Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The good times, they rolled

I'm sitting here in the NOLA airport, ridiculously early for my flight because I'm always worrying that the shuttle will be late or the lines will be long. And since I have some time to sit and think, I thought I'd jot down some thoughts about #ALA11. Annnnd I warn you that I got about 3.5 hours of sleep last night, so it's possible this may not be completely coherent. ;)

This was my first American Library Association Annual Annual Conference and, to be honest, I was a little bit completely overwhelmed. I will write a couple of posts about specific, very awesome things that happened at #ALA11 (BFYA teen session, Odyssey Award Reception, and some fabulous publisher events...). But right now, I want to give myself (and you, maybe) some advice for my (your) next ALA Annual Conference.

Make a freaking plan.

I was glad I had a couple of specific events that I wanted to make SURE I did, but I wish I had had more of a plan overall. My plan to hang out with my librarian buddies and tag along to whatever sessions they went to didn't pan out so well when it turned out that we mostly had publisher events on our agendas. On Sunday, I finally got my act together and wrote out a schedule for myself and it made me feel much better. I wish I had done more planning before I left.

Make two freaking plans.

This didn't happen to me, but I heard from other attendees that some of the sessions they had planned on attending were canceled or moved to other locations or full. In some cases, they couldn't find the rooms. (The Convention Center is HUGE.) So, have a back-up plan just in case your schedule doesn't go as planned.

Throw your plan out the window.

Sometimes you need a break. Conference is intense. Long days on your feet, late nights and early mornings. And remember that even though you're in New Orleans (or Anaheim or Chicago) and it might sometimes feel like you're on vacation (what with the airplanes and using a travel toothbrush and all), you're working. Don't be afraid to skip a session if you seriously need a nap or if you're burnt out and want to get some beignets. (OMG the beignets!!!) For most sessions, you can probably get notes and slides online. If you miss something, even something you really wanted to get to, it'll be okay.

Track down the authors you love and make sure you talk to them

I had the good fortune to run into my buddy Antony John, dance to 80s music with Laini Taylor, hear Daniel Handler play the accordion, and meet one of my audiobook idols Katherine Kellgren. These were definitely highlights of my conference. If someone you love is signing or speaking, make time to see them! Also know that if authors are signing finished copies, they will run you $5-20. (For most books, paperbacks were $5 and hardcovers were $10, though Rick Riordan's were $20.)

Know your galley limits.

If you like to troll the exhibit hall like I do, you'll have to set limits on the number of galleys you're picking up. Instead of turning into a whirling dervish-style Tasmanian book devil, take time to talk to publicists, ask about in-house favorites or particular genres your kids or patrons like. Don't get me wrong, I love to scoop up free books for my teens (and myself, ahem), but there's only so many books you can actually READ before the next conference. And remember to consider shipping/transportation costs! 

Ship books early and often.

Don't miss out on conference stuff because you're standing in line to ship stuff home! Scope out your FedEx or UPS or post office (whichever you prefer) and make a plan for shipping galleys or other swag home.

Check a bag and make it weigh exactly 50 pounds.

I won't stop bragging about this for a long time: my checked bag on the way home was exactly 50 pounds (that's the limit). It may be impossible to repeat this feat, but it may make sense to check a bag in order to get some of your galleys home. (However, it cost me $50 in checked bag fees to transport the books in my bag & carry-on, which was probably 40-50 pounds of books total. It cost me about $30 to ship 36 pounds of books FedEx. So weigh the convenience for yourself.)

Be sure to check out non-conference hotels

Yes, you can reserve a hotel room through ALA, and this might be your cheapest option and it might be the most convenient... but it might not. The hotel I stayed in was not a conference hotel, but it was directly across from the convention center, had free internet, and the cost was comparable to what some of the ALA hotels were charging. At Midwinter, a friend booked her hotel through Priceline for a much cheaper cost than my ALA hotel. 

Talk to people on the shuttles, in line, in the elevator...

Librarians are Everywhere at conference and for the most part they are friendly, awesome people. They might be in a completely different field than you are, and that's great! You just never know who you might meet and where those casual connections might lead. 

Have business cards and hand them out!

EVEN LIBRARY STUDENTS and RECENT GRADS! You can find companies online that will print business cards on the cheap. Places like Staples or Kinkos also print business cards. Put your contact information, including email, Twitter, and any other online presence you have. Don't be afraid to offer your card or ask for someone's card if they're someone you think you might want to get in touch with. You don't have to be pushy about it or even network aggressively if that's not your thing. Just make sure you give people a way to remember you and contact you if, say, they know of a job opening in your area. 

Some of these tidbits are things I happened to do right this time around, some of them are things I did wrong and will fix next time around.

So, what about you? If you went to ALA11 or have been to Conference before, what do you wish someone had told you before you went?