ALA 2005, The Annual Conference in Review

by Kathy Smargiassi, dMLIS 2nd year
With compliments to Joe Janes

Imagine over 20,000 librarians descending on a city, and watch a city can instantly become a lot hipper. This is just what happened to Chicago, when the American Library Association held its conference there this year, on June 24-28. Before going, I attended a meeting with Joe Janes who handed out a list of tips for a new attendee. They were very helpful, but I would like to expand on them.

  • Tip #1: Register beforehand. Not only is it cheaper, but it makes going through the line at the beginning much faster. Even better: Don't try and register or pick up your badge-holder on Saturday morning at the main convention center. Everybody else is trying to do the same thing at the same time, and with 20,000+ librarians and exhibitors, that just results in one big mass of people. They offer off-site badge-holder pickup, which I heard had no lines at all, or come in the day before.
  • Tip #2: Speaking of lines, you will be standing in lots of lines. For instance, they offer free shuttles around to the various hotels, and you will stand in line for those whenever you want to get anywhere. Many people will all want to eat at the same time too, which strains the resources of even the very large Chicago convention center. Make lemonade with the inevitable downtime and talk with the people around you! Librarians are all very friendly and interesting-I never met a grumpy or boring one my entire stay. Grab a free chair, and get to talking with others at the table. One group I talked with were school librarians from Ohio that got together regularly to network. Being a school librarian can be lonely, so networking regularly with other school librarians is a good way to bounce ideas off of each other. On one shuttle trip, I learned about a government agricultural library. As I had never heard of such a thing, I was curious, and the librarian was quite willing to tell me what materials they carried and who their audience was. At another lunch, I talked with two academic librarians, and we talked about the advantages and disadvantages to distance learning, and the library resources that are and aren't available to such students.
  • Tip #3: Food! Grab a coffee and a bagel before getting to the convention center to avoid yet more lines and convention food. If you attend a session off-site, you can get to talking and invite people to a nearby restaurant for lunch or dinner. The food will be cheaper and better.
  • Interesting tidbit: Library and Information School gives us theory, but one librarian I talked with laughed when she heard I was in Library school, and said that she wanted to write a book on everything she needed to know that she didn't learn in school. Her example was that they don't teach you what to do when 60-year-old pigeon poop collapses on your children's collection. Their roof had been leaking, and one day it rained a gully-washer. The whole ceiling collapsed onto their children's section, efficiently spreading the previously mentioned 60-year-old pigeon poop all over. Such a mixture is more toxic than asbestos, and they had to bring in contractors with contamination suits to clean it all up. The whole children's collection had to be tossed, and the entire library had to be closed for six weeks.
  • Tip #5: You can't do everything. Several interesting sessions will all be held at the same time, or at different locations. The conference is too big even to all be contained in the Chicago convention center, so they also hold sessions at several other hotels, none of which are within walking distance of the convention center. The shuttles are easy, but it always takes longer than you think to get around. So prioritize the ones you absolutely don't want to miss, and then give yourself permission to miss something almost as interesting. One session I'm glad I didn't miss was the UW alumni reception on Sunday evening. I had been meeting so many new people; it was a relief to see some familiar faces. Or, since I'm a distance student, meet the faces behind some familiar names. My big "Don't Miss" session, though, was the one with humorist David Sedaris from NPR. He is just as funny in person as he is on-air!
  • First Corollary to tip #5: If you attend a session that sounded interesting, but isn't what you thought it would be, leave and go to another one. People expect it and aren't offended. You have limited time, and you will always be able to find something else more interesting. Pick out overlapping interesting sessions beforehand, and if the first one doesn't suit, you'll have another one as backup already planned. I attended a session discussing Google's new Google Print initiative, where Google working with seven academic libraries, including Stanford in California and the Bodleian library in London, and the ensuing ramifications. Google's Vice-President in charge of the initiative started the session off, discussing the project, what the user will see, and how they deal with copy-right issues. Then representatives from the different libraries discussed why they got involved with Google's project. The first part was very interesting, but then it got very repetitive, so I left and found a session where the YALSA committee was discussing books to recommend for reluctant teen readers.
  • Second Corollary to tip #5: Try attending something you don't know anything about. I didn't know anything about starting library film programs for adults, but I went to the session on how to do it. It was fascinating! In this age of DVD's and Netflix, there is a demand for films people have never heard of before, that they can talk about with others afterwards. There is a supply, because out of 1500 films that are made every year, only 4-5% of them get distribution in the US. If I were an employed librarian, I would have come out of this session with specific tips on how to put on a film program, from budgeting to marketing, from good independent film resources to countries with hot film industries, like Taiwan, Korea and Argentina.
  • Tip #6: Take advantage of NMRT's (New Member Round Table) resume review services. Librarians with real experience in hiring volunteer to give specific recommendations to help a resume stand up and be noticed for those of us in the market to be hired. Many public libraries from around the US also have booths around there- I even heard that the Philadelphia libraries had 30 positions open and were doing initial interviews on the spot. I found it very helpful!
  • Tip #7: Packing: bring two pairs of shoes or sandals, as you will be walking a lot and will want to spread the sore spots around. Be prepared for muggy heat outside and chilly air conditioning inside. And make sure your suitcase is expandable for all the goodies you will accumulate! If I were to do it again, I would also buy a bus-pass for the week. That way you can get to an off-site session in the morning without having to go through the convention center, or get back to your hotel after an evening shindig when the shuttles have stopped and your feet are sore.
  • Tip #8: My favorite of Janes' tips was his "Spot the Librarian" game. With so many librarians about, see if you can tell which ones they are amongst the crowd. If they are wearing the convention badge, that's cheating!
  • Tip #9: Don't downplay your status as a student. Even as an MLIS student, wandering the exhibit floor was very enlightening-and enriching. The booth getting my award for "Most Off-the-Wall" offered crickets and cheese-flavored larvae as snacks. Another booth gave out a very nice, cloth book-bag with inner zipped pocket that I used the rest of the trip. I found out about what vendors are selling to librarians, such as biometric (fingerprint) library access, reference databases, scanners, RIFD technology, and even official government statistical websites. I will be able to use that statistical website at my current job. I found that there are many more children's book publishers than I thought possible. The hot area in publishing is Spanish/English publishing, though other publishers also sold books in German, Serbo-Croatian, or Navajo. The vendors manning the booths are quite willing to talk about their products, as they know that MLIS students are their future customers. On Tuesday, the last day of the conference, the vendors don't want to pack it all up again so they either give away their books or sell them very cheaply. The booth that got my number one vote was by Wizards of the Coast from Renton, WA. They put up a tent decorated in Victorian-style drapes, windows and a couch to sit on, and were giving away the first books in a couple of their fantasy series.
  • Was my trip worthwhile? Absolutely! I got a great opportunity to check out current trends and issues in the library world and network with librarians from around the country. I truly got a feel for different aspects of real-world librarianship. Will I do it again? Yes, but not perhaps next year-unless I get the scholarship!

    Oh, and just FYI, crickets taste like potato chips.


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Page last updated: November 16, 2005