the market value of their celebrity. Even those who are closely aligned to our world, such as authors, may demand a fee that is just too high for us (many though are thankfully quite generous with their time). It is one way of keeping speaking engagements to a minimum.
Neil Gaiman, who is always on our OLA Super Conference wish list, has famously blogged about the reasons behind his fee.
Scheduling and preferences of certain in demand speakers also prevent us from ever having them at an OLA Super Conference. Dolly Parton (yes, we tried) does not like to fly (particularly in winter months), Rick Mercer can’t do appearances when he is in production (January), and some (no names) have a reputation for cancelling last minute – a risk we just don’t want to take.
We have an advantage though – when we invite someone to be a keynote speaker the first comment is always “I love libraries”.
Shelagh Paterson is the Executive Director of the Ontario Library Association. Bird’s Eye is a regular column offering her perspective on the issues and ideas affecting the OLA and its members.