Tips For a Library Conference Newbie

by Shelley Macon, Head Editor, INALJ Florida

Tips For a Library Conference Newbie

shelleym1Raise your hand if you have never been to a library conference……

Me either.

To tell you the truth, the idea of going to a conference is a little scary and intimidating.  So, I did what any good librarian would do.  I researched it.  Information makes things less scary, right?

Since I can’t be the only one, I thought I would share with you what I learned about going to conferences.

  • You don’t have to go to one of the biggies first.  You may want to test the waters at a smaller, local conference.  One the plus side, these tend to be cheaper and closer.  Here is ALA’s listings of conferences to get you started.

ALA affiliates conference & event calendar 2013-2024

  • Wear comfortable shoes.  This may seem obvious, but as a first timer, you may think about dressing professionally at the expense of your feet.  Don’t.  Conferences typically require a lot of walking and standing.  It is hard to be at your best with blister-covered feet crammed into your best high heeled shoes.
  • Bring water and snacks.  Apparently, dehydration due to a lack of access to drinks and starvation due to a dearth of snack foods can be the downfall of many a new conference attendee.
  • Do some pre-conference networking.  Check your social media and networking sites.  See if anyone else is going.  Make plans to meet up.  Some conferences even have online schedulers or apps were you can connect with people planning to attend the same events as you.
  • Look for newbie conference information.  Check the schedule and program guide to see what events are scheduled for first time attendees.  Many conferences provide this service.  They should be able to supply you with valuable information about making the most of your first conference.
  • Make a schedule.  Study the schedule of proceedings.  Decide on the events that interest you the most.   Attend at least one that is outside your area.   Conferences are for learning, right?  Plan your day around those.  Make sure you don’t over schedule.  Set aside free time to visit places outside the conference, to socialize, to eat, heck maybe even to sleep.  I hear librarians at conferences like to party hard until the wee hours.  Be prepared.
  • Make a backup schedule.  You may find one of your events is already full or not what you thought is was going to be.  It may even be information you are already familiar with.  If, after 5-10 minutes, you decide this is not for you, leave.  This is not rude, it is the norm.  Librarians love matching the right people with the right information!
  • Visit the exhibits.  Leave time in your schedule to check out all the cool vendors, products, and services.  Librarian play time!
  • Business cards…get some.  Bring lots and lots of business cards.  You may want to create digital ones along with  paper ones.  You may also want to consider including a QR code linking to your website, Linkedin, etc.  Theses can easily be scanned by those who prefer it.
  • Talk to people.  This will be one of the hardest for me, being introverted by nature.  It may be a good idea to develop an introduction for yourself.  My name is so and so and I work/volunteer/attend so and so.  My focus is on….  You get the picture.  Talk to people who seem to be interested in the same exhibits or programs as you.  Talk to people who are interested in things outside your comfort area.  Talk to people before programs, on buses, at tables, during cocktails, and any other opportunity you get.  You never know what this may lead to.  At the worst it leads to nothing.  But, at the best, it could lead to a new acquaintance, a lifelong friend, a new opportunity, a learning experience…who knows.
  • Volunteer.  I love this tip!  Especially if you are still nervous about the idea of starting conversations with people.  This is a great way to ease into it.  Just contact your chosen committee or group before the conference and let them know you want to help.  Simple as that.
  • You don’t have to take every handout or pamphlet.  If you don’t want or need it, don’t take it.   The less you take, the less you have to carry around and take home.  Bonus points for being green!
  • Synthesize and organize.  After the conference, you should process all the information you received while it is still fresh in your mind.  Then, it will be easily accessed later when you need it.  You won’t have to dig through piles of paper hoping against hope to find that one yellow sheet (or was it blue?) that you so desperately need, yet eludes your best search efforts.
  • Follow up on your new acquaintances.  Connect with the people you meet via Linkedin, email, facebook, etc.  You can learn more about them and let them know you are interested in maintaining contact.

Hopefully, these tips helped make the idea of a first conference less overwhelming and scary.   Information IS power.  So maybe we can all work up the nerve to attend a conference in the near future.    I would love to see you there!


Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list (formerly I Need a Library Job) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of, a crowdfunding platform focused on African patrimony, heritage and cultural projects. INALJ was founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard. Its social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ. INALJ has had over 21 Million page hits and helped many, many thousands of librarians find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in one month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this with many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro and many other publications in the past decade. She presents whenever she can, including serving on three panels at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas; as breakout presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa; as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting; at the National Press Club in Washington DC; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has been living and working in Budapest, Hungary and Western New York State. She spent years running her husband’s moving labor website, fixed and sold old houses and assisted her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce and is job hunting. Her husband is now the co-editor of INALJ, a true support!  She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


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