Library school has been a succession of firsts: first time I lived outside my home state; first time I visited Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio; first time I worked in a library; first time I saw the Gutenberg Bible, medieval manuscripts and hundreds of thousands of books; first time visiting Chicago; and the first time I attended a professional conference. Professional conferences are as much about networking as learning about different areas in your profession and exposure to the current happenings, research and professional development opportunities. American Libraries Association’s Midwinter Conference was an excellent way for me to learn more about the organization as a whole, as well as its specialized divisions. I also chose Midwinter to be my first conference because of its size and proximity. ALA is the “oldest and largest library association in the world,” so I knew that the conference would be astonishing and overwhelming. After the first day or so, I began to settle into the routine of the conference. The conference had a cast of events for all types of librarians at any stage of their career. Unlike some other conferences, ALA is multifaceted with all of the different layers within the organization. I was able to individualize my schedule to fit my interests.
ALA Midwinter was a chance to learn about my varying professional interests and meet some incredibly intelligent people who come from and are traveling on distinct paths. Conferences are an exciting mixture of fun and professionalism. I anticipate that I will attend many more conferences throughout my career. As I ponder on my time at Midwinter, I have compiled a list of some takeaways that I learned:
Be open to possibilities
Conferences can be hectic with all the events that are planned and the ad hoc ones that spontaneously appear. There are a multitude of events such as: workshops, discussion groups, meetings, and panels; all of which are beneficial. Create a list, digital or handwritten, to help you plan out your days. Even though you might make a perfect schedule without any overlapping events and you are able to fit everything in, something might crop up and make you change your plans. The most common possibility that is presented at conferences is networking. There are plenty of times where you can walk up to fellow attendees and start a conversation. Moreover, take advantage of the social events advertised by the different sections.
Somewhat similar to the former advice, I learned that I must be flexible because rooms change and times change. Events at conferences are not fixed, so as we think about our schedules, one must select some alternative events to attend in case of a change. I think this is one of the most important takeaways especially when attending your first conference. Since you might be on your own, with friends, or an assigned mentor/buddy, you have to go with the flow and be ready to deal with obstacles.
Keeping a note book, of some medium, to write thoughts, questions, names, projects, and anything that comes to mind is essential. During conferences, you are going to meet a great number of people and learn about many different areas, so in order to remember all of these things, writing notes is a useful tool. In addition, take notes about the people you get business cards from because it will help you recall them later. These notes will help preserve some context of the conference for later review.
These are just a few things to keep in mind when attending a conference. Conferences can be overwhelming, but breathing and being in the moment will help you remain focused and excited about this wonderful opportunity.