In anticipation of NCLA, we’re hosting a guest blogger series about attending conferences. First up is Michelle Hoppen, 2011 graduate of the LIS program and former LISSA Treasurer. Michelle discusses her experiences last spring at the Society of North Carolina Archivists (SNCA) Conference. Feel free to post comments and questions for Michelle!
My first conference was a small one, but got me a great internship, and then my first job in the field. It was the 2011 meeting of SNCA (Society of North Carolina Archivists), which was also a joint meeting with the South Carolina Archivists’ Association. I joined SNCA while taking the Archives class, and after deciding that archives was one of my main interests decided the few hours drive to Morehead City and the $30 student fee was worth it to participate in the conference and hopefully meet some new people in the field. I prepped for the conference by going over the program in advance and figuring out which workshops I most wanted to attend and planning the practical aspects of the trip–hotel accommodations, taking days off of work. I did the drive alone and got a hotel room by myself because I planned to stay at the beach past conference time, and I believe the only other person I knew who went did the same, though it seems like most students try to double up.
I quickly discovered one thing I wished I’d done differently: taken place in the poster presentations. They were informal, and I could have used my materials from my Archives class presentation. I hadn’t seen the call for presentations, but I’m sure if I had emailed the organizers they could have fit me in. That would have been more experience, and led to conversations with a greater number of people. Another thing I now wish I’d done was attempt to make more connections with the South Carolina archivists–I never would have guessed then that in a few months I’d be moving to Charleston! So though it sounds cliche, taking advantage of all the opportunities you have to make connections can be important, whether you think it will be useful or not.
I did make the most of becoming closer to two attendees I already knew: Gwen Erickson, the professor of the Archives class and archivist at Guilford College’s Friends Historical Collection, and Tahe Zalal, paper conservator at Etherington Conservation. Now, I’d been trying to get an internship at Etherington for two semesters, but hadn’t, partly I’m sure to my lack of art background (most conservators seem to have some fine art or craft background). Here’s where connections and networking paid off. I’d been able to get an internship at Guilford thanks to taking Gwen’s class (I had to apply there twice before getting it too) and turns out, Gwen knows Tahe. I tell Tahe that I love rare materials and would really love a chance to work at Etherington, and she tells me I should try to apply again. That night I went back to my hotel room and wrote a heartfelt midnight email to the head conservator at Etherington, mentioning Tahe’s name. The last day of the conference, Tahe finds me and tells me that her boss had texted her to let her know that I’d be their next intern! Fast forward four months, and Etherington offers me a part time job working in the paper conservation lab, a job only offered because I was in the right place at the right time.
So in the end, going to a small, local conference let me better connect with people who could help me, and let people who knew me connect with each other–like in-person recommendation letters! It got me an internship that was tough to get, and ultimately a job that I never would have been qualified for without that internship–basically an apprenticeship in paper conservation. Conferences are worth it if you network a bit! And don’t be afraid to ask that one person you know to introduce you to people, you’ll hear interesting stories and make connections.