So You’re Going to Your First Big Conference!

by Adrith Bedore Bicchieri, Head Editor, INALJ Maryland
So You’re Going to Your First Big Conference!

adrithbAre you getting ready to attend ALA’s Annual Conference tomorrow? My suitcase is already packed. If you are attending your first conference, be it ALA or any other organization, I want to share some helpful resources and personal suggestions for preparing for your travel and attendance.

Librarian Wardrobe collects tips on packing for conferences. All of their posts on the topic going back a couple of years is here: http://librarianwardrobe.com/tagged/packing My go-to items to bring: comfortable shoes, and a pashmina in case it gets too chilly in the convention center (almost always).

Don’t get caught up in the need to do everything and forget to take care of yourself. There’s going to be a lot of walking – comfortable shoes appropriate to the venue are encouraged. In most cases (sessions, exhibit halls, author talks), “appropriate to the venue” is pretty casual – sneakers, FitFlops, etc. Planning downtime is also essential.

With regard to planning: when you check in at Registration, you will get the conference program book. It’s huge. It’s a lot easier to carry around the scheduler on a smartphone, if you have one. If you don’t, the best tip I ever heard at an orientation session: don’t be afraid to divide the program book up into day chunks – that way you’re only carrying around 1/4 of it at a time. Looking at the scheduler ahead of time, you will find yourself with multiple sessions you’d like to visit in a single timeslot. Check them ALL off. You may discover that the first one you want to go to is at a distant hotel, or when you get there the room is full, or you may decide fifteen minutes into a program that it wasn’t what you were expecting or isn’t suiting your needs; it’s perfectly okay to decide to see another session and quietly exit the room. It’s great to have options in case your first choice doesn’t pan out.

If it fits into your calendar, many of the divisions and roundtables offer conference and organizational orientations. I happen to know (disclosure: I’m on the committee) that the New Members’ Round Table tends to have really helpful folks on the panel that can give great conference-going advice; this year, the NMRT orientation sessions are on Friday afternoon from 1-2:30 and Saturday morning from 8:30-10. The content of the 2 sessions are usually pretty similar, but I believe we’re going to have a special NMRT alum at our Saturday morning session. These can be great opportunities to find a conference buddy, if you’ve traveled solo to conference. Other divisions offering introductory sessions (covering mostly divisional topics, to my understanding; please by no means consider this a complete list): LITA, RUSA, ALCTS, ACRL, AASL, ALSC.

The big library vendors like to do large breakfast and lunch presentations on topics of interest and usually discuss their related products. They’re free to attend, and if they could be useful to you, you get programming along with your breakfast/lunch, and it helps lighten the strain on your pocketbook. This year, the ALA Think Tank is collating the information about these events at Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/alatt/comments/1fr3xy/open_invitations_to_free_food_events_at_ala/  Also, if you take some time to visit the vendor pavilions in the exhibit hall, you’ll end up receiving information about these sorts of events come Annual Conference time next year.

The exhibit halls are full of wonderful things to see: vendors, publishers, products and services, educational programs. Plan to take some time, spaced out over a couple of visits, to spend there. There will be brochures and free books and other fantastic vendor swag, all for the opportunity for the giving organization to scan your digital attendee card. ALA doesn’t allow wheeled bags into the exhibit hall, so you’re limited to what you can carry in those non-ergonomically-friendly conference or vendor totes.  There IS a postal center on site, so you can send any treasures home without adding to a suitcase that may be perilously close to your travel carrier’s maximum weight to begin with. In the spirit of the “free food” tip above, you may be interested in attending the Exhibit Hall’s Opening Reception on Friday evening, with hors d’oeuvres and drinks sponsored by the exhibitors. As you might imagine, it can get pretty busy.

If you’re on twitter, follow the conversation – the conference hashtag is #ala2013, and people will be talking about what sessions are good, what opportunities for socializing and networking are out there – the hashtag has been busy. Find out what’s going on. Get excited.

  1 comment for “So You’re Going to Your First Big Conference!

  1. June 26, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    You forgot something: if they’re available get a conference mentor! A great way to network and get help sorting the conference out. http://www.henare.org/libblog/2013/06/20/something-to-do-at-a-conference-when-youre-a-newbie-get-a-conference-mentor/

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