On Being a Librarian

Trends, Achievements, and Perspectives

Thing 15: Get ye to a conference

Conferences, seminars, workshops abound. There are many conferences offered in any given year, such as:

Canadian Library Association
Special Libraries Association
Super Conference: OLA
British Columbia Library Association
Alberta Library Association
Saskatchewan Libraries
Manitoba Libraries Conference
Internet Librarian
Information Fluency Conference
Augustana Information Literacy Workshop

For more listings see Douglas Hasty’s list.

I began attending library conferences three years ago while attending university. Attending and presenting sessions at conferences had been an integral part of my past career and are too innumerable to tabulate.  Consequently, my comfort level for attending and presenting at conferences is very high.  My conference attendance strategies are refined indeed and my expectations are great. I expect a conference to have:

  • clean and slick marketing
  • well-designed presentation delivery systems
  • leading-edge technologies and technical support
  • a wide range of relevant and leading-edged topics and issues on the docket
  • key subject experts
  • complimentary food services providing high quality foods and drinks, aesthetically presented
  • free parking
  • a centrally located venue
  • a large and well attended vendor galley and exhibition
  • swag
  • a well-known marquee speaker
  • a wide variety of presentation formats (lightening sessions, seminars, round-table discussions, research and study results, etc.)
  • online registration
  • virtual attendance options (webinars, live links, etc.)
  • knowledgeable volunteers
  • high-profile speakers

At a conference

When I attend conferences, I look at the surrounding area to find parks where I can walk to take much needed breaks. I find yoga studios within walking distances and be sure to have my gear with me. I look for a movie theatre so I have the option to give my mind a break from all the sessions I have attended.

I reserve a table at the restaurant in the conference hotel and invite 5 – 8 people I have met during the day to join me for cocktails and connections – my treat. This has worked fabulously well even though there may be an evening event planned for attendees of the conference. Colleagues I have met at these casual late evening table talks have become friends and mentors.

Be prepared with a 15 second introduction that lets the person you are meeting know your name, area of expertise, an interest or expectation for the conference, and at what institution you are employed.

Research each session offered then rank and prioritize those of most interest. Have a second session noted for each time slot. Why? Well, invariably I have landed at a session only to find that the description did not match the delivery and I would extract myself quietly and make my way to my second tiered choice. Always have a backup plan.

What to take

Business cards – spend some time and design yourself a series of business cards that are an extension of your brand. I recommend Laura Zielke at Z Design. Even if you are between positions, the value of a business card cannot really be measured. It represents your interest in the profession, and the value you place on speaking with others, and gives you the opportunity to ask others for their business cards so you can follow-up post conference.

Reflection Journal – writing down some notes during a session is a great start to ensuring you can recall salient points of the presentations. However, taking the next step and reflecting on those point in the context of your role, interests, potential projects, and career path deepens and enriches your conference experience. ACRL offers programs for librarians to enhance and develop a reflective practice.

Comfortable shoes – don’t laugh. It is so true. I have seen many women start the day happily prancing across the foyer and along hallways between sessions. By the afternoon, many a shoe has been cast off and lie abandoned beneath chairs as the owner’s feet sigh with relief. Comfortable does not equate to unattractive but some shoe designs simply cause our feet grief resulting in an unpleasant conference experience for you and those around you.

Appropriate attire – conferences are not a day at the beach, a trip to the grocery store, nor time spent schlepping around familiar surroundings. At conferences we interact with future colleagues, potential employers, and experts with whom we may want to collaborate. Dressing professionally sets the tone for your engagement and sends a message that you respect those who have taken the time to share their knowledge, projects, and research with you. Professional attire aims to establish you as a credible professional librarian.

Conference complications

You may be at a library with a healthy professional development fund, and you can plan well your conference schedule using a rubric best suited to your development needs. Perhaps two conferences a year at a distance on a specific area of librarianship will suffice. Perhaps you will choose to attend several conferences offered in your home province.
A difficulty for new librarians who are contract, sessional, or in part-time positions is the lack of available professional development funding. Attending conferences to participate in or present sessions is very important to a librarian beginning in the profession. I am disappointed to find that funds are so very limited or non-existent for librarians in those positions at many libraries. Economic constraints are ubiquitous in libraries, yet I wonder if some libraries could offer more flexible programs and other incentives for librarians to be able to attend conferences.

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This entry was posted on 10/24/2011 by in Conference, Professional Development, Transliteracy and tagged .
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