Plan Ahead For Your First Time On The Exhibit Floor

Editor’s Note: In this first in a series of posts about the ALA Conference, John Meier, Science Librarian at Penn State University, shares his experiences as a new librarian attending the ALA conference exhibits – and hopes you can avoid some of the newbie errors he made. We’ll be hearing more about the ALA Conference from our new team of ALA Emerging Leaders over the next few months leading up to the Conference.

My first visit to the exhibit hall at an ALA National Conference was brief and confusing. In the incomprehensible swirl of activity, I only remember drinking way too much free coffee. There are hundreds of exhibitors (in New Orleans there will almost be a thousand!) and as a newly minted librarian I had no idea where to start. I think I also might have picked up some free books and pens–there are always those–but I didn’t take away any new knowledge.

Next time I prepared ahead of time using the materials available at registration on-site: The ALA Program and Exhibit Directory along with the Passport to Prizes, which has give-away ads from companies and a fold out map. The map is now available online ahead of time in the pre-show Cognotes ,
ALA’s conference newspaper. I considered each company that my library or I personally use, such as our ILS vendor Sirsi, and created a short list of exhibitors to visit. Then I added in some favorite publishers, my library school and ALA member units to make the list a manageable two dozen out of the hundreds. I used a highlighter to indicate them on the map for later reference.

Remembering that I felt intimidated and unimportant the last time, I came up with something basic to start conversations with exhibitors: “What’s new?” They were happy to tell me, and after that icebreaker I felt much more engaged with them. I go to know some of them personally and even got invited to lunch and an after hours social event.

Finally I found myself comfortable in the exhibit hall. I had left behind my reservations and felt comfortable talking to exhibitors as professional colleagues. I felt free to talk about the new things I was doing in addition to their products. At ALA Annual in Anaheim, I stopped at one exhibit to watch a presentation on Graphic Novels. Graphic novels are an interest of mine as a Science Librarian so afterwards I chatted with the presenter about the dearth of non-fiction science graphic novels. I saw him later in the day, and he waved me over. That publisher needed a librarian with my subject tbackground to regularly nominate the best science books published.

Now when I attend an ALA National Conference, not only do I get to see my friends and colleagues who work in libraries, I also meet my friends and partners among the exhibitors. I encourage all new conference attendees to skip the first two steps I took and go to the exhibit hall (there’s one at ACRL 2011 as well) with a plan to engage library vendors and publishers in a meaningful way. It will benefit you personally and professionally.

● Set aside a block of time to visit the exhibits, so you don’t feel
● Plan a short list of exhibitors to visit ahead of time
● Have a few questions ready, be prepared to talk about yourself,
and take business cards
● Relax, they want to talk to you, so walk up to them and say “Hi”
● Don’t take every handout, much is available online or vendors will
gladly mail to you

One thought on “Plan Ahead For Your First Time On The Exhibit Floor”

  1. This is great advice, John. I’ve only been to Midwinter once (and never Annual [yet!]), and I felt the same way you describe when I first entered the exhibits hall: completely overwhelmed. I’m gearing up to go to ACRL National next week and will definitely take your tips with me. Thanks!

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