I was lucky enough to be able to attend the ALA Conference in 2010 (DC–lived there at the time) and 2011 (New Orleans). I attended sessions as best I could, wandered my way through the exhibition halls, and tried networking as well as an introvert can. Both were good experiences, but I didn’t feel truly involved in the conference. More like an outsider looking in.
When I decided to approach my boss about attending the 2012 TLA Conference, I wanted to make a point to truly immerse myself in the conference. I wanted to feel like I was a part of it, not just attending it. Now that the dust is settling on the 2012 Conference, I truly think it worked. Here was my plan of attack.
Step 1: I asked a co-worker to join me in proposing a topic for a poster session. We thought about programs that we were passionate about and that were somewhat unique to our public library. We settled upon a proposal:
A Key to Access: Assistive Technology in Libraries
We were accepted (and I heard that not everyone was, so I feel happy–don’t correct me if that wasn’t the case), and ended up with a very professional-looking poster. Our poster session opened up a lot of wonderful conversation for us regarding how to serve the special needs populations in the communities we serve. Hope to have a post on AT in Libraries soon.
Step 2: Volunteer to be a session monitor. This only means that I had to call someone if the IT equipment was not working, offer to introduce the speaker(s), and let the registration people know the approximate number of attendees in the session. When I signed up, I thought that I’d be the session monitor maybe once throughout the conference. Nope, four times! It turned out to be a good thing, though, as it forced me to introduce myself to others who I talked to later in the conference. Oh, yeah, and then I was personally made fun of publicly by YA author, Rick Yancey. Always a perk
Step 3: Participate in the resume review service. Even if you’re not looking to move to a different position, this is a great opportunity. I was able to network with other young professionals, meet with a seasoned professional, and pick that seasoned professional’s brain for both short-term and long-term career advice. I highly recommend this experience–like I said, even if you’re not looking to move.
Step 4: Be more out-going. I like observing. Really, I love it. I could spend hours in the hallway people-watching. But saying hello and asking where someone works isn’t so hard. I start with my prepared questions, and see if the conversation goes somewhere. I was open to lunch plans with others (although I had to cut them short because of the commitment made in Step 2…). If I recognized someone from somewhere else, I made a point to say hello again.
Step 5: Throw out your schedule (what you can at least). I still needed to attend my poster session and the sessions I was responsible for monitoring, but other than that I was open. I am an itinerary person my nature–I fought hard against it. If I sat in the back of a large room, and realized a session wasn’t for me, that was fine. I went to catch one that did work for me. If I thought a session sounded good, but got really lost in a fruitful library-centric conversation elsewhere, I didn’t fret about it. After all, you learn in library school about the importance of the third place–I think hallways are the third place at conferences (1st being sessions, 2nd being the exhibition hall? Yeah, I don’t know…I’m stretching, I guess).
These worked. I got so much out of this year’s conference. I left feeling like I knew more about the community I serve, the TLA, the network of librarians in the state, and the profession in general. Throughout the conference, the feelings of exhaustion that often come from too many managerial tasks piled onto 30 hours of service desk time per week melted away. At the end of the conference, I remembered that I work in a public library simply because people need them. Burnout has lost this battle thanks to a great three days of conference.