by Neyda Gilman
I had no idea what to expect at the ALA meeting. From the couple people I talked with left me with the impression that ALA is huge with crowds and crowds of people and too many programs to choose from. I had also been told the importance of making a good impression; you never knew if the person you end up sitting next to could be your next boss. In the weeks before I left I was worried about being overwhelmed by the huge crowds and obsessed with whether or not I had packed appropriate clothes for all five days (my suitcase was stuffed with a variety of clothes and weighed over forty pounds). Would it be appropriate to wear shoes without socks? What if I get lost? How does an introvert such as myself approach complete strangers and “network” properly? I was beginning to question my decision to go and pictured myself spending most of my time hiding in my hotel room.
My first day there I had no choice but to laugh at myself. I had brought way too many clothes, no one was paying attention to my shoes, and talking to people was almost too easy. My time at ALA has been the most exciting, fulfilling, and educational experience of my LIS career thus far. There were too many programs to choose from, but that just meant if something I thought was going to be interesting turned out not to be I could leave and go find something that really was interesting. The conference badges have your name and city of residence on them, which means people will see where you’re from, or that you are a student, and just start talking to you. I started conversations with people simply because their nametag said “UT” (I am originally from UT) and I had two people start conversations with me when they saw I live in Lockport. Really, TWO people stopped me to talk about Lockport… I can’t imagine how many times I would have been stopped if I had an actual city on my badge.
I thought I was going to be stressed, bored, and longing for home the whole conference. In reality I was going from 7am till 11pm every day and enjoying (almost) every minute of it. Most of the sessions I attended had something to do with diversity or technology. Often they were about both. I learned about different technologies and the roles they play both in libraries and in the varying communities libraries serve. I was reminded of the huge social, political, and economic gaps in America; the role that Librarians can play to help diminish these gaps was reiterated throughout almost every session. I also went to sessions on other topics I am passionate about, such as open access.
During my time at ALA I went to interesting and educational sessions, listened to inspirational authors (George R. R. Martin to name just one), learned more about ALA and all of its divisions and groups and affiliates, got advice on how to succeed in the career, met amazing people (Sherman Alexie), made numerous new connections (holy crap I networked!), and saw the Rock Bottom Remainders (including Stephen King wearing a Gunslingers shirt of all things) play at the scholarship fund raiser. ALA was an experience I will never forget. I am excited to attend as many library conferences as I can throughout my career as a Librarian. Did I mention they give away free books? LOTS of free books!