To learn more about Jo please read her short interview.
ALA conferences are truly like no other library conference (not any I’ve experienced anyway!). I’m a UK resident and our ‘large’ library conferences have maybe 300 delegates – that’s not even 2% of the typical numbers attending ALA Annual so there’s quite a difference in size!
I was really fortunate to have been able to secure funding from the John Campbell Trust and support from my employer to attend my first ALA Annual conference last year, and absolutely loved every minute of it. I thought I’d write some tips for first-time attendees (this is from an international perspective but many will be applicable to anyone).
- Find out more about the host city to make the most of your visit – I found some great restaurants to try and also managed to fit in visits to local attractions before and after the conference.
- Use the online conference schedule before you leave – I didn’t get chance to spend time scheduling whilst I was there so was really grateful that I’d picked a few sessions that I definitely wanted to attend (and some extras that I’d quite like to attend) before I left.
- Consider travel time between sessions – I hadn’t really realised just how far apart the sessions were and missed most of a session I really wanted to attend because I messed up my scheduling and travel plans. Some hotels are over the other side of the city, and even those in the main conference venue might be a good 10-15 minute walk (the convention centre at New Orleans is over a mile long!). Use the conference shuttle bus to get between venues (this is a great way to meet new people too), but make sure you know the shuttle timetable so you know where to be and when to leave to get to your session on time.
- Vote with your feet – don’t be afraid to switch sessions if something isn’t what you had hoped, or leave early if there’s another session you want to attend. It’s always polite to sit near the back if you think you might leave early, but there’s so much going on that people really do understand and won’t take it personally.
- Don’t try to do the whole exhibition in one go – it’s a large exhibition so I found it best to split it up and view certain sections at a time between sessions.
- Don’t be afraid to schedule in down-time – you really will need it!
- Take advantage of the free food/drink – I didn’t manage to maximise this and it was definitely a mistake. Vendors often have sponsored breakfasts or drinks receptions (sometimes with buffets), this can really save some money!
- Carry snack food with you – it can be difficult to schedule in eating, especially if you have to find somewhere to get food and queue up too. Sometimes you will want to hook up with friends to eat, but other days you just might not have time, so carry some cereal bars or crisps (potato chips) to keep you going. A water bottle comes in handy too – I was constantly refilling mine throughout the day.
- Be comfortable – you’ll be walking lots during the conference, and you’ll be in a variety of different environments and temperatures. Wear layers, and comfortable shoes; I wore Fitflops in New Orleans and they were perfect during the day (though probably wouldn’t be suitable for the more formal dinners if you choose to attend those).
- Be flexible with your plans – both for the sessions and in your freetime. There will be loads of great opportunities so grab them whilst you can. Chat to everyone you meet; librarians are such friendly people – and the ribbons on people’s badges (which show which groups people are members of) can be a useful way of knowing a little about them or a potential conversation starter. Most of all – ENJOY IT!
The best piece of advice I can give anyone considering attending an ALA conference is to #makeithappen! Grab any opportunity you can to get yourself there, it really is worth the investment. I loved it so much that I’m going back again next year – I was encouraged by many people I met at ALA Annual to apply for ALA Emerging Leaders and I was delighted to be offered a place on the 2012 class (now I just need to source funding). I hope to see some of you at ALA Midwinter in Dallas and ALA Annual in Anaheim! 🙂
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