Conference Attendance 101: A review of the WLA 2005 conference

By Deanna Sukkar, MLIS Day

8:15a.m. A chilled room. It was a pleasure to see an urn of coffee and a tray of glistening pastries. Complimentary clear plastic folders with metal edges were tucked under our arms, and around our necks were name tags, proudly proclaiming our attendance at the Washington State Library Association's 2005 conference: "Partnerships: We Are Not Alone." Most individuals pay their own way to attend these informative sessions and schmooze with those in high library places. Not me. I had won the conference scholarship…I was here as a guest of SALA.

I was planning to come all along, but now I could ensconce myself with Anne Cisney in a 10th floor room of the convention hotel overlooking the Spokane River. Having had a decent night's sleep in a capacious, "double-sheeted" bed (?!), I poured a cup of strong coffee and sat down to begin the daylong workshop on marketing for libraries. Building entity relationship diagrams and normalization were the furthest things from my mind.

The conference programs were alluring; we were like moths to a flame. At any given moment librarians could be seen studying their printed guides, trying to decide which relevant program to go to next. Digital reference? Adult literacy? Electronic resource management?

Library advocacy was a key subject at the conference. At one session, we were reminded to continually be aware of and create opportunity to promote libraries and to keep in our minds a prepared 30-second advocacy statement. I also attended a presentation by Matt Saxton and Lorri Mon called "Keeping Current" and learned about cutting edge research taking place on reference issues, as well as how to continually keep abreast of these efforts.

Next, I attended the hands-on workshop given by UW's Anne Zald on "Basic Statistics for the Generalist" provided an opportunity to research statistical questions using the strategies and resources she presented. Huddled over computers, we conducted mock reference searches, rhythmically tapping away to find out how many apples were grown in Washington last year, and the number of Native Americans living in Seattle in 1950.

WLA interest groups, such as GRASSROOTS, for the politically minded, or CAYAS, the Children's and Young Adult Services group, held meetings as well. I enjoyed making the acquaintance of fellow members of RIG, the Reference Interest Group, and now have faces to go with names and new connections statewide.

Each day found us perusing the vendor displays and learning about other facets of our profession. This was particularly pleasing for several reasons. First, being on low "potential employer" alert, I could interact with these friendly folk with a modicum of relaxation. Second, at the exhibitor reception, they stuck a glass of wine in our hands. Third? Free Stuff! I'm not proud…included in my prized booty were a Dewey decimal system ruler and a purple wobbly pen.

For those of us who like to chortle after hours, the Society Gaius Julius Solinas V. Washingtonius is just the ticket. It's library humor presented in all its absurdity. Our own Mikey Wood had us rolling in the stacks, as he reported on the array of captivating questions put to reference librarians. ("Why don't you have any books by Ibid? He's written a lot of important stuff.") Another humorist honored the most frequently (and anxiously) asked question in a library by extolling fifty sobriquets of the common toilet.

And finally, a few words of advice from a newly minted conference attendee… One, at mealtimes, sit at tables with people you do not know. Two, take business cards, even if they only state that you are an MLIS candidate. Three, this is information central! Ask questions… especially about the job market. And Four, drinking your usual eight+ glasses of water a day does not apply to conferences and makes it most challenging to sit through lengthy sessions.

Shyness danced many a waltz with my curiosity and fervor. However, do not let anything prevent you from attending next year's WLA conference. The opportunity to learn, network, and socialize with professionals in the field is invaluable. I came away with new insights, perspectives, and contacts. If a lack of funds is a prohibiting factor, keep in mind that we get a student discount and that it will be in Tacoma, so you can whisk yourself home each night. What's more, perhaps you too can be sponsored by SALA.


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Page last updated: June 3, 2005