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!

2 thoughts on “Now Is The Time To Get ALA Annual On Your Mind”

  1. Thank for the blog post shout out 🙂 Great tips here – I agree, particularly about attending social events (low stress) and introducing yourself to people you see at the conference. I remember the first time a stranger approached me and told me they were a fan of my blog at ALA Annual last summer. I wasn’t annoyed, I was honored and impressed that they would mention it. Make those connections!

  2. Thanks for the heads up on ACRL 101. I will be at ALA this year. It’s technically my 2nd one, but I am going in like it’s my first. My first attendance was in 2006 (I think?) in Chicago as I approached my final semester in school. Yeah, EXTREMELY overwhelming! I did not attend any new member type of orientation, so I will probably go this time–I’m sure I’ll pick up something useful! I like your advice on being flexible too. I would also add that for myself, I like to go to a few presentations that are a little outside of my comfort zone–keeps my brain a little more active and I see more of a big picture if I think about other areas outside of reference & electronic resources.

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