Our next installation in the Conference 101 series comes from Amanda Goodman, another 2011 graduate of the LIS program. Amanda discusses attending the ALA Annual Conference (the largest library conference in the world!) last summer in New Orleans.
Amanda is the User Experience Librarian at the Darien [Public] Library in Darien, CT. She blogs about her daily work duties. She can be found on Twitter at http://twitter.com/godaisies. If you have any questions, please ask!
As a LIS student, I attended more presentations, workshops, and mini-conferences than I had shelf space to hold all the handouts I was given. However, the first conference that gives you your real taste of the general library profession is of course the annual ALA meeting which I attended this past June. I was granted this opportunity through LISSA. Most of my costs were paid by ALA in exchange for doing assigned tasks for the Office of Technology Policies (OITP). Some great information about the Student 2 Staff program along with my formal write up of the conference can be found on the Hack Library School blog. Check that link to get the editorial scoop!
Now for my real experiences aside from work was that I felt very overwhelmed. The 2011 meeting was held in the New Orleans conference center which is HUGE! All the hotels were on one side and the conference was on the far side of the building. It was a 10 minute walk from one end of the building to the other! I rode down to New Orleans with some great classmates, but once there I had job duties so I could not explore with familiar faces. On the other hand, I got to meet several of my Twitter buddies face to face which was amazing after months of talking through 140 characters. I also found the exhibit hall to be underwhelming with knick-knacks that people struggled to carry back to their rooms at the end of each day. The most important professional point was meeting up with my future coworkers–I had been hired three weeks prior–at this fancy hotel on the river. I listened closely to their conversations while trying to understand the reality of my new workplace underneath the shiny reputation.
Ultimately I would caution against attending your first ALA as a worker since you miss out on a lot of networking and learning opportunities. However, if you get to take notes for a committee, you will get to hear about real library issues on a national scale. First-hand experience enriches your studies more than all your readings can.