Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My first Midwinter

This past weekend, I attended my very first professional conference ever, ALA's Midwinter 2010 in Boston, MA. This was also the first time I'd ever visited Boston, but that's a story for another time. I hope this list of twelve lessons learned will help other future conference attendees.

In no particular order, they are:
1. Bring LOTS of business cards. I brought 50 with me, and although I did not run out over all, I did run out one day because I forgot to replenish my stack on Saturday morning after Friday's networking events. Also, another conference attendee stored her business cards in her name tag -- a great trick to always have them at hand.

2. Don't do everything. Really. I read this before I went and did not heed the advice. I tried my best to hit all the events that interested me, so I was exhausted on Saturday night. Edit, edit, edit (or weed, weed, weed, we are librarians) your schedule. #3 also speaks to this issue.

3. Feel free to come late and/or leave early from sessions. As long as you do it quietly and respectfully, no one seemed to mind when people were late or left early.

4. Account for travel time. Although the Boston Convention and Event Center (BCEC) was enormous, all the events were not held at the BCEC, so shuttle buses sponsored by Gale from from the hotels to the BCEC. It took about 20 minutes for me to get from the BCEC to the hotels I needed to go to -- a problem when meeting #1 ends at 10:30 and meeting #2 starts at 10:30 and they are at different venues. See lesson #3.

5. If staying with friends to save money (a great tip in and of itself), consider splurging for a hotel for one night. In my case, my friends' neighbors had loud parties on Friday and Saturday nights, so I missed out on sleep, and had to schlep to the BCEC at 8:00 the next morning. It would have been worth the cash to be alert at least one early morning.

6. Network, network, network. For me, this is what the conference was all about. Because I am a new librarian, I didn't have any committee meetings, so I met and visited with a lot of people. I hope that at least some of these contacts will turn into lasting relationships.

7. The big-ticket events are interesting (shout out to Al Gore, who gave an inspiring speech about climate change), but connections are made in the smaller gatherings. As someone with a background in history, I attended RUSA's History section discussion group and had a wonderful experience. In my library school, we learned about subject guides using the term "pathfinder," which, according to the librarians in the History section, is out-of-date. LibGuides is now the preferred term (and a vendor as well). Everyone else was talking about LibGuides and I asked for clarification.

8. Speak up! I may not have looked like the smartest person in the room in that History section meeting, but I'm glad I spoke up because it was an ice-breaker with fellow attendees when the meeting was over.

9. Don't be afraid to stop strangers and ask them questions. One of the great contacts I made was a woman I stopped on the Exhibit floor because she was wearing a RUSA badge and I wanted to learn more about the association. I would posit that almost all librarians became librarians to help people, so if you have a question, ask!

10. Plan ahead if you're going to take advance reader copies (ARCs) or buy books. I give myself a C- in this area: my suitcase was only about halfway full when I got to Boston (a step in the right direction), and while the books I picked up fit in the suitcase, it became far too heavy to lift by myself and navigate the subway (oops). I tried to use the ALA Post Office, but the line was VERY long just before it closed and I was stuck. Next time, I will hit up the Post Office earlier or be more selective.

11. Bring snacks with you. I nearly missed a meal because my resume review session (which was excellent, I highly recommend taking advantage of this service offered by the New Members Round Table) ran over. If I had had a granola bar, I would not have been forced to scarf down quite possibly the worst piece of pizza I ever had while running to hear Al Gore (which seemed to be the only event to which no one either was late or left early).

12. The Exhibit floor can wait. I tried to cram visiting the Exhibit floor into small time slots on Saturday and Sunday, but I was at the conference Monday as well and should have taken my time to leisurely visit then. Also, as a student looking for my first library job, some exhibitors were, shall we say less-than-friendly? Perhaps Library Directors have a better experience here.

Beth Daniel Lindsay, MA, MLS


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