Making the Most of Midwinter
By Heidi Steiner
Originally, I really had no intention of going to Midwinter. Everything I read and heard about it was that it is a meeting about meetings, as I am sure most people in ALA well know. That statement may even be a cliché at this point. I started my first professional position in Vermont in August and, with Boston being so close by, it started to seem almost silly not to go. Having built up a nice little core of librarians on Twitter who I was excited to meet and peeking through the list of discussion groups, my missions quickly became to meet people, learn some stuff, get freshly fired up about my profession, and hang in Boston.
I plan to a freakish degree, so my schedule was blocked out with events, discussion groups, and social hours pretty much straight through from my Friday afternoon arrival to Sunday afternoon departure. Many time periods were double and triple booked. Although it is really important to keep an open mind at conferences, it is absolutely a good idea to have discussion groups and events that are interesting to you picked out in addition to back-ups in case you change your mind or get in a location bind. Don't pick things that you feel like you are "supposed" to go to. Pick groups that pique your interest and make you think. As a Distance Learning Librarian, I singled out mostly LITA, ACRL, and RUSA sessions to attend, but there's only one of me, so I had to choose only a select few in the end. Ultimately, I ended up at all LITA discussion groups that, though not earth-shattering, got my brain going a bit. Of all the sessions I went to, I was most impressed by the Top Tech Trends panel on Sunday morning and also thoroughly enjoyed listening to former Vice President Al Gore on Saturday afternoon, as well as the Author Forum on Friday. It is okay to throw in fun stuff too!
It is easy to go to a conference and focus completely on serious business, meetings (if you have any), discussion groups, and wandering the Exhibit Hall. Speaking of the Exhibits, I am, honestly, terrible at them. I liken it to shopping when you don't have anything specific you're looking for. So for anyone with major Exhibit skills, I commend you. Beyond all of this serious stuff, there are socials to go to and people to meet! My biggest piece of advice is therefore: "say yes." I was super nervous to go to LITA Happy Hour, but a friend from Twitter offered to meet up and walk over together, so I said yes and had a great time. As anyone who went to Midwinter knows, Saturday night was absolutely packed with socials and mixers. I popped into the NMRT Social, the tweet-up organized by the wonderful Bohyun Kim, and the After Hours Social. I had a fantastic night. I met even more people, ran into folks from the night before, and further solidified in my mind what an awesome group of people librarians are. Say yes.
I achieved what I intended out of Midwinter, but honestly cannot say I would go again unless I had committee commitments. The connections I made there are, hopefully, invaluable, but I don't feel like I came away with any big ideas or concrete learning, although I had a pretty great time. My best advice for anyone considering attending Midwinter, or any conference for that matter, is to be open-minded and flexible and again, say yes. You never know what session someone might tell you about, or who you'll meet that might throw your schedule a little out of whack. My biggest goal with Midwinter was to meet people, because when I went to Annual last year I mingled, but only came away with a few contacts. I am happy to say I achieved my goal and for my next conference, I am determined to eat way more free food. Do not ignore those incessant emails!