Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Students & Recent Grads, Get Thyself to ALA!

It was so heartening to me to see so many library students and recent graduates at the recent ALA Annual Conference! It's a great place for networking and to experience the type of learning that you'll do throughout your career for professional development. But don't take my word for it... Today, I have a guest post from Eli Riveire, a library student at the University of Kentucky's School of Library and Information Science and a good friend of mine. She went to this year's Annual Conference and this is what she had to say:

Hi! I'm Eli, and I'm just about to begin my last semester of library school at the University of Kentucky. I've known Abby since we were t(w)eens. Not only is she the best Abby there is, we also share the same birthday, AND she was one of my biggest inspirations for wanting to go into librarianship at all! I was fortunate enough (with a decent tax return and help from my parents) to be able to attend the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans last week, and just had a phenomenal experience. One of the highlights was getting to spend a whole evening with Abby, talking about life and asking her all sorts of n00brarian questions! When she asked me to write a little about my experiences at ALA Annual as a student, I was excited to have the opportunity to reflect and ramble. (There will be rambling. Oh yes.)

Things I'm glad I did (and would recommend to you!):

Just go.

Seriously. If you have the time, and a little bit of money, just go. The experience might not be as expensive as you think. Student registration was only $95! There are add-ons, seminars, preconferences, workshops, etc that you can add on to rack up the bill, but really? The $95 registration option will go incredibly far in terms of what you'll learn and do. As far as other costs go... 

Getting roommates will stretch your lodging costs oh so far. Don't know anyone else coming? If you're comfortable, take advantage of social media to find people. Of course, use your judgement with this, but librarians are nice. Remember that.  

Food costs don't have to be high. Just because you're out of town doesn't mean you have to eat fancy meals all the time. Bring snacks from home, find a convenience store near your hotel for sandwich-making supplies, and research ahead. When in doubt, think "would I eat like this at home?"

Travel is expensive. There's no way around this. But save up, look around for deals, and try to make it work somehow. Remember, this is an investment in your future! The fire you'll feel in your belly for librarianship is more than worth it. 


If you're in a new city (especially one as magnificent as New Orleans), take some time to look around! Just because there may be available sessions at every timeslot doesn't mean you always have to fill your plate. The conference can definitely get overwhelming...don't be afraid to take a mental break! I spent one mid-morning ferrying across the Mississippi River to the historic neighborhood Algiers to get brunch at this neighborhood cafe I found online. Not only did I get to feel a little like Huck Finn on this FREE ferry, make friends with local folks over panini and blues, and most importantly (to me) get to wander around beautiful, historic house-lined streets empty of other people, I also spent enough time out in the New Orleans heat and humidity to fully appreciate the extreme convention center air condtioning. 


Seriously. Watching and being vocal on the #ala11 feed made me feel like I knew what was going on, whether or not I had the energy to physically participate (case in point - ALA Dance Party). I also used Twitter to coordinate and investigate vegan dining options in NOLA with my fellow veg*n conference-goers, which made every meal an adventure! Plus, this is pretty much the best icebreaker ever: "Hey.....I think we're friends on Twitter!" 


This cannot be stressed enough. I brought two pairs of cute flats that I planned on wearing most of the time, but after the first day of probably walking over two miles all around the gigantic convention center, my feet were dying. Though I was self conscious at first about the image it would present, I switched to my (simple, black) flip-flops for the rest of the time. The rest of my wardrobe was based around black suit pants or a black suit skirt with colorful sleeveless tops and simple cardigans (oh yeah, another tip? Bring a sweater. Even to New Orleans in June. Convention Center A/C can be ridiculous), and no one was looking at my feet anyway.

Talk to people!

Talk to people on the shuttle buses, in your sessions, in your hotel elevator, at nearby restaurants, or wherever you are where fellow librarians might be around. You never know who you'll meet and how that connection might help you find a job someday. I learned more about actual job opportunities from the librarians who were waiting in line at FedEx with me to mail books home than I did the rest of the conference! Also, bring business or networking cards to give to these new contacts, and don't be shy about asking for theirs. I'm a stutterer, and approaching new people has always been difficult for me, but it's something I've been working on recently. What helped me keep my cool and courage was to realize that librarians are just generally nice and want to help! I found that once I told people I was still in library school, they were already impressed that I'd taken the initiative to come to the conference on my own. 

Things I wish I had done:

Use the job-seeking services.

ALA provided many free career-building services, like resume reviewing, counseling, and even actual job interviews scheduled at the conference. As I still have a semester left in school, and am not quite sure which area of librarianship I'm most interested in, I decided not to participate... I now realize that this was a mistake since this is about the perfect time to begin my job hunt! Luckily, some of these services are provided online (through ALA's website and mentoring programs), so I'm definitely going to look around and take advantage of what I can remotely.

Shop around for non-conference hotel lodging options.

Abby touched on this in her post, but I agree 100%. Conference hotels are not always the cheapest (or nicest) options, and especially if you have roommates on board, you can get more creative. I heard through the grapevine about a group of librarians who stayed in a rented house in the French Quarter! I would've much rather gone this avenue, as it would've been much easier to actually cook and eat in.

Don't overload on "How to get a job" sessions.

Not tryin' to hate, and reality is a good thing, but these were kind of depressing. There was some good advice for sure, but I feel like I learned more (and in a more encouraging way) from actually talking to people. 

Don't overlook the exhibits!

The Exhibit Hall was overwhelming. I think I went in twice, whirled around, and then got out pretty quickly. I'm sure there's so much cool stuff I missed, as well as missed opportunities to meet authors, win prizes, or network. I did buy some great comics though (shout out to Top Shelf!). 

Make sure your cat/home is being taken care of while you're gone.

My domestic partner was out of town during this time too, and though it's tough to admit, we were a little too lax with leaving our cat behind. HE'S FINE! But he probably just went about a day too long without human interaction and was super mad at me when I got home. Plus, I spent a lot of conference time worrying about him when I could've been having fun! Never again. Check yo cats, yo. 

Overall, my experience was so positive, and it just made my heart for my librarian future swell so much! I can't wait to begin my career in this field. I'm so glad to have had the experience of going to an ALA Annual Conference, especially since I'm just starting out and don't know how soon I'll have the opportunity again. Many thanks and high fives to all the great librarians I met, and especially thanks to Abby for being such a great librarian role model for me! If you're reading this, please feel free to email or add me on Twitter...I like friends!

- Eli Riveire