It’s That Time of Year – Get Ready for Some Awesome Opportunities!

By Caitlin Williams, Ph.D.

In case you’re wondering what “time” I’m referring to – it’s ALA’s Annual Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans – and it’s coming up very soon – June 21st through June 26th.  In this month’s Library WorkLife Newsletter, I’d like to share some tips for making the most of this year’s conference, whether you’re a first-timer or a veteran of several conferences.  And if you aren’t able to attend this year, I still encourage you to read this article, as I will be including some ideas that you can use to benefit from the conference.  I’ve also included a Resource List for you that includes great ideas from different articles to help make your experience even better.

First, let’s talk about mindset – by that, I mean that it’s to your advantage to consider how you are looking at your attendance at the conference.  Whether this is your first or your fifteenth conference, consider this one as a treasure trove of opportunities. If you approach the Conference with the idea of uncovering opportunities for your career or your organization, you’re guaranteed to get even more out of it.  So, let’s get started!

Before you go:

  • Don’t forget your “out-of-office” note to anyone who tries to email you – as well as your voicemail message for those who call you while you’re gone.  Use these messages to let others know where you’re at and what you’re up to – once you get back home, others may want to hear about the Conference from you (a great opportunity to share what you’ve learned!)
  • Of course, you’ll want to visit the Conference’s website to learn about the scores of useful points of information about the Conference, from info on sessions, speakers, association meetings, vendors, and the latest books that will be discussed there.  This should get you started. Use the conference scheduler to help you plan your time.
  • Take some quiet time to reflect on what you’d like to get out of the conference.  What types of venues will offer you some new opportunities? Are you looking to gain some new skills?  Meet some leaders or particular speakers? Find out what cutting-edge technologies might be on the horizon?  Learn about career opportunities in emerging areas? Become more active in your local, regional, or state’s association?  Jot your ideas down and let your ideas be a guide for you in choosing how to spend your time and energy at the Conference.
  • Pack comfortable shoes (seriously!).  Also pack business cards, copies of your resume (if you’re having it critiqued or want to give copies to prospective employers) and your phone charger.

While you’re at the conference:

  • Familiarize yourself with the conference center layout (including where snacks, lunches, shipping services, etc. are located).  Find out in advance where the shuttle busses depart from – these are the ones that get you to other conference venues and back to your hotel at day’s end (your body will thank you!).
  • Get to the sessions you want to attend a few minutes early to be sure to get a good seat and any materials that are handed out.
  • Get a copy of the daily news with highlights and updates (Cognotes) that’s handed out each morning by a friendly volunteer.  It can help with planning and remind you of events for that day.
  • Attend the sessions you’re most interested in (or those that offer information that you can use or share with your colleagues or workplace back home).  Consider talking with the presenters after the session to learn more about their topic.
  • Take good notes during the session – once you’ve attended three or more sessions, you’re likely to forget the important details of earlier ones if you don’t write down the highlights you want to remember.
  • Take the opportunity to introduce yourself to seatmates, others in the lunch line, those on the shuttles – anywhere that seems natural to begin a conversation.  So many great colleague networks and friendships begin in just this way.
  • Be sure to visit the Exhibit Hall (and come prepared with a bag or two) to stow all the amazing items you’ll pick up there.  The list of activities, events, vendors, and information you’ll find in the Exhibit Hall is way too long to mention here.  Just know that you’re guaranteed to learn something new while you’re there.
  • Also, be sure to stop by the ALA JobLIST Placement and Career Development Center.  Look at job postings, talk with employers, have your resume reviewed, schedule a career counseling session, have a professional photo taken and attend informative career and job-search related sessions.  Even if you aren’t currently looking for a job, you can still benefit from the many services available to you (for free!) there.

On your way back home:

  • I know – once you leave the conference, you’ll probably feel a bit exhausted and overloaded.  That’s only natural. Hopefully, you can use this time to relax, unwind and reflect on what you know now that you didn’t know before you attended the conference.  
  • But also take a bit of time to jot down any highlights you don’t want to forget.  Perhaps it’s the contact information for people you met, or memorable quotes from some of the speakers, or the new technology you want to learn more about once you’re back at work.  Or, maybe you want to jot down that great new recipe you picked up at the What’s Cooking @ ALA Demonstration Stage!  Whatever it is, take the time to write down important items and learnings now, while they’re fresh in your mind.  Also note any actions you want to take – before you lose the essence of what excited you over the last three days.

Back at work (or school):

  • Once you’re back home, you’re likely to be in catch-up mode for a while.  That’s only natural, and it’s true if you’re a student, a worker, or a job-seeker.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t make use of what you’ve learned.
  • Make a promise to yourself that you’ll try out at least one new idea, reach out to at least one person you met at the conference, or investigate one new opportunity (like a new technology, or a best-practice technique), and share one new thing that excited you with a friend or colleague.

Here are some additional suggestions that can help you make the most of every opportunity at the conference:

If you’re a first-time attendee:

  • Read over and follow guidance from the Conference website’s Resources for First-Timers.
  • Also remember to pace yourself – you’ll walk more than you expected to, talk more to people you’re meeting for the first time, and pick up more literature, books, and ideas than you ever imagined.  So, go easy on yourself, pause every now and then, and save up some energy so you can attend and thoroughly enjoy evening festivities.
  • If you’re on the introverted side, don’t worry – you can choose smaller events to attend, engage two or three new colleagues (rather than twenty!), and take plenty of breaks to keep yourself engaged and enjoying the conference instead of being overwhelmed by it.

If you’re a veteran of many past conferences:

  • Decide to make this one extra-special for yourself by seeing it with “new eyes”.  Ask yourself what’s different about attending this conference? Are you currently in a different position?  Are you wanting to pick up new skills? Do you have curiosities about new technologies or best practices that are different from the last conferences you attended?  Are you looking to connect with particular speakers or presenters? Do you have new goals you’re pursuing? Push yourself to identify something “new” that will spark some excitement for you or challenge you to grow in some new way.

If you’re a student,

  • Check out presentations, group discussions, and association get-togethers that are in line with your current interests or represent those kinds of job responsibilities or settings that you hope to make a part of your career once you graduate.
  • Reach out to other students and to those who have recently moved into professional roles.  Ask what the process has been like for them.
  • And don’t forget to visit the ALA JobLIST Placement and Career Development Center.  Bring along a copy of your resume, your questions for prospective employers, and job search questions, in general.

What if you aren’t able to attend the Conference?

Because of personal or organizational circumstances, you may not be able to attend the Annual Conference this year.  That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on many of the learnings that the Conference offers. Here are some ideas that will still let you capitalize on the opportunities provided by the Conference.  See which of these may work for you. You don’t have to make use of all these suggestions; just focus on the one(s) that line up with your needs and interests right now.

  • First, consider what is important to you now in your own career and professional development.  Also consider what you think may be important for your organization, and, depending on your position, consider what areas would help you or your organization move forward on a particular project or on plans for the coming year.  Jot down some notes on these areas – they will help you focus in on particular speakers, presentations, vendors or services that may be useful to learn more about.
  • Go to the conference webpage, and familiarize yourself with the different headings there offering information on speakers, sessions, the Exhibit Hall and various group meetings.
  • Focus in on different venues to learn more about them.  For instance, look at the educational sessions that are being offered.  Read the details on the ones that you’re most interested in. Check out who the presenters/speakers are for these sessions.  
  • For example, by clicking on “Scheduler” on the Conference’s main webpage, and then on “Full Schedule“ I got a listing of all the committee meetings, award ceremonies, and sessions.  I noticed that on Saturday morning, there is a session: “Bringing Life to Your Library Services with 360˚ Virtual Tours” and by looking at the details for that session, I found a listing of all the moderators for that session, along with background information on them.  If this was a topic of high interest to me, I could certainly reach out to one or more of the presenters to learn more about the content of the session.  You can do the same. Use this method as a way to learn more about topics that are high on your list. And then follow up.
  • If you have colleagues or friends who are attending the conference, ask them if they could pick up any handouts from a session you’re interested in (if they are attending that session or if they will be attending a session located nearby).
  • If you are interested in learning more about a new technology or service, check out the list of vendors who will be at the Conference.  Do any of them represent an organization that offers this technology or service? Could you email or call them to have material on this technology or service sent to you so you could learn more about it?
  • If a friend or colleague is attending the Conference, why not arrange to have coffee or lunch with this person after the conference is over?  Let your colleague know that you would like to hear what he learned at the conference. Or ask a friend or supervisor what the highlights were that most impressed her.  In return, you could offer to be on the lookout for any particular articles, announcements, etc. that are connected to their areas of interest and then forward this information to them.

If you are able to attend this year’s Annual Conference – great!  If you’re not able to – make use of the suggestions here to still learn all you can.  Either way – know that the Annual Conference is a place where opportunities are just waiting for you!  So, enjoy, learn, and capitalize on every opportunity you find!