Guest Blog Series: Conference 101 with Mimi Smith-DeCoster

Our next guest blog post in the Conference 101 series comes from Mimi Smith-DeCoster, a current student in the LIS program.  Mimi discusses attending the annual conference of the Librarians’ Association at UNC Chapel Hill (LAUNC-CH), a small, local, inexpensive conference that happens every March. 

In March 2011, I went to the annual LAUNC-CH conference in Chapel Hill. It was a bit of a no-brainer: the conference fee was $15 for students, which included a full day of conference sessions and lunch, and it was less than an hour’s drive away. Here is the archived conference schedule: http://www.lib.unc.edu/launcch/archive/10-11/conference/.

One of the funny things about a local conference as an LIS student is that you’re probably going to know, or at least know of, several of the people presenting. Though it’s definitely fun and cool to get the official presentation on something you’re already familiar with, I decided it would be a good idea to go to a mix of sessions on familiar and completely new topics. I went to “Creating an Open Access Journal: A case study” by UNCG’s own Joe Williams and Stephen Dew, “Put it to Use: Repurposing Archival Description for Digitization,” and “Re-visioning Reference to Improve the User Experience.”  The conference closed with a series of lightning talks, and though by that time most of us were a little exhausted from learning new things, that was a great way to get a taste of some new ideas and technologies.

At a smaller conference, it’s not particularly difficult to pick out which sessions you want to attend.  But from that, I would say that at a larger conference, 1) try to pick topics that you already have some interest in, because that’s a good way to find the people who have interests and specialties related to yours, and 2) pick a couple of topics that are very new to you. It’s a completely risk-free way to get introduced to something new, there aren’t any quizzes on the material, and you might get an idea for a whole new career angle.

I have to admit that during the breaks, I hung out almost entirely with people I already knew. Probably everyone else who tells you about attending conferences will say this as well, but don’t discount the socializing aspect! Even if it’s your first conference and you’re not good at being a social butterfly (don’t stress, you’re at a library conference, not everyone there is great at random socializing either), talk with the people you know, talk with the people they know, and so on. And don’t forget that conferences, even relatively formal ones, are also get-togethers of a group of people you probably have a lot in common with, so don’t be so focused on attending a conference “right” that you forget to have fun with it.

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