Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Beginner's Guide to a Successful Library Conference

It’s coming! It’s coming!

Can you smell it? The brand new paper and glue in all of those books.

The din of the ginormous vendor hall buzzing with librarians from all fields and the sales forces touting their reading materials, digital content, furniture, storytelling, and (wait for it) sparkly t-shirts!

And oh, the sight of all of those glorious books. Stacks and stacks of advanced reader copies and even some published books, just waiting to be read and reviewed.

And then there are The Sessions. I sit at the feet of masters and just soak up their expertise and advice like a sponge. New books, new lists, authors, technology, lesson ideas, coding, makerspaces, and it goes on and on and on…

I loooooooove conferences, I mean, for me conferences rival a trip to Disney World! I start counting down weeks in advance. I save up my money. I plan my outfits. I  can’t wait for the conference!

Whether you attend a huge conference, like the Texas Library Association Conference (TLA), or more modest like the North Carolina School Library Media Association (NCSLMA), some steps will make your trip more successful and less stressful.
Texas Library Association TLA Convention Tips
View of vendor hall at the Texas Library Association (TLA) Convention in Houston 2016.

How to Stay Sane At A Library Conference

1. Plan

Create a tentative schedule.

Some conferences have an app to create a schedule on your device. I mark all of the sessions I am interested in, even double-booking to give me more options later. Studying the program in advance also allows me to see if I can skip a day or two, saving the hotel and per diem money, or if I need to go for the entire conference.

Include time for book signings if you want autographs. Popular, well-known authors have long lines, and some times of day may be better than others.

2. Evaluate

If you determine within the first few minutes that the session will not deliver what you thought it would, leave.

Ok, so it’s not great advice if you sat in the front row, but even the most seasoned conference attendees have done it. With so much happening, who has time to waste an hour on making robots out of toilet paper tubes when you need to learn how to code? Choosing more than one concurrent session gives you another option when this happens (see #1).

3. Scour the vendor listings

Big library conferences always have the best giveaways--books, posters, the occasional plushes. Some vendors give them away in exchange for your contact info. Some have things hidden away for those who read the program. I have gotten some great items by looking through the vendor listings in advance.

4. Go green

Be choosy with the books and trinkets.

A friend and I play the Tacky Trinket Treasure Hunt. I go through the vendor hall and look for the absolute worst trinket I can find. I send a picture to her and either get a thumbs up (yes, very tacky indeed!) or a thumbs down (seriously? You can do better!). By the way, a stress-ball-type foam toilet won last year’s game. This pursuit amuses me, but it also made me realize how much stuff I would take home to throw in the trash.

The same goes for all of those advanced reader copies. I don’t take it if I am not going to read it. Yes, it’s free, but what a waste - for me, for the vendor, for the planet! A bag full of books I will never read gets heavy on the way to the hotel room. Now I take what I intend to read, use, or give to someone I know will love it.

Advanced Reader Copies from Texas Library Association TLA Convention
My haul from the TLA Convention in Houston 2016. And yes, I read most of them.

5. Breathe

I am an introvert. There, I said it. I love people, and I am not shy, but being around so many people all day exhausts me. I have to build in time to recharge. Some years I have booked my own hotel room, other years I stayed with my introverted friend. We go to dinner with friends and stay busy most of the day, but we always build in time to decompress.

6. Reflect

All of the notes in the world about makerspaces and social media will not change anything if they sit in a pile until you decide to declutter your desk in June. Clarify the notes now while the subject is still fresh. Decide on whether you intend to call the vendor who gave you her business card, or if you were being polite. Go through the handouts and be ruthless! Jot down ideas about when and how and plan who you will call, changes you will make, authors you need to look up, etc. Do it soon, or you won’t do it.

Don’t forget your great ideas. Implement.

Return the favor

When you sit through enough presentations and think, “I know how to do this,” you ought to consider submitting a proposal to present next year. It’s your time, and it’s your duty to share what you have learned with others.

Conferences take on a whole new level of excitement--the books smell newer, the cute shirts sparkle brighter, the food even tastes better--when you serve other media specialists in their quest to improve their schools.

Make this conference visit the best ever!

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