I just attended my first ALA conference and it was awesome.

I have heard many things about what to expect. Wear comfortable shoes, they said. Bring business cards, they said. Most of the meetings will be closed door, they said. Some of the things they said were right (seriously…who wants to walk around for 8 hours in cute new shoes that pinch the sides of your feet!..), but nothing prepared me for the magic that is Midwinter.

Like most Midwinter neophytes, I didn’t know what to expect, so I arrived bright and bushy tailed to the hotel at 7:30am sharp. I could not check into my room, so I left my bags with the hotel staff, and ubered my way over to the Boston Convention and Conference Center. (For those of you who cabbed your way around Boston, I would highly suggest you invest in the free Uber app. Most of my rides around the city did not cost me more than $6, some as little as $3.)

I arrived at the Conference Center to find that the exhibits were still being put together, and that I was late to all of the lectures that started at 8am. In hindsight, I could have just sat in, but I didn’t know if I needed a ticket. Is it okay to walk in late? Would I embarrass myself in front of my peers? Would I be asked to leave? Instead of tackling these hard questions straight on I decided on the very safe, unintrusive, and foodie-pleasing decision to register, find a coffee shop, and read the Midwinter guide over a hot cup of Joe and a cheese danish.

The guide was very helpful. It was delightfully color coordinated, included start and end times of lectures, events, and meetings, and provided a legend that had information on whether events were ticketed, closed, or open to registrants. I highlighted everything that looked of interest to me – which was half the book, so I marked it up to a fairly unrecognizable degree. And then I discovered there is an app.

I LOVE apps! I mean, I am a Teen and SOCIAL MEDIA Librarian, so anything that compliments my mobile device and makes my life easier immediately brings me joy. I found the 2016 ALA Midwinter App easily on Play Store and downloaded it. After an initial glitch and assistance from two very helpful ladies at the Registration desk, I was digitally planning my Midwinter schedule and hastily hopped in one of the shuttles on my way to a Committee meeting.

Despite what I had been told, there are many Committee meetings that are open, and that provide ample opportunity for attendees to speak up! This is also true for lectures. I attended The Future of Teen Services in LIS Education, Career Development: How to Get Your Bounce Back, The “New” Youth Librarianship: Y(outh) eXperience), and the Programming Librarian Interest Meeting. But perhaps my favorite lecture was Teens’ Social Media Attitudes and Behaviors: What the Research Means for Library Services by Denise Agosto of Drexel University. This lecture was inciteful, engaging, and I even got to advertise my Social Media Correspondent program with my fellow librarians, that was well received.

And now I must talk about the Exhibit Hall.

The Exhibit Hall was completely overwhelming, and I found myself avoiding it if possible. I did attend some of the Diverse Book Talks and happily picked up a few bags full of Advance Readers Copy books. There was no shortage of ARCs at Midwinter, and I did not complain lugging my new “To Read” list with me all over Boston.

I attended the Cory Booker talk and was very moved by the charming yet poignant way he shared his stories of growing up in suburban New Jersey, his challenges and triumphs as mayor in Newark, NJ, and I cried when he spoke of attending the funeral of his neighbor Hasan. I also attended the Chelsea Clinton talk and enjoyed her anecdotes of favorite books she reads with her daughter Charlotte, the adorable letter she mailed to President Reagan when she was a little girl, and the cute bag with a large poster, stickers, and a Mrs. Field’s-cookie-sized button that’s I’ve been wearing every day for nearly a week. I’ve already posted her “It’s Your World” poster in my Teen Center, and many of the young adults in my library have already begun posting affirmations of things they will do in our community.

I crashed the Ebsco Academic Librarian Luncheon, and then was bold enough to post it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. (…and to my surprise Ebsco actually liked it!) I also attended two publisher parties. One a Dessert Bar party at Top of the Hub celebrating the launch of Cassandra Clare’s new book (…go ahead, it’s okay to ooh and aah!) and attended a Random House dinner at Strega Waterfront celebrating debut authors Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, Gavriel Savit, and Kara Thomas.

As one of the recipients of American Library Association and Ebsco’s 2016 Scholarship to attend Midwinter, I was invited to attend the delectable breakfast held in honor of the award recipients. It was such a pleasure to meet the women and men who made the decision to sponsor my first ever ALA Conference. They were gracious, kind, and over berry stuffed pancakes, home fries, a fresh fruit platter with cinnamon yogurt, they laughed and shared funny stories with us like old friends.

And then there was the Youth Media Awards.

I had the pleasure of sitting in the front row with the journalists and the fabulous publishing glitterati as they welcomed this year’s award winners with tears and cheers. I got to see some of my favorite books and authors win the world’s most prestigious literary awards and I cheered until I was hoarse and tweeted until my phone died. The room was just electric and I was lit up.

I had such an amazing experience at Midwinter, and am very humbled to have been able to attend. The conference brought back those butterfly feelings I got after I’d just graduated. I could almost feel my superhero cape flying as I came back home with new ideas for programming, and have new vigor to tackle the challenges I face. I am extremely excited to see what the Annual Conference has in store this year! In the words of the Boston Globe, “If you see a group of wild revelers…this weekend, it’s probably just the librarians.”

If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend an ALA Conference, you should definitely apply for the Ebsco scholarship. There is still time to apply for a scholarship to attend this year’s ALA Annual Conference in Orlando. Sun…Fun…Disney World… and LIBRARIANS! Apply now! http://www.ala.org/yalsa/awardsandgrants/yalsaawardsgrants

About Christina Vortia

I'm a snarky youth services librarian. I like listening, being useful, and snacking.

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