On October 14th, I attended my second Georgia COMO conference in Athens, GA. COMO is a great conference – it is the statewide library conference here in Georgia, and is co-sponsored by several state library and school media organizations.
Last year, the conference was in Columbus, which was kind of a drab city. There were little restaurants in walking distance of the conference center. This year, it was up in Athens, which is about an hour and a half from my house. It was my first visit to Athens, home of the UGA Bulldogs. I think Athens is a great city with a lot of great restaurants – it’s definitely a college town, and the conference center was right near the downtown area. It reminded me a lot of Greenville, SC, the town in which I went to college. Unfortunately, I could only attend for 1 day, but I would like to visit Athens again and see more of the town.
I had planned to go to COMO to hear my mentor present on her experience working with me, but then I was also asked to come up and present on that. It was a bit impromptu, but it all worked out. I also had volunteered to sit at the ALA/SELA membership booth in the exhibit hall for some additional exposure, all to enhance my professional development of course.
In other news, the job search is gaining momentum. A couple of my classmates have found new positions, but many are still looking. The good news is that the economy does seem to slowly continue picking up, but hiring is slow, though companies are still notoriously hoarding cash which only stalls growth.
I have also started taking continuing ed courses towards a certificate in advanced web development, where I will learn PHP and Java programming. Right now I am starting with the basics, but am excited to get into meatier stuff. I want to continue learning and growing, and not become stagnant.
The past 3 days, I was at the LITA national forum right here in downtown Atlanta. This was a much smaller conference than expected, and definitely less overwhelming than ALA. Since this was the first conference I went to where I would not have a group of my classmates already there. Thankfully, there were a few people that I knew who were presenting, so I was not completely out in the cold, plus I ran into some people that I met at ALA.
Despite not being a librarian/tech person/someone important, people were very warm and friendly. Since the conference was so much smaller than ALA, you saw the same people each day and by the 2nd or 3rd day, it’s more like one big happy family of people who share a love of sharing information and all the fun, geeky gadgets behind it. Knowing I was in the job market, people were very encouraging. The president herself mentioned to me that “dogged persistence” will pay off.
I also met some new colleagues as well, and had the pleasure of sharing meals and cards with them. I was particularly excited to spread the gospel of Willy’s to all the out-of-towners. Willy’s is one of my favorite “make-your-own-burrito” places (like Chipotle), and they only have it here in Atlanta, and everything is fresh :p. There was a Willy’s in the food court near the hotel, which was very convenient! Last night, I went with a group to dinner at Haveli Indian Cuisine, and it was very good. The vegetarian dishes are recommended (and cost less). I really enjoyed my meal and a nice warm glass of masala chai tea.
Over the last 3 days, I went to several sessions. The opening session was interesting…it was about Wikipedia culture. Apparently there is a cult of people out there who spend a lot of time editing Wikipedia articles that fascinate them. In fact, a lot of popular articles on Wikipedia were found to be more accurate and up to date than print encyclopedias because those articles were monitored so closely by devoted editors, than any misinformation was revised in a microsecond.
Roy Tennant, a progressive information professional from OCLC, delivered the keynote speech Saturday morning. I had heard that he was an excellent public speaker, and he indeed gave a very entertaining speech on the benefits of cloud computing, which has been noted by some to be “the cure for cancer.”
I also attended several concurrent sessions. Notable sessions included one on new technologies for library instruction (check out Poll Everywhere and ScreenToaster), and a presentation about digital asset management at UPS, and how they managed the hundreds of thousands of images and documents from the company’s branding and ad campaigns. Digital asset management is becoming a lucrative alternative career path for people with the MLIS background (and from what I hear from recruiters, it does not pay bad either :).
The conference venue was OK overall. Since it was a much smaller conference, we only had 1 floor of the hotel, so it was not like ALA where you had to take a shuttle to half your events. It was also near a MARTA station and a food court, and I had a very pleasant surprise with the parking. Apparently in the Courtland Street garage, if you get there before 9 AM and leave before 11 PM, the cost of parking is only $4, no matter how long. Can’t beat $4 for a day parking downtown. Plus, it was near the Peachtree Center food court, which as I mentioned before, has amazing and affordable restaurants.
The heating/cooling of the center was very imbalanced. Some of the main conference rooms were absolutely freezing, but then some of the smaller rooms were unbearably hot. One person tweeted “oom 206 is now a major contributor to global warming – hilton fail!” And a lot of the rooms had these black shades that were drawn to keep the projector screens from being backlit, but they blocked out all light so my body was thinking it was nighttime…and after only averaging 5 hours of sleep a night, it was very hard to stay awake.
Overall, I enjoyed myself, and I am glad that I went. Conferences are always a good experience, especially for networking. I do hope to be able to make it to future conferences, but I am still praying for that position that will one day offer a professional development budget. I paid out of pocket for this conference, and it was not cheap. Thank you LITA Planning committee for choosing Atlanta for this year, otherwise, I could not have afforded to attend. I would like to visit new cities sometimes, especially out West, but I must start squirreling money away for next year :).
So, as I had mentioned before, the ALA conference was my first foray into large national conferences. It was overwhelming, but I also had a lot of fun.
I am also very thankful to have a mentor who is a veteran conference goer, so she was able to give me some good advice on how to prepare. You would not think it takes a lot of preparation outside of travel arrangements, but it really does. It really does…gotta study the maps, what is close to your hotel, make plans with friends and colleagues, etc.
Anyway, I thought I would share my knowledge of what I did right, what I did wrong, or…what I realized works best. So, I bring you my list of lessons learned. I hope that this will be useful for anyone who is new to conferences.
1. Get your schedule planned BEFORE you go
The best nugget of advice my mentor imparted upon me was to choose the events and times that worked best for you (i.e. no 8 AM sessions if you are a night owl like me). The conference booklet is literally the size of a small city phone book. They almost always publish a schedule of events beforehand, and you don’t want to be left floundering with said booklet, overwhelmed by so many options while at the conference. But you always want to keep your schedule flexible, and have some back-up options in case you want to meet up with your colleagues or friends.
My mentor also mentioned giving yourself plenty of time to rest and meet up with people. It is not a good idea, especially if you are introverted like myself, to go to 3-4 sessions a day and then the evening socials. I nearly ran myself ragged that Saturday…did 3 sessions, dinner with my cohort, and then took the Metro up to Bethesda to go to a friend’s party. All that walking and transportation will leave you downright ragged.
2. Comfort is important
One thing I wished I had done was carry around a water bottle with me to my conferences. I found that the convention center had very spare water fountains (plus it got to almost 100 degrees in DC). Also, all the bottled drinks at the convention center cost $3.00!
While all that walking makes you parched, it is also hard on your feet. Perhaps those “sensible shoes” can come in handy. One thing I struggled with upon packing for this conference was what to wear. Since a goal of mine was to network, I wanted to look presentable, as if I was going for an interview. I probably did overdress a little, but thankfully in my indecision I packed comfy flip-flops, as well as more dressy shoes that I carried in my tote bag to wear around the convention center.
3. Book your travel/lodging on a credit card, especially if you are being reimbursed
This was something I learned the hard way. Apparently, I had used my debit card to book my hotel room (which was very expensive in Washington). I figured they would not charge the full cost of my room until I checked out. While the hotel did not charge my room, they DID put a hold on the room (3 nights plus a $100 refundable deposit) while I was staying there. But apparently my bank interpreted that as a charge. So, for the whole conference, I had less than $100 to my name. And that goes by real fast with meals and cab rides (did I mention the $3 bottled water :p…my mojito cost $10!!! ).
4. Check conference newsletters for any revisions
At ALA, they have a daily newsletter that is distributed that lists all the changes that have been made. I wished I had done so. The Sustaining Digital Workflow event that I had volunteered to blog about for LITA), was moved from its lovely, convenient time at 10:30 AM in the convention center, to 8:00 AM the next day in a hotel that was very far out and a 20 min shuttle ride. I will be honest, I almost decided to go to another event to blog about, but I figured I could cancel an afternoon session and then do an afternoon nap since I had to get up so early. Thankfully, the event had a great turnout…though a lot of people were trickling in after 8:10 or so.
5. Don’t be shy!
OK, my last tip…and something that was extremely hard for me as a socially anxious introvert…introducing yourself to conference presenters. As a student, it was intimidated to talk to people who were more seasoned professionals. If people know you are a student, it is a great icebreaker for conversations, and if you are not quite sure of yourself, people will understand. A conference is a great place to network, and you never know who you are going to meet.
I hope everyone had a great 4th of July weekend, and hopefully you have a wonderful extra day off to enjoy! I just got back from having a nice dinner with my mom and her boyfriend, and we got a chance to sneak in and see the Lenox Square fireworks (but at a lot further away to avoid the massive crowds).
Anyway, thought I would give the recap of my trip to ALA in Washington, my first national conference. I was there from Friday (6/25) to Monday 6/28). Overall, it was a great time, although extremely busy because I had a lot jam-packed in the visit. I was not only there for the conference, but was there to visit my dad and two good friends of mine who live in DC. I also attended several sessions.
Friday, I attended the LITA Open House, which was a great opportunity to meet current and prospective members.
On Saturday, I went to a session on LibGuides, and two awesome professional development sessions. One was on seeking non-traditional library jobs (i.e. working for vendors, corporations, etc.). But the most useful and informative session was “What Every New Librarian Needs to Know.” Two young librarians discussed the ins and outs of publishing and research, as well as provided a pep-talk on creating a unique brand for yourself and utilizing networking opportunities.
Sunday, I attended sessions on digital library workflow and designing usable websites. I also met with my mentor, and we were so extremely exhausted after all the stuff we did. I spent Sunday night in my room enjoying my hotel, and took a leisurely walk to Whole Foods to pick up dinner, and watched backlogged episodes of Fringe on my computer.
I had great luck with my flights in and out (flew in to DCA, which I highly recommend flying into over Dulles or BWI). My hotel, on the other hand, was just so-so. For what I paid, the room was sparsely decorated, the TV was not even a flat-screen, and the wireless was free but very spotty. Plus, the hotel was smack in between 2 Metro lines (the closest station being a half-mile walk), so I had to either pay for a cab or hike in the sweltering DC heat (for the record, it was 10 degrees hotter there than in Atlanta). However, the bed was comfortable, the pool was nice, and they had a real “cheap” breakfast option ($4 for eggs and toast).
The convention center was quite large, and there were a ton of people there. Thankfully, there were not as many fashion faux pas as is stereotypical of library conventions, but I did see a few interesting personalities. One was one lady who I swear was dressed just like Molly Ringwald in Pretty In Pink. Honestly, I thought it was a cute outfit, but pretty retro. Needless to say, I did see more than my fair share of women in maxi skirts and tennis shoes, and men who wore socks with their sandals.
It was interesting to meet people from all over the county. Lots of people from the North, and I also met several students, alumni, and employees at UNT.
The Exhibit Hall
The exhibit hall was also quite large as well. TONs of vendors. Most of them were book publishers and database vendors. Some of the integrated library system and next-gen catalogs looked really promising. One particularly impressive one was an automated system from Auto-Graphics, which had this real snazzy Web 2.0 interface, very colorful.
The highlights of the exhibit halls were the poster sessions. Some very interesting and helpful research was being conducted, and I listening to a few presenters (some posters were so crowded with people, I could barely see, especially some of the metadata ones).
Job Placement Center
In my eagerness to get my first professional position, I was hoping the Placement Center would have had more recruiters out there. But while hiring is getting better, it is still lagging considerably. As a wise classmate always says, we have to “keep hope alive.”
Strangely, they were giving away badge ribbons stating “Librarians for Hire” and “Librarians Wanted.” While I did see several people (especially recent MLIS grads) walking around with the former ribbon, I don’t think I saw a single person with the latter. Not surprising considering how competitive the librarian job market really is (which is why I got my concentration in digital content management to help give me an edge).
I considered adding a “Librarian for Hire” ribbon to my badge, but I shied away from it, as I did not want to openly advertise that I was looking (from what I hear from hiring managers, that appears to be a sign of desperation, which can be a turn-off). Besides, I received great job leads just from chatting with people. One gentlemen from a very prestigious university actually informally interviewed me on the spot at one of the sessions I attended. Thankfully, I had my trusty portfolio with me so I could show him my work. Prayerfully, he will keep me in mind as I send in my application.
Anyway, that is the end of my ALA report. Stay tuned for Part 2: Lessons Learned (aka, my conference faux pas, which can land you in deeper water than wearing ugly shoes 😉 ).
Last Friday, I completed yet another milestone in my journey to graduation. Last week, we had our comprehensive exams: “The Capstone Experience” (or the Crapstone Experience as one classmate lovingly put it). Basically, we were given one week to write 3 mini-term papers. On Friday, June 11, the exam opened up online, and we were asked to choose 3 topics in library and information science from a list of 10, and we were to write a 10 page paper on each. Including references, I wrote approximately 8,000 words…in one week. Yes, that’s right. A week! The first paper was pretty easy to get through, but by the third, I was ready to give up, as the glow of the lovely summer day, and the hypnotic glow of the TV during the night, continued to seduce me.
To prepare, I did some serious spring cleaning, since I knew I had to devote the entire week to paper writing (when I was not working). I stocked up on food and snacks to keep me caffeinated.
Then, I camped out on my bed with Leslie (my laptop) and began the furious process of researching and writing. The kitties were right there beside me for moral support. Due to my keenness in librarianship, I discovered the lovely method of federated searching in the EBSCO databases, as well as Google Scholar, so I could find everything online. In thick of it all, to the left was what “the nest” looked like…(note, there were more papers on the floor, and those two black blobs are actually my kitties. Of course, I totally had to have my I-Tunes.
When the trials and tribulations were over, I treated myself to a massage. I had a gift card I got for Christmas that I never used, and I am so glad I waited to save it! When the semester is truly over, I should host a bonfire and invite all my classmates to bring their journal articles and throw them into the fire. By the time Capstone rolled around, I had about 3 bins worth of crap. And you know what’s funny? For a degree in Library Science, only about half of my classes required books. In fact, I don’t think I spent more than $500 on books the entire term. But don’t get me wrong, I had to read a LOT of articles.
Going to DC tomorrow!
So, the big conference has already started. I will be flying out first thing bright and early tomorrow, and last night I packed up all my clothes. I still have several more things I need to do to get ready, like clean the house. I have already made my schedule of the sessions I plan on attending. I have gotten in touch with my friends and family in DC, and will spend some time with them. My mentor and advisor will be there as well.
I have also volunteered to contribute a blog post to the LITA blog. It’s my first time, but it’s a great volunteer opportunity. My spring internship supervisor is a LITA member, and loves it, so I am going to check them out while I am there. I will be attending several of their events. Specifically, the one I am most interested in is the Developing a Sustainable Digital workflow, and plan on covering that event. Too bad I will have to miss the LITA Open Source CMS playroom (I really hope someone blogs about that!). This is my first time as a contributing blogger, but it will hopefully help me get some librarian street cred :p.
So are you done yet?
That seems to be the question everyone is asking me after I told them I was completing my graduate exams. And the answer is NO! I have one pesky 5 week class left that I start in July. Though it looks like a very interesting course: Reference and Access in the Sciences. Plus, another cool think about the course is that is taught by an actual reference librarian – someone who knows the work day-in and day-out. She was actually a guest speaker in my academic libraries class, and did a great job giving advice about what it’s like to work in an academic library, and (most important : p ) how to get a job in an academic library.
I decided I needed to take more reference classes. Good reference knowledge is so important for any type of library. It not only helps with communication skills (something my shy self has always been diligently working on), but librarians in all types of libraries must know how to utilize mad reference skills. This dawned on me during my fall internship last year, which was in a small library. ALL librarians were responsible for covering the reference desk, even the cataloger and systems librarian. I even helped out a little bit. My courses have given me a wealth of library technical knowledge, but I need a refresher in reference because at some point in my career, I will probably need to use it.