The past week has been an absolute whirlwind as I took in my very first conference ever, spending four days at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois. And what a time it was.
The first word that comes to mind is intense, and by that I mostly mean overwhelming. Some of this easily could have been avoided - packing sooner, figuring out my schedule further in advance because the book of programs was already online, etc. However, plenty of other aspects come along and all you can do is brace yourself. For starters, McCormick Place where the conference was held is absolutely huge. At one point, finding an event I was supposed to attend felt like trying to find Narnia. Also, there are 30,000 other people also trying to find their way around, make their own meetings, and that will be the case whether the conference is in Chicago or Kalamazoo.
Once I got the hang of the exhibit floor and the lay of the land, it was a good kind of intense. I got to meet amazing people - other librarians, bloggers, publishing types, and authors. I got recognized for the first time from YouTube which was amazing. I got to hang out with new authors Debra Driza (Mila 2.0) and Mindy McGinnis (Not a Drop to Drink) and when they saw me, they actually recognized and remembered me. I met writers whose books I've enjoyed since I was younger like Ally Carter and Laurie Halse Anderson. I spent a lot of fun times with my roommates, Heidi and Kyle who are both fellow librarians/teachers/bloggers.
If I had to narrow it down, here would be my five tips to new conference attendees:
1. Bring a backpack and wear good walking shoes - not a wheelie backpack because those can be really dangerous on the exhibit floor, and be prepared for a lot of hours on your feet. I know tote bags are more stylish as are sandals, but your back and feet will thank you later.
2. Be professional and remember it's okay to say no - especially if you're attending for the book/publishing side of things, it can be very tempting to want to take all the ARCs and free books you can. However, remember you have to get them home somehow, plus ARCs are limited. There were several times when I took one/was given one but later gave it back because I didn't think it was something I (or my students) would connect to as strongly as someone else might. Don't be a hoarder, and remember your manners - it actually goes a long way.
3. Try something new - I'm not always a social butterfly, so I used ALA as a chance to branch out of my comfort zone. I went to a YA blogger social which ended up being a blast. I went to a reunion for my library school. I successfully hailed a cab for the first time in my life! Growing is good!
4. Learn something - especially if you sign up for the full conference and not just the exhibit hall, make the most of your time. I went to panels on ARCs, school/public library ventures, upcoming titles and trends to keep an eye out for, and how to use Tumblr to connect with other libraries and librarians. Some events were better than others, but each one taught me something.
5. Make connections and have fun - have cheap/free business cards printed up so when you meet people, you can easily give them your contact information and try to enjoy yourself! Take advantage of the opportunity to connect with people from this industry who are passionate about the same things you are.
ALA13 was a blast, and while I won't be attending next year in Las Vegas, I feel like I'm much more prepared for what future conferences will be like. Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!