Commit To Sharing Three Things You Learn At ALA

Editor’s Note: In this second in a series of posts about the upcoming ALA Conference in New Orleans, William Breitbach, a Librarian from California State University-Fullerton sponsored by CLS Section of ACRL, shares his thoughts on how to get more out of your conference experience by sharing what you know after the conference. 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.

Just about every innovation or new project we start at our library can be traced back to something we learned at a conference. This year the instruction librarians at my library did a self assessment based on the ACRL Standards and Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians. The idea for this assessment came from a colleague who saw a presentation at LOEX by Maria Accardi. This assessment not only provided the opportunity for us to reflect on our work, but helped us chart a course for the future or our instruction program. It was all well worth the short conversation with a colleague that inspired it.

Conferences are rife with the exchange of ideas and information. We can certainly do better than simply implement something new in our own practice. We can and should continue the conversation. When you return, chances are you will have a library full of interested colleagues who were not able to attend the conference.

To continue the dialogue commit to sharing three things you will learn at ALA 2011, and discuss how each might be relevant to your library. You can share all three to a large group at your next reference team, department or unit meeting or share one or two things with a few individuals. No matter how you share, you are more likely to benefit from the learning and dialogue that goes on at a conference if you continue the conversation. Moreover, you are also more likely to experiment with new ideas/practices if you talk to people about them. A commitment to share will provide more than a personal and professional benefit. Sharing what you learn could make a great impact on your entire institution. Who knows, your dean or director may be more willing to foot the conference bill if you come back with a few new ideas and poised to share what you know.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

ALA Demo Hell

I usually avoid the orchestrated demos many vendors offer at ALA – you know the ones I mean. There is a small seating area and there’s an infomercial-type presenter – or even worse an annoying robot or Elvis impersonator. My preference is to have a rep take me through a one-on-demo where I can interrupt with my questions. But I wanted to find out what the vendor was doing with a new platform rollout, and they said “We’ll be starting the theatre demo in a few minutes”. I needed to take a rest anyway, so I sat down.

The “theatre host” (I don’t know what you call these people) came over and said hello and announced my name to everyone within 50 yards since their sound system broadcasts to several aisles away. Who needs Foursquare to let everyone know where I am? Ms. Theatre Host (MTH) just took care of that. After a few other folks sat down MTH delivered the canned speil about all the great new features. Then MTH asked us if we were ready to “get in the zone”. What? I just want a damn demo.

Turns out there was no theatre demo. We all just shifted over to one sales rep who gave a canned demo on a 20” monitor. It took all of two minutes and didn’t yield much information. Why are you making seven people watch the demo on this tiny monitor when you’ve got a 72” flat panel right over there? They did give away a $25 gift card just for taking time to suffer through this. I didn’t win. Overall I felt like a loser. Is there anyone who actually enjoys these things?

A Post-ALA Tip For the Hungry

Prior to ALA you’ll find all sorts of “how to get the most out of the conference” tips being offered. Beyond the “carry a snack” tip I don’t see many suggestions for satisfying one’s hunger – which gets worked up quickly walking the exhibits or sitting through an interminably boring presentation. It’s true the library mags offer lists of “nearby” eateries, but when I’m in the middle of a busy conference day, I just want to grab something fast and cheap – and those magazine articles tend to list pricier restaurants that are farther away and chew up more time. Did you see the long lines and prices at any food booth in the DC convention center? Wait 20 minutes for a $6 cold and dried out hot dog? Forget that.

Did you know there was a great supermarket exactly three blocks and a five-minute walk from the convention center? Nowadays most decent supermarkets have lots of prepared food options. I walked over there and got a custom-made sandwich for $4.99, a huge orange for $.70, and a bottle of cold water for $.79. You could barely buy a bag of chips for that total amount in the convention center. I was back in the convention center eating my freshly made, healthy lunch in an air-conditioned room 15 minutes after I stepped out to buy it.You were probably still in line waiting to buy a stale, overpriced burrito. So the next time the library mags prepare their articles on food options for the conference, I suggest they scope out any supermarket or convenience stores within a 3-5 block radius of the convention center. That will do all of us a favor – hey – the bus folks might even include it on one of the routes.

They Still Don’t Get Us

A favorite librarian past-time is locating an instance of a journalist or author using “librarian” in some way – a metaphor or otherwise – that demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of what we really do or the skills we use in our work. For example, “Once she mastered speed reading, she could read more books in a day than most librarians could read in a week of sitting at the desk while they checked out books”. That sort of stuff tends to make our blood boil because whoever wrote it clearly has no idea what we really do and is just buying into that same old stereotype.

I made that one up (Ok, it’s not that great but you get the point), but here’s a real one I came across that’s a bit more sophisticated. In an NYT article about the opportunity cost of the wasted time people spend searching for things on the web (that is, there’s much free information, but is it really free if you spend 15 minutes trying to find it – what was the opportunity cost of your time), the author, Damon Darlin wrote:

Google makes it easier to get search results by suggesting possible search terms as a query is typed. (Engineers there, who must measure just about everything, had noticed that query lengths were becoming longer as we turned into a nation of research librarians.) Typing some queries gives you the results right on the top of the search page. Type in “poison center,” for instance, and you get the toll-free phone number for poison emergencies.

But he couldn’t have used “research librarians” more incorrectly in this context while trying to make his point. It’s just the opposite in fact. If we were turning into a nation of research librarians all the searching would in reality become incredibly compact and efficient – resulting in vast amounts of saved time. We’re not the ones typing statements such as “I need to find the phone number for a poison emergency center because I just swallowed some Drano” – that’s what everyone else is doing. Research librarians – knowing how Google is structured – would just type “poison center drano” or even more likely “antidote drano” (even in dire emergencies we can’t help but think smart). So while we all appreciate the power of search suggestions – it wasn’t needed because we turned into a nation of research librarians. It was needed because we are mostly a nation of search dummies.

Sheesh, will they ever get it?

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