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 😉 ).