Have you registered for ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim yet? Early Bird registration is open through May 13 at alaannual.org. There’s so much to look forward to, not the least of which is the Exhibit Hall.

The Exhibit Hall at ALA Annual can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time at an ALA conference. Here are some tips on how to handle the exhibits like a “pro”:

  • Target what you want to see FIRST. There’s so much to see, including all of the publishers, technology and furniture companies, as well as a plethora of other library-related booths. If you need to talk with specific vendors or publishers, be sure to visit these booths first. Take a look at the exhibit hall map and make sure you know where they are located in the hall. Check the current list of exhibitors for ALA Annual. The floor plan map is not available yet, but check back later to see the map before you go to the conference.
  • Give yourself enough time. Don’t wait until the last day to visit the exhibits. First, you may miss out on some fun promotions and second, you may not have enough time to see what you want (or need) to see. After targeting specific vendors, allow some time to peruse other booths. If your schedule allows, come back a second day, when you have a better idea of where everything is located.
  • Talk to other librarians. When you go to workshops or networking events at the conference, talk to other librarians who have already visited the exhibits. Some will know the inside scoop on where to get the “unadvertised” Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) or what booths to go to for specific titles. If it’s your first time, it might be a good idea to make a plan to meet up with a seasoned conference-goer librarian who can walk around the hall with you.
  • Network with representatives at the booths. While most booths are great for browsing, you can also strike up a conversation with the representatives managing the booths. This is especially helpful if you are looking for specific genres or products for your readers or community. It never hurts to ask, so if you don’t see something that you are expecting to see, just ask. These representatives know their stock best and may even introduce you to something new. At larger booths, talking with someone will save you a little time and get you to the sections that you are really interested in.
  • Check out the smaller publishers. Although we often aim to visit the large publishers, this conference is also an excellent opportunity to learn more about small presses and publishing houses. Some are more specialized and might be able to connect you with just the right type of book or series for your library. They may also be more open to suggestions for future titles or subjects. Remember, publishers see this as an opportunity to network with librarians just as much as we see this as an opportunity to network with them. ‘ Share your opinions and let them know what you’re looking for, and more importantly, what has been difficult to find.
  • Do you REALLY need that? Yes, some booths have very impressive giveaways. And who can turn down a free book or ARC?! Our advice is to be selective. Ask yourself, “Do I really need that additional poster?” or “Do I have the room for ‘X’ amount of books in my suitcase?” Find alternatives to carrying around huge amounts of items. Perhaps you can give a publisher your card and have titles mailed to you (it doesn’t hurt to ask!) or you can split the load between another librarian from your library. Either way, try to be picky and think before you grab.
  • Don’t forget about the POST OFFICE! If you do happen to grab lots of stuff, then don’t forget about the Post Office. Yes, there is a post office located inside the Exhibit Hall, and if you can afford to mail boxes back to your library, take advantage of this service! Instead of lugging everything back to your hotel room, onto the plane, or to your car, mail it back to your library and avoid the backache. If you do plan on using the post office, don’t wait until the last day to mail things out, as it can get especially crowded and frustrating.
  • Have fun, and don’t stress. The Exhibit Hall is a great place to learn about new companies and services, find out about new books and publishers, and network with a variety of people. It is a place to exchange ideas and tell others about your library and where you work. So have fun, take advantage of this unique opportunity and don’t let the size overwhelm you.

You’ll get the hang of it all, and by the end of this conference, you, too, will be a pro. See you in Anaheim!

6 Thoughts on “ALA Annual: Walking the Exhibit Hall Like a Pro

  1. Beth Yoke on February 21, 2012 at 1:34 pm said:

    To find out what YALSA has planned for you at the ALA Annual Conference, please visit http://tinyurl.com/YALSAannual2012. We hope to see you in Anaheim!

  2. I am SO with you on “Do you REALLY need that?!” I will only take a poster/book/catalog/magazine if I or someone I see on a regular basis (and know their tastes) would get use out of. I am very selective about what I ship home because…well, it’s not cheap to ship heavy books!

    Great post! See you in Anaheim!

  3. Here’s hoping the post office at Annual is better run than the one at Midwinter. It’s frustrating how inconsistent this service is from city to city. In some locations USPS declines to participate at all, while in others (like Dallas) the local USPS vastly underestimates the demand–which led to many of us waiting for over an hour and fifteen minutes to ship our flat rate boxes.

  4. Penny Johnson on March 8, 2012 at 5:52 am said:

    Most convention centers, or the nearest hotel, have a UPS and/or FedEx shipping center. It’s usually cheaper than USPS. I take a small wheeled suitcase to the convention center and check it at the coat/luggage check. (You can’t take wheeled cases into the exhibit hall). When I leave the exhibit hall laden with swag I retrieve my suitcase and use it to transport my treasures to the shipping center.

    Another exhibit hall tip: before you leave home print a couple sheets of labels with all of your contact info (name, library, position, address, phone, email). That way you can quickly fill out all of the prize entry forms exhibitors feature.

    See you in the exhibit hall!

  5. Remembering that you don’t have to take everything is key!! After attending several conferences, even my sons (ages 12 and 14) know this trick. They can spot “newbies” across the exhibit floor due to the overabundance of “stuff” in their bags and make me proud at how selective they’ve become. Another important thing to do is go through everything once you’re back at the hotel. You might be surprised what you can do wtihout (so you don’t have to pack or ship it)!

  6. Barbara Ashby on January 17, 2013 at 9:22 am said:

    I have attended many ALA conventions and enjoyed browsing the exhibits most of all. Often my husband traveled with me and he also loved visiting the exhibits. It was certainly a big help to have his extra hands to carry the things I thought were worth taking. One year we had our granddaughter with us when she was around 12 years- old and before going we printed a business card for her with her name, student at ………, loves to read, and included our home address. The vendors loved the fact that she had a business card and enjoyed giving her free books. We all had a delightful time.

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