A First Time Experience at ALA Annual Conference
By Veronica Leigh Milliner
This year, I had the opportunity to attend American Library Association’s Annual Conference due to a generous grant offered by the New Members Round Table (NMRT) and funded by Mango Languages. I considered myself to be a longshot for winning the professional development grant, so when I learned that I would be the recipient, and therefore able to attend ALA Annual Conference this year, I was ecstatic. This would be my first time attending an ALA conference and the fact that I was provided with this wonderful opportunity made me determined to make the most out of my experience at ALA Annual.
For a first timer, ALA Annual can be extremely overwhelming, and I definitely felt this sentiment as I looked through the schedule of events for the conference. There were so many sessions that caught my eye. After receiving tips from my mentor, reading advice on various blogs, and looking at the information provided by ALA’s own website, I felt prepared with information that would ultimately help me as a conference newbie. Some of the helpful tips ranged from professional development strategies, such as bringing business cards and networking ideas, to practical things that would make my experience more enjoyable, like cheap places to eat in San Francisco and key ALA social gatherings to attend. Reaching out to hear from past ALA attendees definitely eased my anxiety and helped me to feel more prepared. Actually attending the conference was a whirlwind of new faces and information, but the overall experience was amazing. The limited amount of time and conflicting programs made it necessary for me to make some tough decisions about what I wanted to see and do. As a result, I found value in the different structures of various sessions. From panel discussions by seasoned experts to informal interactive breakouts, it was interesting to see all the ways that information is presented at ALA Annual. No matter what form, the conference sessions allowed me to hear the voices of others working in libraries and to understand how they were dealing with challenges and best practices. Moreover, it was just an incredible energy to be around other librarians and information professionals that feel passionate about the same kind of work.
I felt a strong desire to attend ALA Annual this year because I was searching for skills and ideas to bring back to my current position as a Training Coordinator at the Saint Lucia Public Library System in the Eastern Caribbean. My responsibilities here include working with staff members of the 18 branch libraries and helping to improve their public services and programs. However, the library system receives minimal funding and does not have many opportunities for workplace professional development. So it was important to me, first and foremost, to bring back information from the conference and share it with my coworkers. During ALA, I was able to gather information regarding YA programming and Teen Advisory Groups, which is an age group that the library wants to target more. Additionally, the library system is transitioning from a card catalog to the Koha Integrated Library System, and networking with individuals using Koha was invaluable. I plan to apply my experience in a series of workshops that will bring some of the ideas from ALA Annual Conference to the public library system on the island.
A Final Thanks
Librarians are a great group of professionals who are always willing to share experiences, resources, and ideas in order to improve the library field as a whole. Although we all came from different libraries with different demographics, resources, and so on -- just hearing some of the great ideas at ALA Annual Conference has inspired me, and I hope it will inspire my coworkers, even though they weren’t directly in attendance. It’s important for me to once again state that none of this would have been possible without the assistance of the NMRT/Mango Languages Professional Development Grant. The importance of this grant and other funding opportunities that provide individuals with the opportunity to attend ALA conferences are immeasurable.