So you’ve never been to conference. Or maybe you have, but you aren’t sure that you did everything you should have and you want someone else’s opinion. No problem, because I’m going to give you my suggestions. Before I do, I will point out that ALA has a great resource for first timers on the conference website, and they also reference a great article by Leigh Milligan over at I Need a Library Job, both of which I read before attending my first conference. They have some great tips, but I have some to add, that I have found during my last few conferences.
Before You Go
- Check out different transportation options around town. If you are staying at one of the conference hotels, there is a shuttle that you can use. But sometimes that isn’t the fastest way to get where you are going. Many of the conference hotels this year are along the monorail in Las Vegas, so you may want to invest in a ticket for the times when a conference shuttle is not available, or not going where you want to go.
- Sign up for an advance copy of the Guide to ARCs and Signings from Library Journal and School Library Journal. It will be emailed to you once it is available, and you will be able to plan out what ARCs and signings you really want to attend in advance.
- Start using the scheduler. And don’t be afraid to schedule yourself for more than one session at a time. You may change your mind and decide that one of those sessions are something you don’t want to see, or you may just want the reminder of what to watch once the conference videos come out. It is not unusual to see people leave in the middle of a session, so don’t be afraid to do that either. Just try to position yourself near the door so that you can sneak out quietly.
Once You Get to Conference
- Check in and finish registering as soon as you can. I’m due to arrive late in the day on the 25th, too late for registration, but I will be there bright and early on the 26th, even if I don’t decide to do a pre-conference workshop, so that I can pick up all of my information. I may hang around the convention center, or go to a museum or something that day, but I will pick up my information first thing so that I can look at any changes to my schedule I might want to make and just get prepared and ready. In a lot of ways, going to conference is kind of like going to Disney World. You are kind of entering your own little world for the week, and that time in advance to refocus can really help you get in the game.
- The first day of conference that isn’t all pre-conference activity is June 27, and opening session doesn’t start until late afternoon. That’s no reason to avoid the convention center earlier in the day though. If you go early, you will find that others are also milling around and they’re all set to network and talk with you. Go for it and make a few new connections. You’ll have a nice day and you might even meet someone who will make all the difference in your career.
- Use Twitter and Facebook to keep up with things you can’t attend. There is an official conference event on Facebook and there is usually a lot of Twitter activity using the official hashtag. This year the hashtag is #alaac14. There are also some great people to follow on Twitter, I’ll post a list later of people I think you should be following during conference.
- Go to social events too. These are great networking opportunities and you can have a lot of fun!
- Try to be discerning about what you pick up in the exhibit hall. It’s especially difficult to resist if it’s your first time. If you do grab everything, don’t forget that you can mail stuff home from the exhibit hall. Media mail or book rate are great options. Check out any restrictions at the Postal Service’s website. Also know your airline’s weight restrictions. There’s no need to pay extra for mail if you can get all of your stuff in your allowed luggage. Consider investing in an inexpensive portable luggage scale like this one to ensure that you don’t go over weight.
- Don’t spend all your time in between sessions on your computer or phone. This is a great time to network, and even if you are shy, someone will probably strike up a conversation with you, but if you are buried in your phone or computer, they won’t want to interrupt you, so make sure you appear available to talk (you might even find out about a great session with free stuff, I did last year!).
Finally, don’t be intimidated. Remember, every single person attending conference was once a newbie just like you. They’ve all looked at the variety of sessions and the huge numbers of people and wondered just what they had gotten themselves into. Ask for help finding places, and if you see someone with a cool tote you just have to have, don’t hesitate to ask where they got it. As long as they remember, they’ll tell you.