I’m excited about being able to attend the PLA 2014 Conference, since it is right here in Indianapolis this year. I went four years ago just a few months after having Trent (wait… that was four years ago?!) and had a blast. The conference pumped me up and had me envisioning all kinds of fun things for the library. I’ve since attended a few others but PLA is definitely one of my favorites.
Conferences are great for several reasons:
- They provide opportunities to hear about new trends. I can go to a session on using social media within and for the library (which I consider myself fairly experienced with) and learn something new every single time. There are topics for nearly every library niche, so even if I don’t want to go to yet another web services program I have the opportunity to sit in on something new. And no one takes attendance, so it’s easy to slip out of one session and into another.
- It’s a great time to network with other people in the library world. Every conference I go to I meet someone new and come home with a new contact. I’ve met an Adobe employee who’s offered me discounts and the opportunity to tour the facility; I’ve met an expert on gaming in the library; I’ve met librarians who are looking to implement services I’m familiar with, and have thus helped someone else; I’ve reconnected with former coworkers.
- Food! There are snacks and coffee all over the place. Snacks. Coffee. Win.
- Exhibits! The exhibits are always exciting, and it’s a great way to waste time if there happens to be extra time or if there aren’t any relevant-to-me sessions going on. Exhibitors go out of their way to be nice (because they want you to buy their stuff!) so though they can be annoying they are hardly ever mean. Plus: freebies, candy, and prizes galore! Tons of exhibitors have opportunities to win prizes, and you can always grab an extra pen or piece of candy.
- They are stimulating. No matter what kind of librarian you are, how much you think you know about a given topic, if you attend the conference alone or with coworkers… one of the biggest rewards is the excitement that comes from attending. Maybe it is being out of the library, maybe it is being around tons of others, maybe it’s all the great food you get to eat, or maybe (possibly?) it’s the sessions and programs. Most likely it is a combination of all of the above.
- The buns and glasses. Yeah, I said it. There will be buns. And there will be glasses. And it will be awesome.
A few tips for conference-goers:
- Pack a bag, but pack it lightly. Paper and pen or an iPad or other tablet, plus purse-ish essentials. That’s it. You’re going to want space in your bag if you plan to buy anything or pick up exhibit hall freebies. I always end up throwing a bottle of water in my bag and then regret it because it’s heavy and there’s water all over the place. Light is good.
- Dress in layers. Conference halls are notorious for being either wet-washrag-hot or freezing-cold. Wear a t-shirt but bring a sweater. On that same note, wear tennis shoes. Seriously. I’m the flip-flop queen, and even I insist on wearing tennis shoes. You’ll be walking a lot.
- Find the restrooms, and go during sessions, not between. The lines are crazy if you go during a break, especially if you hit up the bathrooms that are closest to the exhibit hall. Your best bet is to walk a little ways and find a bathroom in a lesser-known area in the conference hall.
- Bring your phone charger. Lots of conference halls actually don’t have wireless, so you’ll end up using a lot of battery. Also, if you are a part of a pack you’ll likely be texting or calling frequently to check in or set up a meeting time or place. And let’s be real: you’re gonna check Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. during the boring programs. And speaking of boring sessions…
- Sit near the back and aisle whenever possible. A wise woman once told me that a library conference is your time to make yourself a better librarian. If you’re in a session that sucks, leave. It’s as easy as that. People do it all the time. I’ve presented at conferences a handful of times and it’s happened to me, too. The fact is you can’t please everyone and you might end up in a session that just isn’t what you need, though it may be great for other attendees.
- Plan out your programs ahead of time, and choose a back up program in case you foul out with your first choice. Make note of the room number for both, too. You never know: you might show up to choice one and know right away that you don’t plan to stick around. If possible, plan out your session attendance strategy with other people from your library. It’s nice to know where your coworkers/peers are going so you can cover all the bases or attend the awesome-sounding programs together.
- Keep your stuff to yourself. Don’t be that dick that spreads their crap all over the place. Yes, we know the chairs are small. Yes, we know your bag is packed full of exhibit hall freebies, and yes, we see that you have a cup of coffee and a granola bar you’re trying to manage in addition to the rest of your junk. But it really sucks to be last in and have to squeeze past someone’s stuff or even worse, to have to ask someone to move their bag so you can sit down. You’re among librarians. Librarians are awkward and often introverted; make it easy on us.
- Energize! Make sure you get plenty of sleep before and after each conference day. Drink plenty of water before, after, and during, and grab a snack anytime they’re available, even if it’s just to eat later.
- Take notes. You may think you’ll remember all the awesomeness you’re experiencing, but you won’t Monday will come, you’ll head back to work and though you’ll still have that conference high it will be back to the grind. You might remember tidbits, but you won’t remember step-by-step how to set up a social media policy or what the top 10 tech trends are, or how that one library (which library was it, by the way??) did away with Dewey.
I’m looking forward to a lot of the programs and events. An Overdrive party (always a blast!), lunch with John Green, closing session with David Sedaris, and tons of programs about libraries and technology. Can’t wait!