July 6, 2011

ALA 2011 reflections

After getting caught up with everything after ALA 2011, I now have a chance to reflect on the conference. There are some other excellent reflection posts recently done by Aaron Tay and Andromeda Yelton, and Patrick Sweeney has some inspiring vlogs up on his YouTube channel. This was one of the best conferences I've ever experienced (not that I've been to a whole lot, but still). Being more involved in programs, and meeting and reconnecting with a ton of great people really made the conference experience; it helped that stale professional development advice come to life, where I realized oh wait, I was just networking or wow, I just stepped outside of my comfort zone.

If I were looking back to my (student) self in 2008 who attended ALA Annual in Anaheim, here is some advice I would give myself:
  1. Get involved: apply for special programs (like Emerging Leaders), participate on panels, contribute to unconferences, plan a party or event, make/do something. Being an Emerging Leader this year, as well as being on REFORMA's How I Landed My First Librarian Job and What I Did 'in Between' panel were not only just good experiences to have, but gave me even more interesting things to talk to people about. (By the way, the REFORMA panel will be available as a free webinar in October if you missed it and would like to catch it next time.)
  2. Don't play hard to get: I officially met some people that I've been following online for awhile and felt kind of fangirl-ish when the opportunity arose to connect with them in person. Believe it or not, people actually like compliments! It might feel awkward and stalkerish to say, "Oh yeah I [read your blog] or [noticed your work on x committee] or [love your stylish outfits] or [etc] and I think you're great!" But if it's the truth, and you're not actually a stalker, it's always nice to make people feel good about themselves, and hey you started a conversation.
  3. You know more than you think: Just because you're not an expert in such and such librarianship with 10+ years of experience doesn't mean you have nothing to contribute. Look at Hack Library School and all they're doing, it's fantastic! I love reading Bohyun Kim's blog where she talks about early career issues and what she is learning along the way. 8bit Library / #MIH has found a niche and are known for what they write and create about videogames in libraries. In fact, JP and Justin were my Emerging Leaders team mentors, and now that our group has done this project we also have contributed a lot to the topic -- and two of us will be continuing on with more research that we're very excited about.
  4. Other suggestions I can't take full credit for: From the Emerging Leaders session, it was reiterated by Peter Bromberg, Maureen Sullivan, and other ELs in our group discussion to think of librarianship as a gift culture (be generous), volunteer for things (say you'll do something and do it, committees and others will be pleased), and always have a drink in your hand (open body language + interest in talking to others = ability to make friends).
Last I'd say, as networking is really a big part of conferences, to not think of it as networking. It is what it is, but I really just thought about it as making new friends and talking to interesting people. Librarians and other info professionals are often fun to talk to; just strike up a conversation, and if you keep those other suggestions in mind, you'll have a lot more to talk about (less awkward is always good, right?).