This time last week, I was coming home from the 2013 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting and thinking that goodness, it had been a busy week. One of the very last sessions I attended was the Midwinter End-of-Meeting Camp, and that session offered me the brain-unpacking I needed so very much. I was glad to find that I was not the only librarian attending an ALA conference for the first time, and that many of us were on the same page.
Ultimately, attending a conference is about learning. Learning about other libraries, and other flavors of librarianship, meeting other librarians and hearing what they do and why they came–and how it’s the same and different from why you came.
Just like becoming a college student for the first time (or all over again), there are things you can do to help you learn. For every suggestion I got before arriving, there were a few obvious things I was surprised to discover. I’m going to a few more conferences this year, and these are the things I’ll be keeping in mind:
1. Talk to everyone. Waiting in line, eating breakfast, before a session begins, after a session ends. This includes walking up to the presenters and chatting with them after sessions. It feels a little scary the first few times, but I found that everyone I talked to wanted to talk.
2. Don’t worry about what sessions you attend. Someone told me this before I left, and they were absolutely right. There will be one or two sessions that can’t be missed, but at a national-level conference, there will be at least two interesting, valuable, or fun sessions happening during any given time frame.
3. Do not eat in the convention center. Get out, breathe fresh air, take a little walk, and find someplace to eat that serves good food. Yes, that crepe stand on the corner counts.
4. Expect to gather tidbits of information, not glossy packages that can be unwrapped and plugged in to your particular job or projects. This is my takeaway from the whole makerspace craze: deconstruct everything, take out what you like, and use it to build what you need. Or want.
5. Do the exhibits, even if you have absolutely no purchasing power. I always thought exhibits were just for people who actually bought things, but shopping critically, comparing the various e-book services or types of library furniture, is a great way to see what the state of the art is.
6. Don’t paint your nails bright red. You will spend the entire conference touching them up in a desperate attempt to keep them from looking like a teenager’s nails.