Professionals in the library and information science field are often expected to fulfill continuing education (CE) requirements. Conferences can contribute to CE hours. Not only do they provide a wonderful opportunity for new and advanced professionals to learn new skills and develop core values of librarianship, but they also facilitate networking with a diverse group of professionals.
These benefits are not limited to working professionals, but can open up avenues for internships and future jobs for current students. That being said, effectively navigating a conference does take some getting used to. I have been to two conferences so far, and both have been informative, exhausting, and fun. I attended the New York State Library Association (NYLA) in October with some fellow ISSA members. In June, I attended the American Library Association’s (ALA) Annual Conference in Orlando with the help of the Student-to-Staff program. At these events, I have picked up a couple of tips that can make conference attendance run a little smoother. These tips came from advice from librarians and professors, the ALA New Member Round Table Conference Orientation, and from personal experience.
- Prepare This may go without saying, but make sure you get to look through the conference schedules, so you don’t waste conference time planning your day. That being said, a good rule of thumb is to plan not only the sessions you want to attend, but back-up sessions that are nearby in case you find a session is not what you were expecting or something is canceled. Familiarize yourself with where and when poster sessions and exhibits are. These are must sees at conferences. Remember to keep some extra room in your suitcase if you are traveling to a conference. It was almost impossible to walk through the exhibits at ALA Annual without leaving with a few free books.
- Be Professional This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have fun, but you should keep in mind that you will be meeting potential coworkers, employers, and collaborators. Business casual is generally safe conference wear. Also be sure to bring some business cards and copies of your resume or CV. These are not only good to hand out, but there are often ongoing programs at conferences which can help you polish your resume.
- Use the ribbons Most conferences provide a name badge. It is important to wear this name badge not only because it grants you access to conference events, but it also helps start conversations as they can display your name, where you are from, and your institution. Most conferences have attendees attach ribbons to their names tags. These ribbons can indicate session, special interests, and your role in the conference, i.e. speaker, session leader, or scholarship recipient. These ribbons draw the attention of other conference attendees, which is helpful for networking. Although I am not one to show flare, the New Members Round table Conference Orientation at ALA Annual strongly recommended wearing the ribbons. After adding two ribbons to my badge, more people started conversations with me. While this one anecdote does not constitute thorough research, I think the ribbons are worth a shoot. The ribbons also helped me find my fellow Student-to-Staff participants. Do what works for you to find ways to connect with other conference goers, but use the social tools available.
- Have fun networking Networking and social events are just as important in conferences as the sessions themselves. At larger conferences, like ALA, it can be difficult to find social events and network. NYLA was easier since I went with three other students, we knew NYLA staff (some of the benefits of going to a school near the NYLA office), and it was a smaller conference. Only a few social events were included in the NYLA program but social media and word of mouth seemed to be the most common way of finding social events.
- Know your payment options I was lucky enough to have some help paying for both the NYLA Conference and the ALA Annual. The ALA Student-to-Staff program covered my conference registration, hotel, and provided a per diem check to cover food costs. NYLA offers conference volunteers a one-day pass to the conference. The NYLA Annual Conference will be held in Saratoga Springs this November.
You can find more information about other library and archives conferences at howtolibraryschool.wordpress.com. The list is provided by ISSA members and information studies students.
Written by Emily Wierzbowski