American Library Association Annual Conference 2019

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June 28, 2019

Sarah Weirich, Metadata Specialist

The Niels Bohr Library & Archives was the first institution in my career to support my attendance at any conference, let alone the giant that is the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference. I was grateful for this year’s opportunity to attend, network, and learn about emerging ideas in library science. After a successful first year, I hope to come back with a little more conference know-how under my belt.

Lessons learned from a first-time conference goer:

Prioritize: This is much easier said than done. There are dozens (hundreds, if you include exhibits) of meetings, forums, discussion groups, etc. all happening at once. I personally had favorited six sessions all scheduled before 10 am on Saturday. Alas, without Hermione's time turner (thank you to our director who reminded me of the fantastical device), I only had time for two.

A session relevant to your position is always a good option, but also don’t be afraid to attend something outside of your comfort zone.

Plan: Did I mention that ALA Annual is huge? This year it took place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in DC. I wouldn’t describe the convention center in square feet, acreage is truly the most appropriate unit of measurement. That being said, plan your time wisely, as sessions may take place at opposite ends of the convention center.

This year, some sessions also took place in hotels across DC. ALA was courteous enough to provide free buses, but remember to keep travel time in mind. I highly recommend ALA’s scheduler and conference app to help plan your day(s).

ALA books in NASA bag

Be Flexible: As a person who is punctual almost to a point of detriment, I found ALA to be an eye-opening experience. Traffic happens, events get canceled, and sometimes you get lost navigating a hotel’s floorplan (I learned a lot about mezzanine levels this year). Flexibility is not a recommendation at ALA Annual, it is a requirement.

Another note on flexibility- sessions aren’t always what you expect. It is a-ok to cut a session short if it’s not what you anticipated. Since we’ve already established the likelihood of having simultaneous sessions of interest, why not try a different one on for size? I don’t think I attended a single session where folks didn’t both arrive late and leave early.

Final takeaways: While a common librarian identifier, my cardigan was unfortunately not a sufficient form of ID for ALA Annual. Make sure to wear your conference ID badge, as it functions as nametag and grants you access to the exhibit hall. Lastly, be sure to participate, take notes, swap business cards, bring a water bottle, and enjoy!