Sorry for the delay with the Part 2 post – I got slightly distracted by the 4th of July weekend (mmm…patriotic pie).
There are a lot of good librarian posts out there with impressions about/tips for ALA, and I might reiterate some of those tips, but for the most part I’m interested in reaching out to students/first-timers as a student/first-timer. My perspective on these conferences will definitely change as I a. become employed and b. get involved, so do keep that in mind.
My overall impression of the conference is that it’s pretty huge, but amazing. When 20,000 librarians completely overtake a city (everywhere you go, people ask if you’re there for the librarian conference! …must’ve been the cardigans), it’s really fun to be a part of. But if you’re wondering if the expense of tackling the conference as a student is worth it — well, it depends. Here is my completely honest suggestion: unless the city is within driving distance (bus, train, car) try to find a way to get some funding for plane and hotel expenses (or stay with friends who live in that city). Ask people at your library school what your options are.
Most of the librarians who attend are being funded by their work. This conference is professional development, and where it shows the most is the programming. If you’re a student and unsure of which direction in librarianship you want to go, these sessions will either be eye-opening or boring. Several of them resemble “how we done it good” articles in which people talk about a specific thing that worked for their library. If you work in a library, these can be really really helpful. If you’re not yet working in a library, this may not be as meaningful to you yet. I got *something* out of every session I attended, so I never felt like anything was a waste of my time, but I agree with the oft-given tip — if you don’t like it, leave and go to your second choice.
As far as networking goes, I feel like ALA’s hugeness actually makes it harder for a student to network than at a smaller conference. You probably won’t talk to anyone if you attend a regular session or an author talk. You also may not be ready to attend open houses for round tables (although I would recommend it if you have an idea for how you’d like to get involved). Thus, you have to create your own networking opportunities. Pay attention to the ALA 2011 wiki when it’s ready, and look for the socials, especially the unofficial ones like the Facebook/Twitter social. Socials are great because you will meet and talk to more people, the setting is more relaxed, and everyone just wants to meet people and have a good time.
However, ALA does have one great resource for newbies and networking: the New Member Round Table. I’m not sure if this was a new service this year, but in May I found a posting about applying for a conference mentor through the NMRT. About a week before the conference, I was matched up with Miriam, a social science reference librarian in an academic library in Oregon, and she was very helpful about answering questions I had. We then met at the ANSS social, and she answered more questions and introduced me to more librarians. I didn’t see her at the conference after that, but I know that if I have a question I can email her today and get a reply tomorrow. This is an excellent way to make connections with mentors outside of your library school in your area of interest. Protip: apply early! You may also want to check out any session with the NMRT name on it, because chances are it will be helpful for learning more about the conference, librarianship, or networking.
Some more ALA quick tips:
- ALA is not flowing with free food. I will transfer my lunch tip from SLA — sign up for those free vendor lunches! For breakfast, I would recommend stopping at a local grocery store and bringing muffins or breakfast bars. The ones in the convention center will cost you $3.00-$5.00 apiece. You’re pretty much on your own for dinner, but it’s not bad to have a nice dinner once in a while, especially in foodie cities.
- If you want to take advantage of any of the ALA Placement Center’s offerings, such as the resume reviewing or career counseling, make an appointment, even if it’s not required. Trust me — everyone else made an appointment, and you’ll be waiting a while for an open one.
- If you plan to spend time in the exhibits, try to make a plan beforehand. My friend Courtney made a list of vendors she specifically wanted to visit and why, and that saved her from wandering around feeling aimless and overwhelmed (like me).
- Don’t be afraid to pick “fun” sessions (like author talks) over librarian sessions. I felt guilty about this sometimes, but ultimately I knew I wouldn’t get the chance to see these authors again, and there’s always a way to get your hands on a program handout if you’re resourceful — many speakers post links session presentations or handouts on Twitter.
- Speaking of Twitter, follow the ALA hashtag whenever you can – I made contacts (even in-person ones) by interacting with librarians that way!
Attending ALA was a great experience. Could I have done it without my diligently saved American Express travel points (free flight!) and my friend from undergrad (free lodging)? No. DC was really expensive food-wise, and transportation expenses started to add up with the metro and taxis. New Orleans in 2011 won’t be cheap, either. So if you’re asking yourself if you should attend next year, think about what you hope to get out of it, and if you think it will be worth the expense. And if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me! If I cannot answer them, I’ll find someone who can.
Do you have any ALA tips to share? Any thoughts or comments? I’d love to hear from you!