by Esther Marie Jackson
I had the pleasure of being selected as the SUNY Buffalo Student-2-Staff participant. Thanks to this program I had the opportunity to attend ALA in Anaheim as a student worker, which made the conference really affordable for me, as well as very valuable in terms of networking opportunities.
Each Student-to-Staff participant was assigned a particular group to work for within ALA. I had the opportunity to work for two groups, RUSA, (Reference & User Services Association), and ASCLA, (Association of Specialized & Cooperative Library Agencies). As a student worker, I helped to set up events, handed out lots of brochures, stuffed lots of goodie bags with free books, welcomed people to receptions, and was generally a cheerleader for the organizations I was representing. I had the opportunity to meet lots of people within both of the organizations, including officers and members, and also worked closely with the ALA employees who organized the events. I was given quite a few free books, (including autographed copies of many!), and a few free dinners. If you haven’t already clicked on the link above to find out more about this program, you absolutely should- Student-to-Staff is an amazing opportunity and something you should definitely try to do.
I had been to a few smaller conferences before this one, and so I wasn’t as intimidated by the idea of heading into unknown territory without knowing anyone as perhaps I should have been. I made sure to check out a bunch of blogs that had tips for attending conferences, and I also grilled people who I knew had been to conferences before. (My favorite list of tips, by the way, is from Free Range Librarian, found here.) I was really particular about making my schedule and planning my time well, but even still I missed out on a couple of sessions that I didn’t know about until too late, or that my student job conflicted with. What can you do? I made the most of it, and everything worked out.
At the smaller conferences I attended in the past, I networked a *lot*. For some reason, maybe because ALA is so much larger than everything else, I found that I networked with people on more of a casual basis during the conference. I went out to dinner a couple of times with a few different groups of people, and I struck up conversations in a variety of places, such as on the shuttle to and from the airport. I ultimately felt like I used my time well in this regard, though I suppose I could have been more aggressive when it came to meeting new people. All in all, though, I thought my networking was successful.
In terms of my own personal advice to people planning on attending ALA in the future, I guess I’ll boil it down to five short tips.
1. Wear comfortable shoes. This one is on practically all of the “conference tips” lists you’ll find, and I’ll agree with it completely. I walked about a mile and a half to find Vietnamese food, then got turned around thanks to the Maps app on my phone, and circled the parameter of Disneyland for probably an additional mile on my way back. Wear comfortable shoes!
2. Talk to people. More simple than just networking, feel free to start conversations with people. This tip is perhaps more useful for ALA, (because with 12,000 attendees probably most of the people you see on the street are librarians), but it’s true for other conferences as well. It never hurts to strike up a conversation.
3. Plan your schedule, but be flexible. This is another tip that a lot of people will stress, and so it bears repeating. Know what’s available to you, but be willing to throw your plans out the window if someone really passionately suggests you try to go to a different session.
4. Find the food! If you’re a student, you are probably on a budget. As one gentleman told me, (who was not a student, by the way), “You never have to pay for food at ALA.” Ask around to find out who is serving a free breakfast on the exhibition floor, or which vendor is hosting a free lunch. There are receptions for different interest groups most evenings, as well as other opportunities to chow down on the cheap. Ain’t no shame in an Elsevier buffet! Okay, nope, there is definitely a little shame, but depending on how tasty that buffet is….
5. Always look for scholarships, funding, and travel awards. This is more of a pre-conference tip, but it should be said! If you can find a way to attend a conference for free, you should definitely apply and try to do so. It never hurts to try, and future employers like to know that you’re thrifty, resourceful, and are capable of finding professional development opportunities that aren’t going to cost them an arm and a leg.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time at ALA Annual. I would love to attend Midwinter, (and next Annual), and would absolutely encourage others to do the same.