If you've never been to a convention before, the Exhibit Hall can be a bit overwhelming. Trust me, I've done ComicCon's enough to know how to get the most out of the time you have and, really, the strategy can be applied to any convention or conference you go to. Here are some of my tips on being as efficient as possible when navigating the exhibits at Annual this year:
What Is the Exhibit Hall?
At any conference or convention there are hundreds of companies renting out booths to try and pitch their products to you, and with thousands of people rushing by, many will try almost anything to get you to stop at their specific booth. Some will offer freebies, some have raffles for awesome items like iPads and free airfare to next year's conference and others will have author signings with some big-name people. In between all the speakers, panels, division meetings and professional development trainings you're interested in going to, how do you manage to make the most of your time in the Exhibit Hall?
Make a Schedule
Check back on the official webpage for Annual about a month prior to the conference to see the Scheduler. You can browse, search, and select the specific programs you'd like to see and make a nice list of everything you're interested in. The Scheduler can be a little hard to sort through but if you use the limiters such as Meeting Type, Sponsoring Divisions, and Subject you can find what you'd like to see. Once you know what your days will look like, take the time in between to visit the Exhibit Hall. And don't feel like you have to see everything all at once. Stagger your time in the Hall throughout the conference so you have time to visit all the booths you're interested in.
All the Free Swag
You won't understand just how much free stuff there is until you see the Exhibit Hall when it opens. It can make librarians go mad, so use your head. At the 2013 conference, there were people with book trucks literally running inside to be the first to grab all the awesome freebies. I got caught up in it too, blindly grabbing things from each booth as I passed by, though I learned from my experience that it's a good idea to take an extra moment to determine if you really want or need what you're picking up or you might end up with more stuff than you're able to get home. Be sensible, and you'll be fine.
There are limited quantities of the best swag and those tend to disappear quickly. The booths limit how much product they put out each day though, so if it's â€œsold outâ€ when you go, ask the representative at the booth what time they'll put out the next batch of items. It's usually at opening the next day, so if you've got some time before your panel, I suggest stopping by early.' Also, if you can make it to the ribbon-cutting ceremony on opening night, you'll see exactly what the booths have to offer.
Every publisher you can think of will be at the conference hoping to sell you their books and to pull you in. The best way of doing this is to bring the authors for book signings, a great ploy because it gets you to buy their book and you get to meet some of your author celebrities. For example, last year I met Laurie Halse Anderson, Marie Lu, Patrick Ness, Veronica Roth, Tamora Pierce, Francesca Lia Block, and David Levithan, and my mind was blown! I mean these are rock stars in my opinion! You can use the Scheduler to see who's coming this year and plan ahead by buying your own books, though usually the publishers will have their books discounted for the signing. Be sure to carry cash on you though, just in case they don't accept cards.
Some of the big, big name authors have limited spots, so you have to pick up a wristband or a ticket to attend their signing.' It's at the publisher's discretion and is not always listed on the Scheduler so if there is someone big you want to see, find out which publisher they're going to be with and on opening night for the Hall, visit their booth ASAP to see if you need a ticket to attend.
Raffles and Giveaways
A lot of the booths will have other incentives to get you to stop by, including raffles and giveaways.' This usually requires your filling out an entry form or leaving a business card so they can contact you, but this also means they have your contact info and will be sending you emails throughout the year. Do keep in mind, if you don't want a million spam emails, that you can unsubscribe from their mailing list when you get back home. One of the easiest ways to find out what booths are raffling off is to look at the ALA Conference Guide handed out at registration. There is a coupon book with most of the Exhibit Hall promos that you can complete before you go so you can quickly submit your entries for all of the drawings you're interested in.
If you are in a position high enough where you have the purchasing power to actually invest in publishers, new technologies, or furniture then do take advantage of talking with the reps at each booth to see what they have to offer. You might get some deals if you chat them up and make a new associate.
Getting Everything Home
So you went crazy and picked up way too much swag to actually take back home. What do you do? Brilliantly, there is a USPS Post Office in the Exhibit Hall for all your shipping needs. And the best part about shipping books is that you can use Media Mail which is infinitely cheaper than regular postage. Just make sure you only have books in those boxes and pack your posters, stuffed animals and other trinkets separately because the mail carriers do open up Media Mail to check that only books are inside and will charge you the difference if you have any other items in it.' Also, to avoid long lines don't wait until the last day to ship your loot.
One Hidden Small-but Fun-Activity
While walking around last year's conference, I noticed that many attendees had these cool ribbons on their badges saying what division or round table they were in, if they were a first-timer, or even cute funny ones like â€œLibrary Superhero,â€ and I wanted to know where these ribbons were coming from! The division and round table ones are almost all located in the ALA Membership Pavilion in the Exhibit Hall, or sometimes near registration, and you can pick and choose which ones you'd like.' Then there are the fun ones put out by different booths and it's like a random scavenger hunt to find them. If you see someone with one you like, the best way to find it is to ask them where they got it. Otherwise while you're exploring, take a second to see if the booths have any quirky ones that you'd like. My friend and I made it a goal to see who could get the most and the coolest ones and ended up with five-foot long ribbons.' (photo from facebook.com/farm4.static.flickr.com)
Having Fun and Relaxing
To be honest, I was exhausted by the end of the conference last year.' Between running around to all the panels, joining up with colleagues and meeting new ones, and finding time to eat and rest, hanging out in the Exhibit Hall was actually quite relaxing and fun after the free-swag madness was over. Sometimes just taking some down time to stroll around and browse or wait in line for author signings was a nice little break from everything. I definitely advise taking time visit the Hall and enjoy what's going on. Overall, don't stress, have a good time, and try to pick up some good freebies or meet some authors if you can!
Submitted' by Soraya Silverman, YALSA Local Arrangements