Scary New Things #1: Go to a Conference

by Nena Schvaneveldt, Head Editor, INALJ Utah

Scary New Things #1: Go to a Conference

Nena picWell, I have begun my journey into doing scary new things: I attended the Utah Library Association conference. I’m starting locally because I want to meet local librarians, and I thought that jumping into ALA Annual as my first conference may scare me half to death. The conference was driving distance from my house, so I didn’t need to stay in a hotel, and it was in a place I’d been before. For a scary new experience, I made it as un-scary as I could.

There’s a wealth of advice – even here on INALJ! – about attending first conferences, so instead, I will focus on my experience.

First of all, know yourself. Some people can hand out their business cards with pizazz and network in a way that looks so easy. Maybe you’re not that person. I spoke with new people, but wasn’t handing out a ton of business cards. That is something I could do better next time. My cards were a bit outdated, but if they were correct, perhaps I would have been more excited to hand them around!

Because I was supported by my workplace, I attended a lot of sessions that pertained to my current work and its possible expansions into other areas of librarianship. I did attend a session or two that was outside of my normal world in order to get some new perspectives – you never know where a great idea will come from! I did get a chance to discuss some of the sessions with other librarians, which was very helpful in processing what ideas I would take back to work.

The librarians at the conference were very friendly and kind. I got the chance to meet a lot of people from many libraries, and it was fun to share what was unique about our libraries. I had made it a goal to try to talk to people from different libraries, but I didn’t really have to go out of my way to do this. Sometimes all it took was hanging around the refreshment table for someone to say hello. It was good to chat with people I already knew as well as people I had just met.

I also signed up to volunteer at registration for one day of the conference, even though I’d never been to a conference before. That was a bit out of my comfort zone, but it was a good experience. It was an easy job, so I didn’t need to be a seasoned conference veteran for it, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone.

One thing I didn’t plan for was that all activity of the conference – sessions, talking to people in the conference center, the exhibit hall, sitting with strangers at lunch – would be exhausting. At the next conference I go to, I will be mindful of this and maybe plan on a strategy for me to recharge.

So I’ve survived one big scary thing so far this year, and now it doesn’t seem so scary anymore. Perhaps it’s time to up the ante and see about getting more involved…