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ALA Conferences: Some Tips for Newbies

by on January 7, 2013

If you’ve never attended an American Library Association conference but look into it once in awhile, let me be the first to tell you that if the opportunity strikes, take it. My first conference (ALA Annual Conference, 2012, in Anaheim, California) taught me a lot that I will never forget. If you’ve never attended an ALA conference – here are some newbie tips:

How Do I Register?
Although you do not need to be a member of ALA to attend ALA conferences, becoming a member makes it a bit easier. Joining ALA is a mostly painless process that includes an annual fee and filling out some information. It may seem pricey but honestly, it’s worth the money. Becoming an ALA member allows you to obtain discounted conference registration fees and you will also get incredibly helpful emails and magazines (which I look forward to all the time). Check to see if your library system/business/school can compensate you for conference registration. I was lucky enough that the system I work for selects a few people to represent us so they paid for my ALA membership as well as my conference attendance. Also, students tend to get discounts so I would take advantage of that if you are a student.

Plane? Train? Automobile?  I made the eight-hour drive to Anaheim because I wanted to have my car with me, just in case. Plenty of people fly in, some take trains or local transportation. Once you are onsite, ALA offer shuttles to-and-from some hotels around the area so you don’t have to trek ten city blocks before your day has even started. Check the ALA website to see which hotels feature this shuttle service.

Home, Sweet Home
If possible, stay with friends or family who live around the conference center. I know this is a stretch but it never hurts to pinch pennies here and there. There also are networks of librarians on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. who may be looking to share hotel rooms. I found my hotel room through a friend’s friend on Tumblr. We split the room four ways, which kept the five-day stay on the lower end of the money spectrum.

The Good Book
When you get to the convention center (I recommend getting there a day early if you can, to scope the place out) you’ll have to first go to the registration counter to get your badge and other registration information. At registration you’ll receive a very large program book. You don’t have to read the whole thing, or carry it around, but it will help you to know where you’re going and in deciding which program you will attend. I opted to carry the book around with me until someone told me to just rip out the pages pertaining to which day of the conference it is. Five folded pages and a red pen is better than a 200-page tome with annotated notes in the margins. There’s also a nifty app for iPhone and Android that make scheduling your time at the conference easy.
Exhibits Excitement
The first night of the conference is the Exhibits Grand Opening. There is typically an Exhibits Opening Gala with limited amounts of tasty food and many galleys (aka ARCs/Advance Reader Copies). As you wind through the aisles of book vendors, you’ll find ARCs of various kinds of books from kids to mysteries. While this continues throughout the conference, the majority of ARCs are handed out that first night. If you’re far from home only take ARCs you know you’ll read. There’s a USPS outpost in the exhibits hall, so you can send your goodies back home to yourself. For example, by the end of the conference I bagged 54 books, ten of which were signed. It turns out it’s a good thing that I brought my car after all.

The Daily Grind
You’ll want to pack light on a daily basis if you can help it. Stay hydrated by bringing your own water bottle. There should be jugs around the conference rooms you can refill with. Some panels offer snacks but if you can, pack a lunch so you can munch through the day without paying an arm and a leg for food at nearby eateries. Before your conference have some business cards made. It doesn’t matter if you’re a grad student or if you’ve been a librarian for ten years, you’re going to meet lots of people and you’ll want to stay in touch and network with them. It never hurts to have friends across the globe. I went to my first conference not knowing anybody and by the end I’d met several friends I still keep in touch with today.

I hope this encourages you to take the leap and attend a conference. The things you’ll learn and the people you’ll meet are well worth the money. If you have any questions feel free to contact me. It never hurts to make friends in the industry.