Tag Archives: ala conference

Making Conferencing Comfortable

Editor’s Note: ACRLog is hosting a team of ALA Emerging Leaders. Each month one of our Emerging Leaders will contribute a guest post, and each will focus on some aspect of gearing up for the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. Next up in the series is a personal reflection on being mentored at the ALA Conference by Rachel Slough, MLIS Candidate, 2010, Indiana University. Rachel’s co-author for this post is Sarah Wenzel, Bibiliographer for English & Romance Literatures at the University of Chicago Regenstein Library

One of the first things I did when I started my MLIS program was join ALA because I was told it was “the thing to do.” I didn’t exactly know what this meant, except that this was supposed to be important for my professional future. I was eager to attend my first annual conference last summer to get a better idea of what ALA is and does. In the months between the start of classes and the start of conference, I learned about ALA and became particularly excited about the opportunities to connect students and early professionals with experienced experts.

As the conference grew closer, I grew more nervous. I read about various events and sections, attended an ACRL 101 On-Point chat and talked with several of my librarian mentors. But I still had questions. Would I get lost? Would I be able to find sessions that were relevant and interesting? In all the enormity of the conference and the organization, would I be able to find a place where I felt like I belonged?

I was thrilled to find out that the New Member Round Table offers an Annual Conference Mentoring program, which pairs a first time attendee with a “seasoned” conference-goer to help ensure that the first conference experience will be a positive one. I took advantage of it, and was happy I did.

My conference mentor, and the NMRT Conference Mentoring program, played a large role in helping quell my nerves and make me want to become active with ALA as soon as I could. I was paired with Sarah Wenzel, and I received Sarah’s contact information several weeks before conference. We talked and emailed before the conference and also met once there. She introduced me to her colleagues, and invited me to join her at ALA division meetings. As a student, it was exciting to meet a professional librarian beyond my home institution who clearly loves the field and who is eager to mentor in-coming colleagues. As a first-time attendee, having a mentor gave me the guidance to navigate the ALA structure, confidence to seek out my own niche, and security in feeling that I was welcomed. Throughout the conference, I was delighted to discover how nice librarians are, and how eager many are to answer questions and to discern what I’m really asking. Having a conference mentor helped me to feel comfortable and welcomed both into ALA and the profession.

Participating in the NMRT Conference Mentor program has benefits for mentors as well. When I determined that I would be writing this post as part of my Emerging Leader project, I asked Sarah for her perspective on what it’s like on the other end.

Sarah Wenzel: This was the first time that I’d formally mentored a colleague, and I was glad for the chance to give back to the profession after all of the mentoring that I’ve received over the years. Most heartening to me was the chance to talk to someone enthusiastic and energetic as she discovered the joys (and, sadly, the logistical frustrations) of an ALA conference. Sharing my conference strategies with Rachel, who has slightly different professional interests than I, gave me the opportunity to think outside of my “home” section and to consider other areas than the WESS related activities that often frame my conference attendance. I was also reminded again of how closed and un-welcoming, despite our best efforts, our structures can seem. The need to make sections, committees and discussion groups more transparent and to reach out to new members once again became real to me.

In the same way that teaching is the best way to learn something or to force yourself to think about what you do in new ways, mentoring allows you to reexamine your assumptions and explore different aspects of the profession.

Seeing the perspective of someone who hasn’t attended ALA before refreshed my enthusiasm for the conference, and gave me a sense of re-discovering both the conference and the organization. Not least, I also have added a terrific new contact and colleague to my network of resources.

For those interested in participating in this year’s program as a mentee or mentor, Applications are due May 15.

Now Is The Time To Get ALA Annual On Your Mind

Editor’s Note: Last month we shared news about our new ACRLog-ALA Emerging Leaders Group. Each month one of our Emerging Leaders will contribute a guest post, and each will focus on some aspect of gearing up for the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. To get the series started this month’s post is from Wendy Girven, Public Services Librarian at University of Alaska Southeast.

Spring is in the air, which means before you know it, ALA Annual will be upon us. This year’s conference is in the nation’s capital, Washington DC, which coincidentally, is where my first Annual conference was while I was still a LIS student in 2007. My conference goals involved attending a session during every time slot, finding a job, and coming home with a few new books and ideas. Then I walked in the door of the convention center and was lost in a sea of people. I must admit, I was overwhelmed by the size! Luckily, a few friends showed me the ropes of finding out where to get my badge, figuring out the conference buses, and getting to the new member orientation programs.

One of these programs that you can attend is the ACRL 101 session (with breakfast!) during the conference, where you can meet others who are new to ACRL, and make connections with librarians who are interested in/work in academic libraries. If you are in library school and have yet to decide the path you might want to choose for your career, ACRL 101 session offers a chance to explore. In addition to that meeting, there are mini-sessions held on the exhibit floor. All of these ACRL 101 sessions have an informal feeling and provide opportunity to learn names and faces. (I’ll be at each of the mini-sessions this year, come say hi!).

The main lesson I learned from my first ALA was not to worry about hitting the most possible events, but to prepare yourself to be ready for all of the opportunities that can arise spontaneously. So, to prepare for spontaneity, here is some advice I solicited from seasoned conference attendees (with my own two cents added in) on getting yourself around, what to wear, where to eat, etc.:

• Wear comfortable shoes! I can’t emphasize this enough. There is a lot of walking.
• Bring a water bottle with you – and a snack. You might not have time to grab a meal.
• Attend social events in the evening. Most ACRL sections have a soiree or social one night so that people have a chance to mix and mingle in a more relaxed setting. As a new conference attendee, I found these events a much less intimidating way to network. Plus, people attend these for the purpose of socialization and making connections, so chat it up!
• Think about where you choose to stay. Consider rooming with a friend to cut down on the cost. It’s great to be within walking distance of the Convention Center and the HQ hotels, but you may pay more to stay there. There are many conference hotels connected to the convention center via free shuttle bus, Staying farther away can mean cheaper rates, but increased travel time. For instance, I stayed at the dorm housing and the commute took me an hour each way. Would I do that again? Probably not. Whatever you do, prepare early – as soon as the hotel availability announcements are made – to get your preferred hotel (take some advice from StevenB – scroll down to the third item in this post).
• If you see someone whose name you recognize from a list-serv, etc., don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. A big part of attending the conference is making connections with other librarians (and vendors!) If you’re like me and sometimes a little shy, remember that most librarians are friendly and like to help people. I have a goal this year to talk to at least three new people a day.
• Go to the exhibit hall. Pick up a bag (or two) and stuff it full. There is a post office on the exhibit hall and you can mail your swag to yourself instead of carrying it around all day. The exhibit hall is big (read: giant), so build ample time into your schedule for it. If you can stay until the last day the exhibits are open, schedule a 2-3 hour block to cover it all. On the last day the exhibits are way less crowded, so you’ll have more time to talk to the vendors, get personalized demos, and be treated to the remaining swag. (Side note: If you are a book lover, there are many free gallery copies available too.)
• Join the social networking! Follow along with conference via hashtags (#) and be sure to add your own thoughts. I find it an easier way to break the ice with other attendees as well as being able to get input about sessions and events that are creating a buzz.
• Attend poster sessions during the conference. At my first ALA I found it much easier to talk to people at the poster sessions. After checking out the posters, I had the confidence to submit a proposal the following year.
• Bring business cards with you. I forgot them at my first conference and kept regretting that fact throughout the week. You’ll see a lot of new faces, and exchanging cards will help you carry those connections home with you. If you are a student or don’t have a card, you can get some printed up locally or online for cheap. It’s worth it, I promise.
• Be Flexible! All my best laid plans get changed at some point during the conference. Make the most of it!

Remember, if you have questions—Ask! We librarians are generally a friendly bunch. Also, Look for upcoming OnPoint Chats for new ACRL members and first time attendees, check out the Annual FAQ, and look at the Emerging Leader’s ALA Connect page for more information on getting familiarized with ACRL. Also check out the pieces of advice other academic librarians are giving (you can pick up other tips by following the ALA Annual hashtag on Twitter – when it’s up and running). See you in Washington!

No Hand Sanitizer Found At ALA Exhibits

In advance of the American Library Association Midwinter Conference I reported that (scroll to the fourth item) 2009 was the year of hand sanitizer, and that little bottles of the stuff had surpassed pens as the number one giveaway item at professional conferences and trade shows.

So quite naturally I was curious to find out if many vendors at the ALA conference in Boston would offer hand sanitizer instead of pens. Much to my disappointment I discovered that pens still rule at the ALA conference. While nearly every vendor offers pens, I could not find even a single vendor giving away hand sanitizer.

Here’s a video that summarizes my hunt for hand sanitizer at the 2010 Midwinter exhibits:

Thanks to the following vendor representatives who appear in this video:
Jennifer Bradley – National Academy of Sciences
Henry Gross – Association of Research Libraries
Tom Porter – Learning Express
Trish – Language Learning Software
Renee San Jose – OverDrive
Cherene Birkholz – Action Library Media Service

A Visit To The ACRL Booth

It’s always fun to stop by the ACRL booth at ALA Conferences to see who’s hanging out and who’s actually staffing the booth. Here’s what the booth is looking like these days:

Hanging at the ACRL Booth at 2010 ALA MW
Hanging at the ACRL Booth at 2010 ALA MW

The folks staffing the booth when I stopped by were Kathy Parsons (far left) of Iowa State University (who I had the pleasure of meeting in Waterloo back in May of 2009 when I spoke to the Iowa ACRL Chapter) and Ann Riley of the University of Missouri. I didn’t quite catch the name of the fellow on the far right, but he mumbled something about once writing for ACRLog. Sure pal. Everyone says they wrote something for ACRLog.

Dang. I forgot to check if they had giveaways for the Philadelphia Conference in 2011 – like refrigerator magnets or bookmarks. Oh well, there’s a reason to visit the booth at ALA in Washington, DC.

Five Tips For A Better ALA Conference Experience

It’s now mid-June and the ALA annual conference will be upon us in no time at all. If you plan to be in Chicago now is the time to start thinking about your conference strategy. I hope you followed my advice on getting the hotel you want (see the third item) – and that you actually got it. Now that the hotel is out of the way I’d like to share five ideas for having a better conference experience. I’m certainly not the first blogger to offer their tips for having a better ALA conference experience, but these tips are based on an experience I had for the first time at the 2008 ALA in Anaheim – and no – it didn’t involve any Disney characters.

For the Anaheim conference I volunteered to be an ALA Ambassador. So what do ALA Ambassadors do anyway? That means I needed to e-mail a few first-time attendees to give them my sage advice on how to have a better conference experience. I had an exchange with a first-timer from down under. I also did a two-hour stint at the Ambassador’s Desk, and I wore a badge to let first-timers know I there to help out and answer questions. It may sound dreadful but it was actually a good eye opener – seeing ALA from the perspective of the newcomer. So here are my tips – hopefully not the obvious ones you’ve heard before. You conference veterans should feel free to add your own tips.

1. You will be overwhelmed by the amount of programs and activities. Try not to be overwhelmed. You can’t do it all or even close to that. The best thing to do is plan ahead to get a sense of how to spend your time. I met one first-timer at the Ambassador’s Desk who told me she was going to figure out what to do each morning. Between the conference previews you get from ALA and Library Journal – and loads of e-mail announcements – I recommend planning your conference in advance, and making “Plan B” choices in case your first choice doesn’t work out (e.g., you realize you are two miles away and your first choice program starts in 10 minutes).

2. If you’ve never been to the exhibit hall, plan to set aside about 4 or 5 hours to cover it adequately. Yes, if you can hang around till Tuesday you are more likely to find publishers getting rid of their display books at deep discounts. Check the hours of the Exhibits. It may be ending earlier on Tuesday than you expect. [Note: I think it is over at noon on Tuesday - a few hours earlier than in past years].

3. Don’t carry the whole conference program book if you can avoid it. You’ll start feeling the weight later in the day. Just tear out the pages you need (like the hotel abbreviations page) for each day.

4. Bring some cab money with you. Believe me, this is a good reason to raid your piggy bank. I know cabs cost more than the free shuttle buses, but there may be a time when you need to get somewhere fast and it’s too far to walk – and if it’s hot – wait a minute – if it’s ALA annual you can guarantee it will be hot and humid – you’ll be a sweat puddle by the time you get there. The shuttles are great but sometimes there can be quite a wait. It’s all part of being prepared. It’s worth it. Sharing a cab may save you some money. Ask folks waiting in the bus line if anyone is interested in sharing a cab ride to your destination. All they can do is ignore you – and think you have money coming out the wazoo.

5. Another first timer asked me what programs he should attend – or what I’d recommend. I declined to make a recommendation not knowing what his interests were. The obvious choices, I suggested, were related to his work setting. But I also suggested going to at least one or two sessions completely unrelated to his library type. I’ve learned some useful things at sessions for public and school librarians. Go hear a big-name speaker you’ve never heard before. Take a chance on something different. You may be pleasantly rewarded. If you get there and the first 15 minutes are a bust, leave and go to your Plan B program.

So there are five things you can do to have a better ALA Conference experience. Use the comments to add another. If you do make it to ALA annual and you spot me, please stop and say hello. I always look forward to meeting and chatting with ACRLog readers.