Fun for all that librarians call their favorite time of year!

By Kate Kosturski, MLSIS, Canada and International INALJ Volunteer Coordinator

Fun for all that librarians call their favorite time of year!  

(Now you have the song from A Charlie Brown Christmas stuck in your head.   Sorry about that.  Okay, maybe not )

kate_photo_2014Much like the Golden Globes kick off the film awards season, January kicks off the start of conference season in North America, with the ALA Midwinter Meeting in the US and one of Canada’s largest provincial conferences, the OLA Superconference.    Now I bet at least one of you resolved this year, in a New Year’s Eve streamers-and-champagne induced haze, to not just go to conference, but to go to conference – to experience it to its fullest.  Great idea, but I also bet that you’re a bit clueless as to how to go about that (let’s blame the champagne).
As a conference veteran, I’ve picked up few tips and tricks that I give to people every time this issue comes round, without pause.  Thus, I present, in no particular order: Kate’s Top 10 Things You Must Do at Conference to Make It Awesome

(First, some homework:  Patrick Sweeney of EveryLibrary and Sunnyvale, CA Public Library wrote a great article about the social aspect of conferencing in the 15 January 2015 issue of Library Journal.  I’ll be touching on some of his tips here, but if your anxieties towards conference lean more towards the socialization aspect, this is worth a read.)

10. The 3-1-1 Rule: Not that TSA rule about liquids, gels and aerosols, but a good rule that I have picked up from my NY Comic-Con experience that makes it more pleasant for everyone:  Every day you should have 3 square meals, 1 shower, 1 good night’s sleep. Trust me when I say we will all thank you later for it.

9. Open Unless Closed: Most meetings at conference are open to all registered attendees unless it specifically says that it is a closed meeting.  Often these are for committees that decide awards, or have to deal with personnel matters (such as committee appointments).  Outside of these exceptions, you do not have to be a member of a group to attend the meeting – just go in and sit!  It’s a great way to observe the inner workings, and possibly get involved (though some committees can be a bit overzealous and interpret attendance as “give that person a task!” so be upfront with folks about your expectations from attendance).

This is also a good time to remind those that are attending ALA conferences that the larger meetings, such as ALA Council, ALA Executive Board, and Council Forums are also open to everyone, unless stated otherwise.   It’s a great opportunity to see the inner workings of ALA.

8. What Is a Comfort Zone?:  Hopefully you have looked at the schedule and have some idea about what sessions/meetings you need to attend (or, if your employer is paying for your attendance, been told what sessions/meetings you have to attend).   And even after following item #10, you probably still have some gaps.  What to do?  This is the time to find what is fun, or what interests you outside of all obligations.  Academic librarian? Go to a presentation sponsored by YALSA.  Cataloging librarian interested in emerging tech?  Go hang with the LITA folk.   You’d be surprised how easy (and often) ideas from what you would think are disparate organizations easily transfer.

7. Respect Your Vendors: Vendors are businesses that want to make money, and sometimes they do things that make you go “hmm?!” but they also want to hear from you. Take the time to stop by, ask thoughtful questions, and thank them for their services (or even fanboy/fangirl them).  As a “vendorbrarian” we do love the praise, and we do listen to you when you suggest improvements.

It’s also very tempting to want to crash vendor parties, because hey, FREE FOOD AND BOOZE, but bear in mind that our fabulous events cost money.  Our goal with these is to promote our product, not just feed you.  Sometimes the last minute invite is inevitable, but use that time to learn more about the product or service, and not just for cocktail wieners and wine and cheese.   Like tip #8, you would be surprised what could transfer to your job that you don’t expect.

6. We Built This City for More than ALA:  Our conferences are in fun cities – Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, Philadelphia – yes, even Las Vegas.   Make some time to see the city and talk to the locals. Ideally, I like to leave a day before or a day after the conference to play tourist, but even a early morning or late flight/train back home leaves some time for some fun.   While I’m not looking forward to Chicago in Winter, I’m leaving some time for the Field Museum (hi Sue the T-Rex!) and a good deep dish pizza from Giordano’s.

5. The Bridget Jones Rule of Introductions: It’s a silly tip I picked up from Bridget Jones’ Diary (book and film), but one good way to make an introduction is to share a fact about the other person in the party (this could be something you know the two people you are introducing have in common or not).  Example:

— “Mark, this is Bridget.  She enjoys finely chilled Chardonnay and works with your law school classmate Daniel Cleaver.”

— “Bridget, this is Mark.  He has an interest in entertainment law and walking out of lakes shirtless.”

(Extreme but you get the idea.)

The goal is these facts are to induce conversation, rather than going back to our respective smart devices and not saying a word to each other.

(If you’re curious about more formal rules of introduction, you may want to read this post from The Art of Doing Stuff.)

4. That Alcohol Thing:  For the non-drinker or the casual drinker, going to an open bar party (or any bar) can cause anxiety.  You may also think that ordering a glass of soda will just scream your sober status to the world.  Try this instead: when my late father had to give up alcohol for health reasons in 2008, he often resorted to cranberry juice with a splash of seltzer.  Served in a rocks glass, it looks like a vodka cranberry and no one is the wiser that you’re not imbibing.  (Having tried it, it also tastes really good.)

3. Recharging Your Batteries and Recharging Your Batteries: I’m talking about two kinds of batteries here:  the ones on your mobile devices and the ones that run you.    For the former, I recommend not relying out power strips and outlet hunting (they’re more rare than a Taylor Swift album on Spotify) and invest in a backup battery.  Depending on your phone model, this could be an actual spare battery you snap on to your phone, a case with a built in battery, or an actual external battery.  I’m a fan of the Mophie line of products, in particular their Juice Pack Powerstation X, which charges two devices to near 100 percent simultaneously.

As for your batteries, know that it is okay to just take some me time at conference.  You are under no obligation to see and do everything, or to accept every invitation.  Know your limits and know your schedule.  If you have had an intense day of meetings, with an early morning the next day ahead of you, it’s perfectly okay to pass on a party and go back to your hotel and your House of Cards.  (See Item #10 above.)  I’m very much a morning person, so I lose steam after 9 PM (hey, I’m OLD), and thus, I don’t do many of the late night parties.   I probably miss out on some really cool stuff, but I also know that after 11 PM, I become very NOT FUN, which makes the party not fun for a lot more people.

2. It’s Okay to Leave Your Buddy at Home:  It’s fun to go to a conference with a friend or significant other, because then you know you always have someone to talk to.  But there are thousands of other librarians that want to talk to you too, so don’t feel obligated to spend every waking minute of conference with your roommate or spouse.   My partner and I are both librarians, but we also have very different career tracks, so it’s fun to separate in the morning and then meet up for dinner later and compare notes.  New friends are awesome!

1. Have Fun! There’s only a few times a year that we can be in the same place with so many of our kind.   Enjoy yourself!   Think of it as “librarian summer camp” – the time of year you get to chill with the people who you only see twice a year, but will be your friends for life.

I hope to see some of you in two weeks’ time in Chicago, or at San Francisco this summer.   Please, come say hi!

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