As I’m currently working on my CILIP Chartership, I’m getting into the habit of reflecting on any professional activities. I also think it’s good practice after a conference to reflect on what you learnt (in terms of the conference content and also the logistics and organisational aspects), and had an interesting conversation last night at dinner about how useful it was to record the lessons learned after each conference (we also discussed how at a conference it was common to have more showers than meals!*). So here are a few points I have been mulling over after ALA Midwinter 2012 – things that I hope will help improve my future conferences (and may help others so I thought would be worth sharing).
- It really is all about the connections you make and the experiences you have at a conference. Yes, I attended some interesting sessions, but I took the most from the ad hoc conversations I had, often at the social occasions or just when a group of us happened to meet up over drinks/dinner. It will be interesting to see how this might change in future if the trend for shrinking numbers of attendees at conferences continues.
- Don’t let finances be the only reason not to do something. I almost didn’t apply for Emerging Leaders in case I couldn’t get funding, but I decided to apply anyway to see what happened and I’m so glad I did. I was fortunate enough to have been awarded an EBSCO Scholarship to support my attendance, which really helped. I’d strongly recommend applying for funding opportunities, there are many options out there and they really do want to help support people who want to attend professional development events but may not have the funds to do so.
- The ALA Emerging Leaders program really is as good as everyone told me, if not better. Not only do you get excellent leadership training and an insight into the way ALA works, you also get to be part of an incredibly exciting and dynamic cohort of librarians. I’m so looking forward to both my group project (which I’ll blog about separately some time) and communicating with the wider group of Emerging Leaders. It also opens a number of doors for you – people are interested in hearing more about your project, and current leaders are interested to hear your ideas. I have also heard about a similar model being used at a regional level, and it’s something I am hoping we might be able to adopt in the UK (adding yet another thing to my ‘I want to make this happen’ list).
- Plan your expected schedule ahead of the conference, but don’t be too rigid – have some backup sessions and don’t worry about sticking to your planned schedule. If you’re having a great conversation or someone invites you to something outside your schedule which you think would be interesting, then go for it (except for sessions you have paid to attend, you are speaking at/organising, or are required to attend of course!).
- Attend some sessions outside your immediate area of work, or just things that sound interesting. I went to Susan Cain’s auditorium session which was fantastic (and even went to the book signing afterwards), and really enjoyed Lisa Loeb at the wrap up party.
- Schedule some down time for yourself, especially if you’re an introvert and need to recharge away from other people. Head back to your hotel for a while or just take a walk outside, you’ll feel so much better afterwards. This time I learnt from my mistakes at ALA Annual 2011 and made sure that every day I took a break, usually between the daytime activities and the evening activities. I also spent quite a bit of time in the Networking Uncommons area in the conference – I learnt how to play Apples to Apples (an ALA version even!) and really enjoyed CraftCon which I helped organise.
- This one is specific to ALA conferences (or maybe US conferences, I’m not sure), but don’t worry if you aren’t at the *whole* session. Be kind and courteous to others at the session (sit near the back and keep quiet when arriving/leaving), but people really don’t mind as they understand there are numerous clashes and so much to fit in. Also sometimes something isn’t what you hoped it would be – if that’s the case, go somewhere else. The conference experience is what you make it and it’s a waste of your time to attend a session you’re not enjoying.
- Find out if anyone you know is staying at the same hotel as you and attending any of the same sessions/events, especially in the evening. I don’t like to walk on my own in cities I am unfamiliar with, but cab rides can be expensive, so it’s useful for me to find someone I can walk with. This is one I need to get better at!
- Use the conference shuttle buses. Not only does this save some of your energy (and your feet!) but you also meet some really interesting people on the bus. I need to get better at this more informal networking – I tended to wait until people spoke to me.
- Don’t be afraid to speak to people you consider role models or ‘library superstars’. They’re usually very nice and will be glad you made the effort to say hello. I still need to work on this as am often too starstruck and kick myself afterwards for missing the opportunity to speak to them.
- Take things to last you at least 36hrs or more in your carry on luggage when flying. One friend this year didn’t get her luggage for a couple of days, and I’m currently sitting in DFW airport for goodness knows how long (they keep delaying my flight further – in fact this sentence was interrupted with news of yet another delay!). Fortunately I packed an international charger in my carry on and have found a socket so I have plenty of power for keeping my occupied on my iPad, and have lots of gluten free snacks with me (though they are rapidly depleting, I’m hungry!). I don’t have spare clothes but seeing as I’m flying home that’s not too much of an issue. I have some toiletries with me to freshen up too so shouldn’t be too smelly!
ALA Midwinter was really enjoyable – it seemed much more manageable in terms of size and organisation of my schedule, partly I think due to the smaller scale compared to ALA Annual, and partly I think (well, I hope!) because I’m getting better at organising myself before and during a conference. ALA conferences are so tiring, and because they are over a weekend it essentially means you pretty much work for two weeks with no breaks. I’m really looking forward to this coming weekend when I am planning to sleep and very little else! Having said that, I am also feeling invigorated – I have lots of actions to follow up and ideas to pursue thanks to some awesome library colleagues. Roll on ALA Annual in June!
*We were discussing the quota of drinks, showers and meals – I think I may have had more showers than meals, though I had problems with having no hot water in my room at times so the scale may be tilted towards drinks! If you are wondering, the frozen mango tequila cocktail on my final night was my favourite.