"A library doesn't need windows. A library is a window." – Stewart Brand

Jul 15, 2009

ALA Annual 2009


...That was interesting.

This past weekend, I went to my first ever professional conference -- ALA Annual in Chicago. It was huge and overwhelming, and I am glad that it was held in Chicago because if it was in a city with which I was unfamiliar it honestly might have been a bit too much. But I think I navigated it pretty well, and I sat in on some interesting sessions (and got a bunch of free stuff! -- including three more books which I had no business acquiring, given my current backlog...).

More detailed comments on individual sessions will probably follow later, but here's a summary of my weekend:


Arrived, got into city, checked into hotel, met up with roommate. Registered, and discovered that the booklet I'd been sent didn't even include everything that was happening at the conference! (So... many... committee... meetings... *gasp*) It was kind of frustrating because my whole experience with trying to pick what to go to was constantly complicated by discovering that yet something else was going on that I wanted to do, so to arrive and find that there were tons of other things... I gave up on even browsing the book listing the schedule, and decided to stick to the schedule I'd drawn up before leaving home.

That night, my roommate, another classmate from SI, and I went to the gaming event. It was fun, and there was yummy food. We played one round of a really weird trivia game, and then went on to this game where you get prompts (e.g. "mysterious power tool") and try to come up with the same response as other players -- usually writing, but sometimes doodling. That one was tons of fun and we played it twice. Then it was back to the hotel for bedtime... lots to do in the morning!


The buses, my roommate and I discovered, were a mess. We waited 20 minutes at one stop and none even came by. Then we walked to the Hilton, which was one of the headquarter hotels and on the same route as the bus we were waiting for. Of course, there we immediately caught a bus. It was kind of ridiculous and seemed poorly organized/implemented.

Due to the bus thing, I got to the first session 20 minutes late. I felt embarrassed walking in late, but then a lot of people came in much later than me. As the conference went on, I learned that this isn't unusual. The first thing I went to was a talk on what it's like to be a librarian in a correctional facility. It was really interesting, and confirmed that that's a career I might be interested in, although it presents some very difficult challenges.

After that I went to the exhibit halls. At the NMRT booth, I ran into another new attendee. We bonded over trying to figure out where the heck the Placement Services stuff was (why was a conference book put together by LIBRARIANS so difficult to find information in?!), then she discovered I was going to the Unshelved booth and got excited, so we went together. (I got a t-shirt, and signatures. It was awesome.) We wandered around the exhibition hall, into and out of a session on gaming in libraries (standing room only, and hard to hear from the back), and down to the Placement Services area. It was pretty neat to meet someone and just get along with her for a couple of hours.

Next stop was the event I'd actually had to come to ALA Annual for: the orientation for the LLAMA mentoring program to which I've been accepted. That was, unfortunately, held at a hotel at some distance from the convention center. But I made it up there okay, and finally actually got to meet my mentor in person. I was a bit nervous, but he's very personable and we got along great. I'm looking forward to seeing where the relationship goes. (I'm sure more posts about that will be forthcoming over the next year -- and yes, I do have his permission to blog about it.) We chatted, listened to a brief presentation on mentoring, and filled out a form to outline our initial expectations and needs (at which point I had major SI 501 flashbacks).

I got out of the mentoring program orientation right when the next session I wanted to go to was starting. Unfortunately, I had to get all the way back to the convention center! A very nice bus driver stopped for me as I was jogging up to the stop, so I didn't lose too much time and was only about half an hour late. This session was on disengaging from talkative patrons, and while it wasn't fantastically useful, I did get some good things out of it.

After that, there was (eventually) dinner. We (the same three of us from the night before) wanted to get pizza, but there were huge long lines at Giordanio's (sp?), Gino's East (sad... I have good memories of dinners there with my boyfriend when we were in Chicago in January), and Due's (we didn't even look at Uno's). We ended up at Chile's. But I had a mudslide, which was desperately needed after a long day, so that was good. We'd been planning to go to the storytelling event that evening, but by the time we were done with dinner the event had started, and we were pretty tired. We ended up hanging out in Grant Park listening to a free concert for a while, and then went back to our hotels.


I started out Sunday with the exhibit halls. Picked up tons of free stuff (including one of those incredible huge red totes by... was it McGraw Hill? I can't remember), and entered a lot of contests. I dread all the mailing lists I'm going to have to unsubscribe myself from...

Next I went to the Paranormal Fiction panel. It was awesome. There were three writers there (including Charlaine Harris!), and I love listening to writers talk about their work! All three were intelligent and witty and very interesting. I think the panel was theoretically for readers' advisory purposes, but I didn't get very much out of it that way. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun and I'm really glad I did it.

Then I had an hour or so free, so I grabbed lunch, made some phone calls, and dove back in to the exhibit halls for a little while until it was time for the presentation on dealing with challenging patrons. (Are we noticing a pattern in my session attendance?) This was a bit more useful than the talkative-patron panel, and I picked up some really good tips and ideas. There was also more of a discussion than in other sessions I'd been in, and although I didn't speak up, it was really cool to feel like I was sitting in the middle of and engaging in a real discussion about professional issues with other working professionals. It made me wish there were more opportunities for that kind of thing at the conference as a whole. (Maybe there were and I just didn't discover them...)

Next, my last pass through the exhibit halls. I picked up more free stuff, entered more contests, wandered up and down almost every aisle, had a lovely chat with the woman at the Hoover Institution booth (Stanford is my alma mater, so I had to stop by there!), met a woman working at the same library as my roommate for the conference... and went to the post office five minutes after closing. Oops. At least there was a FedEx downstairs, though they really stiff you there (they charge a "handling fee" on top of shipping -- $10 for packages 2-10 pounds -- ridiculous, and they totally do it just because they know they can and people will have to pay it). I also ran by the Bookcart Drill Team competition, which was mildly entertaining. I have visions of incredible bookcart routines which I know I will someday choreograph...

And that was it. I picked up my duffel from coat check, waited ages yet again for a bus (Gale has not made a good impression on me, due to their very prominent sponsorship of a very poorly functioning shuttle bus system), and went to meet up with a friend from Chicago who was letting me crash at her place that night.

In retrospect I wish I'd stayed one more day. I missed some sessions that I really wanted to attend (e.g. the RUSA program on readers' advisory -- perfect for the paper I'm revising for publication!), and felt so rushed to do everything in the exhibit hall that it was a little stressful and probably more tiring than it needed to be. But overall I think it was a pretty good first experience. I owe a lot of that to the advice of the wonderful teen librarian at the Brookline library, who's been to tons of these things and spent about 40 minutes one day telling me what to do and what not to do. I only wish I had the money to do this every year!

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