Did I Do This Right? A First Time Attendee at ALA

When I first opened the schedule for ALA, I added at least five panels at the same time slots.

Photo by Rachel Weiss

Photo by Rachel Weiss

There was the need to be everywhere and to see everything. After all, Margaret Atwood would be there, and Diane Guerrero! But to see them, I would have to miss panels that I wanted to see. There was an overwhelming pressure not to miss anything, and I still needed to make time to see the exhibit hall.

I was scared to miss out on anything because I wanted to make sure that sending me to the conference instead of someone else was justified. YALSA offered me the Dorothy Broderick Scholarship to attend, and I wanted to make every minute count. I’ve been to the New Jersey Library Association conference before, so I thought I knew what this would be like, but I was wholly unprepared.

I tried a little bit of everything. I was fortunate enough to attend the Michael L. Printz Award Ceremony Friday night. It can be expensive to go to awards dinners, but it was the perfect kickoff to my conference. Laura Ruby got up to speak, and I was enchanted. One thing I definitely learned was that you’re never going to meet all the authors you want to, so seeing them accept an award means you hear more of their beautiful words. I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t read her book yet, but after hearing her talk about it, it’s moved up my list. It was just one of the many highlights of the conference.

What did I learn, though? Did I go to the right panels? Did I go to enough panels? There was a nagging sense of guilt every time I missed one that I wanted to see, even if it was to get lunch because there was no way I could sit through an hour long panel without food. I did a lot of networking, but I only attended a couple panels a day. Were these things worth missing out on to get free ice cream, or books, or an author signing in the exhibit hall?

I’m sure these are questions every first time attendee has, especially when your library is paying for you to go. On Saturday, I went to only two panels, and while they were both amazing, neither gave me new information or a plan for an event right away. Did I go see enough? I felt conflicted leaving the conference that night, even though I was planning to come back for the YALSA happy hour.

I know networking is a huge part of these, and I think that’s where first time attendees really need to focus. Other librarians from New Jersey were there, and they were meeting with friends from all over the country. I wanted to make these connections, and my friend and I picked a table and the YALSA board members came over to us! It’s not the best strategy for networking, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else. The number one rule is to be friendly, because everyone there was incredibly inviting to us.

So maybe I missed out on some of the panels, but I talked to anybody and everybody that I ran into. I probably met more people waiting in the post office line than I did at any of the after hours parties I went to, and believe me, we had time to talk.

Don’t worry so much about attending every panel. Make sure to go to the ones that make you the most excited, and save some time for the exhibit hall, because you never know when there will be free ice cream, and always, always bring a lot of business cards to network. And talk to everyone you meet!

Stacey Shapiro is an intern at South River Library in New Jersey, and about to finish her last year of grad school. You can find her at @akaRebecca on Twitter.

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