By Teresa Sakon
Over 25,000 people attended the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago last month. To say the experience was overwhelming is an understatement. As a first time conference attendee, I'd like to share a few exciting highlights for me and a few regrets. Hopefully by sharing my experience other new conference attendees will learn what pitfalls to avoid and which events to look out for.
Walking into the McCormick Center the first day of the conference was like walking onto a spaceship--a spaceship completely run by librarians. The building was massive; it had many floors, a "North" and a "South" wing, and a giant exhibit hall with hundreds of vendors. After finding my way to registration, I went to a session that didn't turn out to be very interesting to me, but had a free breakfast. First suggestion: try to attend sessions with free food! Worst case scenario, you'll flip through the phonebook-sized conference guide to plan your next move while you munch. Afterward, I bee-lined to the Career Placement Center because I had made an appointment for a resume review and, unfortunately, forgot exactly what time it was for. Luckily, I discovered I was an hour early, so I took advantage of the time to talk to potential employers.
After handing out a few resumes and business cards (have plenty of both of these handy!) I came to the DC Public Library booth. I had applied online for a position at the library a few days prior and knew they were planning on interviewing candidates at the conference. I tried as nonchalantly as possible to inquire if they had any interview slots left open. To my amazement, they did, and we set up an interview for the next day. Second suggestion: Don't be afraid to inquire about a job or an interview--that is why the employers are there!
I returned to the resume review area and met my reviewer, who works as a reference librarian at an academic library in Texas. I hope to someday transition from my current career in publishing to one working in reference, so it was a good match. She advised me to remove my GPA from my resume. She told me that almost everyone who applies for a position has a good GPA and that it takes up valuable space that could be filled with experience. She also drew my attention to a gap on my resume that I had not noticed. I had listed a college internship from 2008 followed by my first job out of college in 2010. I had counted on employers realizing why this gap existed--I was a full-time student and did not always work while an undergraduate. However, this was an assumption that was risky to make, and she recommended I clarify the gap. She also informed me that the age-old debate of whether or not a resume can be more than one page depends on the position for which you are applying. She gave me a general rule of thumb--academic libraries expect resumes over a page while public or private libraries probably don't. I came out of the session with the intention of having two resumes--my current one at one page and a second, more detailed one at two pages. Third suggestion: There is no such thing as a resume that's too good. Get it reviewed!
Now for my conference regrets. I have to admit I did not attend many sessions at the conference. I only ended up going to the conference on Saturday and Sunday, and made it to three sessions over the two days. I became too distracted by the Exhibit Hall and the siren song of free swag. Fourth suggestion: Give yourself a couple hours to visit the Exhibit Hall--then walk away. The Exhibit Hall is so big it would probably take an entire weekend to explore it fully. I now have an impressive array of tote bags, uncorrected proofs, pens, and posters, but I wish I had seen a few more sessions.
I also wish I had had a buddy to explore the conference with. I stayed with a non-librarian friend, so I already felt alienated from the conference because I was not staying at one of the conference hotels. I might have felt less dazed and confused if I had someone to tag along with. I remember seeing e-mails about a mentorship program, and I should have pursued this opportunity more. There are so many preconference e-mails, however, that it was easy to overlook! My fifth and final suggestion would be to create an e-mail folder for conference-related communication so all the pertinent information is in the right place. Maybe I would have even remembered my resume review time if I had done so!