Ten Conference Tips for a First Timer

by Leigh Milligan, Head Editor, INALJ Pennsylvania
previously published 2/21/14

Ten Conference Tips for a First Timer

leigh.milliganLast weekend, I went to my first big library conference, ALA Mid-Winter in Philadelphia, PA. I was very nervous and jittery going into this conference. It was my first conference, and I went by myself since my other librarian friends had other commitments at ALA or just weren’t able to afford it. I came out of ALA stronger than ever and really enjoyed my experience. I am going to share with you based on my experience, some tips for conference going for first timers.

1. Attend an orientation session. Since I was a first timer at the conference, I wanted some help in navigating the conference. New Members Round Table (NMRT) gave an orientation session. They have icebreaker games to help with networking with new librarians. They had a panel of experienced librarians to give tips about attending the conference such as sitting in on different meetings of divisions and roundtables you might want to get involved in since everything is open, attend programs as ALA JobList for career advice and why ALA is important. There was also a librarian there to give ideas on things to do in the city of Philadelphia. It was a great orientation to attend because it gave me a starting point for the conference.

2. Bring business cards and network. I just couldn’t attend this conference and not talk to anyone. One of my goals for this conference was to meet new librarians, I sure did. I was almost out of business cards by the end of the 2 days of the conference. By the end of the conference I was easily able to just walk up to anyone introduce myself and hand them a business card to stay in touch. I received many Linked In connections.

3. Prepare a small 30 second speech about yourself. Throughout the conference people are going to ask you to tell them about yourself. This will be really easy if you have something prepared. It helped me show people I know who I am and what I can offer the library world. It was also very helpful at the conference because I was able to tell people and get people interested in INALJ. My

4. Attend career sessions at the ALA JobList Placement Center. At ALA the placement center offers many opportunities for library career help. They have workshops on resumes, cover letters and interviewing, career counseling centers, resume review. My favorite career session was with Steve at Open Cover Letters because it is my favorite resource for writing cover letters and he was able to really break it down for me. At ALA Mid-Winter, I even had the opportunity to attend a job fair. I was able to talk to many different libraries and vendors from all over the United States about their open library positions. This honestly felt like library speed dating because I talked to many libraries very quickly in a short amount of time, but this helped me to learn about the many open positions at these libraries and how I could apply. It also helped me work on my communication skills for when I am interviewing with libraries. I had to the opportunity to give my resume to a few libraries on the spot, so maybe I’ll hear back!

5. Volunteer at the conference. Find something to volunteer for like helping out on a committee, volunteering to help out the conference through ALA or your local association etc. It’s a great way to meet people and its something you can put on your resume. Plus volunteering is great karma. I volunteered to sit at Pennsylvania Library Associations booth and made some great connections with those who I met through PaLA.

6. Attend meetings for Divisions and Round Tables you are a member of or are interested in. I really and truly feel this is an important tip. I was really skeptical in getting involved in a roundtable through ALA because I was a little bit intimidated of how involved some people are and wasn’t sure if I would have the time. After attending New Members Round Table (NMRT) meeting, it really made me want to get super involved. We broke into small groups to learn about what NMRT has to offer. Everyone I talked to was so positive about librarianship and had great ideas and great things to say. I am really excited to volunteer for a committee through NMRT with these positive librarians. I also made some great networking connections and got some tips on how I can improve my Emerging Leaders Application for next year!

7. Attend educational sessions, but also attend something fun! Most of the sessions I attended for ALA were sessions to help advance my career or were in in my areas I work in. For example I work in a library for those with disabilities, so I attended a panel for library services for the deaf. However I did attend a fun session to. I attended a session called DK Crafternoon with Jane Bull. I got a signed copy of Jane Bull’s book and I got to do a craft! I sewed a mouse. While sewing is in no way my area of expertise, I love to craft and I had fun doing it! I also made some new friends! Also make room for fun at ALA!

8. Use the conference app. Most conferences for ALA are creating an app to make your conference schedule on. This was very helpful for me because I was able to plan what programs I wanted to attend very far in advance. I was able to know exactly where to go each day at what time I needed to be there. It was also helpful in the exhibits hall, because the exhibits hall was so large and it helped me to know who to be on the lookout for. This app was great for making last minute plans. A session I wanted to attend, the speaker didn’t show up, so I had to find another conference to attend on the quick! With the app, it was easy to do.

9. Make time for the exhibits hall, but don’t grab too much free stuff! The exhibits hall at ALA meetings is quite large with many vendors for library products. It’s a great way to make connections with vendors for networking and possible library purchases. At some of the publishers’ booths, you even have the opportunity to meet authors at book signings, I met Sue Monk Kidd. However, because the there are so many exhibitors, you want to map out exactly who you want to visit, because you won’t get to see everyone. This was helpful for me, because it helped me make the connections I wanted to make, such as talked to Library Journal and others about blogging opportunities You also do not want to grab every free book because you will hurt your back.

10. Attend socials not just ALA sessions. I will keep saying this ALA conferences are a great way to meet people. But ALA socials are even a great way to meet librarians. It’s a great way to talk to other librarians in a very casual environment. Most of the meet-ups were at bars and restaurants near the conference. I got the opportunity to attend two socials, one through my alumni association at Drexel University; the other was one I hosted for INALJ. I met many librarians, gave out many business cards and made connections and had a great time chatting with other librarians casually versus professional.

I hope all of these tips will come in handy when you attend your first conference or one of your first conferences. Here are some more tips from ALA for first timers at conferences: http://alamw14.ala.org/resources-for-first-timers