Top 10 Things I Learned at My First ALA Annual Conference

My first ALA Annual Conference, like many “firsts,” is one that I will never forget! I’ve never seen so many librarians in one place–which was amazing all by itself, and visiting Anaheim and Disneyland for the first time was a blast!

I had the pleasure of participating in the Student-to-Staff Program at ALA Annual 2012 as the student representative of the library school at North Carolina Central University. It’s a program that allows 40 library school students (from 40 different ALA Student Chapters across the country) to volunteer for 16 total hours, doing behind-the-scenes work for the Annual Conference. In exchange, participants get free registration, hotel (sharing a room with another Student-to-Staff participant), and a per diem. I was able to volunteer for ALCTS, the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services, a division of ALA, and I really enjoyed it!

For weeks now, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the experience well enough to write a post. Between fiscal year-end at work, conference trip recovery, summer school, and now fall semester at school AND at work, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t gotten very far. So, I’ve wiped my first draft clean, started fresh, and am taking my cue from David Letterman’s Top 10 lists. Below are my thoughts and advice for other ALA attendees, especially first timers and future Student-to-Staffers. (The order isn’t particularly important, mostly it’s how ideas bubbled out.)

10. Six months may seem like a long time to get ready for your first ALA, but the time goes so quickly! I first learned I’d be Anaheim-bound in December, and I was glad to have six months to get ready. Most of us incoming Student-to-Staffers joined the Facebook page set up by Don Wood of the ALA Chapter Relations Office for the 2012 group of volunteers. Between emails and the Facebook page, Don kept us informed along the way, and we got to know each other and plan the group dinner our first night in Anaheim.

In addition to all the information, I was glad for the time to get ready in other ways too:  shopping for new clothes, learning a little more about Disney, and of course bugging colleagues for advice about attending my first ALA Annual Conference!

9. Using technology helped me get ready. Using my favorite to-do-list app, Remember the Milk, helped a lot with ongoing tasks, and SmartyPig helped me save for my flight and spending money. I used Kayak to help find a good deal on airfare, and TripIt helped me keep track of plane, hotel, airport shuttle, and conference registrations. I used the iPad and iPhone apps for all four websites, and it was great to be able to plan and make updates on-the-go, especially since I’m working full-time and took grad school classes in the spring.

8. Social networking helped make the anticipation bearable, and was a great way to get information about the Annual Conference and the Student-to-Staff program from Don Wood of the ALA Chapter Relations Office. It was also a great way to meet fellow Student-to-Staffers ahead of time. Once I got to Annual, I loved using Twitter (@lllooper)! So many Annual attendees were tweeting, and I really enjoyed getting conference updates from attendees in different locations. It also allowed me to find and meet for the first time a fellow Twitterer and Postcrosser!

7. Never underestimate the time it’ll take you to get from one place to another during the conference. The conference area was just huge. Programs and meetings were spread out among the Anaheim Convention Center and at least three different hotels (maybe more)! Between meeting room changes and running into people you want to talk to along the way, it can be really challenging to keep to a schedule. I made all of my volunteer shifts on time, but missed some of the programs I wanted to attend.

6. Take business cards, and exchange them with the people you meet! Make notes of how you meet people. One suggestion I read about after I returned home was to go the extra mile by writing on your own business cards before passing them out. For example, scribble “ALA” next to your name on your card before handing it forward; it takes two seconds and helps people remember you AND where you met! Don’t be shy about following up after the conference with a quick note or email, a “follow” on Twitter, or even a connection invitation on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Mickey Mouse balloons at Downtown Disney

5. Make a point to do something local, whether it’s taking in a local tourist attraction or eating at a local restaurant. I enjoyed several restaurants, Downtown Disney, and Disneyland, all with people I met at ALA. The fun and networking continued after hours.

4. Consider going light on technology. I took my laptop, iPad, and iPhone with me. The laptop was in a laptop bag, my one carry-on piece of luggage, in addition to my big purse. Once I got to Anaheim, I never took my laptop out of its bag, and I wish I hadn’t taken it. It was just one more thing to keep up with in the airports. I DO wish I’d taken an extra charging cord for my Apple products, though. I only took one Apple charger, and my iPad and iPhone had to take charging turns alot. Oh, and I wish I’d packed a surge-protected power strip for the hotel room.

3. Pack all the clothes you’ll think you need, and then some. Yes, I packed heavily, since I was going to be away for five nights, and I’m glad I did. Since I didn’t know what all I’d be doing, especially at night, it was peace of mind knowing I was prepared, clothes-wise. I know this is unusual advice, since most travelers will advise packing lighter, but I’d rather pack extra than do laundry on the road. I was also glad I’d packed my running shoes. I included several pairs of professional-looking shoes in my suitcase, but got blisters on Day #1, so I wore my running shoes most of the rest of the conference. For future conferences, though, I hope to find more professional shoes that can handle all the walking and standing.

Anaheim Convention Center

2. Check out the conference schedule ahead of time, and make a list of programs and activities (and their times and locations) that you’re interested in. Some of the best advice I got ahead of time was to pick 2-3 things for each time slot, just in case you can’t make it to something due to distance between locations, or a room change or cancellation throws a monkey wrench into your plans.

1. Relish this opportunity to meet people! Being in the same place with so many librarians and library students was incredible!

Deanna, Esther, Franny, and me, waiting for the Exhibition Hall to open!

I loved meeting other volunteers in the ALA Student-to-Staff program! It was fun to have this built-in group of library science student-volunteers to connect with ahead of time and see throughout the conference. Since most of us were on the Student-to-Staff Facebook page, a lot of us friended each other on Facebook, and those of us on Twitter followed each other as well, even deciding on our own hashtag for this year’s Annual Conference! Now we have a Student-to-Staff Alumni page on Facebook, where we continue to keep in touch.

Several people have asked me what my favorite ALA program was. I loved hearing Dan Ariely speak about his new book about dishonesty, and it was fun to walk into a presentation about iPads in the library workplace and see that two Duke University Libraries colleagues were the presenters, but my favorite, I think, was the ALCTS 101 program. Setting up for it was one of my volunteer gigs, but once things were in place, I got to participate, and it was neat to talk with so many Technical Services and Collection Development professionals all in one place! (I even won a Starbucks giftcard for being one of the library students in attendance!)

I left ALA Annual with a real sense of the “big picture” of libraries and librarianship, as well as a better idea of what goes on behind-the-scenes of an ALA conference. I was also reminded of how important networking is, and how easy that is (with at least a little bit of effort)  at a conference! In addition to all the librarians and library students I met, it was also a treat to meet several ALA full-time staff members, who were awesome and so helpful.

I’ve really been bitten by the conference bug now, and look forward to attending ALA Annual Conferences in the future! While attending next year’s conference in Chicago probably won’t happen due to finances (including paying for library school), I hope to attend next year’s North Carolina Library Association Biennial Conference in Winston-Salem, NC, instead. NCLA is a great organization, and their conferences are always spot-on! I do have my sights on future ALA conferences, though, and have already started saving (thanks to SmartyPig) for Annual 2014 in Las Vegas and Annual 2015 in San Francisco.

(Click here for more photos from my trip to ALA Annual 2012 in Anaheim.)


About Lesley Looper

I'm a full-time library employee. I enjoy reading, photography, travel, blogging, and geocaching.
This entry was posted in ALA, Librarians, Libraries, NCLA, Networking, Professional Development and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Top 10 Things I Learned at My First ALA Annual Conference

  1. Teresa says:

    Looks like you had an amazing time in Anaheim! Some of the folks who went to Denmark with me went there too…I think less than week after we got back. Crazy. lol That’s great that you’re taking advantage of networking. I went to the NC Serials Conference this past March and I had a great time. I’m already looking forward to next year’s. Unfortunately I don’t have the funds to attend out of state conferences, so I try to stick to local ones. I hope to attend more conferences around here soon!

    • Lesley says:

      Thanks, Teresa, it was a great experience! I was amazed by the NCCU SLIS students (AND Dr. A!) who went to Denmark, then flew to Anaheim for the conference a few days later! Wow! I ran into the NCCU crew at the airport the first morning, and then several times throughout the conference–so fun to see them all the way across the country!

      I’ve heard that the NC Serials Conference is well done! I’d like to attend that one sometime as well.

  2. I read this before, but guess how I got to your blog today? A link from the ALA! You’re big time now. 🙂
    Did your stats hit the roof today?

  3. Chandra says:

    me too! Congrats on being published in ALA Direct Magazine! I’m going to look for the same volunteer opportunity for next year. Good luck with school!

    • Lesley says:

      Thanks, Chandra! I’d highly recommend the Student-to-Staff Program! ALA Student Chapters are already starting the selection process for ALA Annual 2013, and it varies from chapter to chapter, so start asking about it soonest! Good luck–and keep me posted! 🙂

  4. Donna Swift says:

    I have applied to be the Student To Staff Rep from my school for 2013 in Chicago. Thank you for this insight into the process. I love the format of this post. I can feel the energy and excitement from the way you wrote about your experience. Maybe our paths will cross at a future conference.
    Donna Swift

    • Lesley says:

      Donna, good luck with your Student-to-Staff application! It’s such a great program! Hope your semester’s going well too.

      Hoping our paths with cross in the future too,

  5. lyndammk says:

    Lesley! Such a great post! And I second your #1! 🙂

    • Lesley says:

      Thanks, Lynda! I remember how you and I met so serendipitously at the Anaheim Convention Center, where we were both seated for a break between activities.Fun making the connection of a mutual acquaintance in no time! (Mark Thomas, I think? Or was it Joel Herndon?)

  6. Jennifer Hanft says:

    Congrats on being linked from AL Direct, Lesley–what an awesome surprise to click that link and see your blog pop up! I’m glad ALA was such a fun and fulfilling experience for you. Hope to see you at the NCLA Conference next October–and at Networking Events in the meantime!

    • Lesley says:

      Thanks, Jennifer! The AL Direct link was such a nice suprise! I definitely plan to attend the NCLA Conference next year, but I bet I’ll see you at some NCLA networking events between now and then! (Hope so!) 🙂

  7. Pingback: Hack ALA ’14: Round-Up and Meet-Up! | hls

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