By Heidi Steiner
Once I decided to use some of my hard saved money to attend ALA Annual this year, I remembered hoping that there would be a program or two to help break in first-timers that would give us a rundown of how such a massive conference really works. I was quite excited to see that NMRT was holding a Conference 101 session which started on the first big day of Annual. It was held bright and early at 8am on Saturday, July 11 in the Red Lacquer Room of the Palmer Hilton.
Once the attendees had braved the elevator bay and made their way up to the elusive Red Lacquer Room, we were greeted with NMRT tote bags, lots of handouts from different ALA sections, and round tables to facilitate a little conversation. Laurie McHenry and Kate Zoellner from the NMRT Orientation Committee welcomed the attendees. 101 kicked off with an ice breaker. Everyone popped out of their seats or waited for others to come to them, looking for fellow attendees who had published an article, read Twilight, worked with a diverse population, and much more. The winner found someone to fill each niche and received a free membership to NMRT!
With the ice successfully broken, the program commenced. It provided a great deal of essential information for first timers attending the conference. Michael Goldrick, Public Library Consultant for the State Library of Louisiana, gave a crash course in the governance of ALA and promoted the conference as a valuable way to learn more about the organization. He encouraged everyone to feel free to walk in and out of committee meetings and programs. He reassured us that no one would be offended by people coming in late or leaving early, as everyone’s schedules were packed and there was so much to see and hear... or perhaps the session was not quite as exciting as anticipated. Goldrick finished up by noting the ease of getting involved in NMRT. Anyone who wants to be appointed to a committee is given an appointment. With regards to other sections or roundtables, Goldrick enthusiastically stated, if the President-Elect puts out a call for volunteers and you are interested, fill out the form! Goldrick’s talk was a nice introduction to not only ALA Annual, but the organization in general.
Next up was John Chrastka, the Director of Membership Development, otherwise known as “the guy who sends you e-mails.” Chrastka welcomed everyone to the conference and introduced us to some of the different services available, including: ALA Ambassadors, Text-an-Ambassador, and the shuttle service. He encouraged everyone to stop by the Membership Pavilion where a different program is held every 1/2 hour. You can also pick up information on all of the divisions and roundtables at the pavilion. Chraskta was extremely welcoming and encouraging; he even gave out his personal cell phone number in the event that anyone was to have questions about the conference or Chicago. Quite a gesture! He closed by noting that the conference is the epicenter, where the profession is being developed. His talk made me all the more excited to dive into some discussion groups and programs.
During Chrastka’s talk, we had the pleasure (really!), of him being interrupted by Jennifer Grady, Director of ALA-APA, who had to leave in order to get to another event. Grady explained that ALA-APA is there to help us, as librarians. The enthusiastic, fireball Grady stated that ALA-APA advocates for better salaries in libraries, helps with negotiations, does certification programs, and creates programs for the attendees at Annual, that is, programs that are of concern to us as librarians. Then she ran away!
Emily Love was up next, in order to promote the NMRT Resume Review Service which was of great interest to many attendees. Love explained that access to this service alone, was worth the small NMRT membership fee of $10. You can submit your resume to this service as many times as you’d like. Further, it is volunteers who review the resumes, thus it is an opportunity to network and maybe even gain a mentor. She also noted that this service is not a professional consulting service. She encouraged anyone who was job searching to print a copy of their resume and sign up for a 1/2 hour block of time.
NMRT President Laurel Bliss followed Love by continuing to talk about the great advantages of adding NMRT to your ALA Membership. Bliss explained that NMRT is for ALA members with fewer than 10 years in ALA and thus its membership includes students, people in between jobs, and librarians in all areas of the profession. She highlighted benefits including guaranteed committee appointments, opportunities for networking and leadership, and the Resume Review Service. Bliss noted that NMRT is a very friendly and welcoming group. It is definitely an excellent place to get your feet wet in professional development.
Jenny Levine popped onto the stage next to promote ALA Connect (connect.ala.org). She explained that ALA Connect is an online community for professional development which also serves as a collaborative workspace. It is pre-populated with your information, so when you log-in it will already have your affiliations built in. Although Connect does have some social networking functions, Levine noted that it is not Facebook. In Connect you can create any community you want in addition to working with already existent committees and groups of interest. She went on to discuss many of the fun, upcoming features which include an informal Mentoring Program within Connect and a function that will suggest things about ALA that may be of interest to you based upon the interests in your profile. I noticed that there were a lot of plugs for ALA Connect throughout the conference. I have been used it a couple times but have yet to invest any real time in it. Lastly, Levine stated that if you do not do anything else with Connect, at least go into your profile, add keywords and keep them current.
Going into Annual, I was most apprehensive about the exhibit hall. Is it really THAT huge and overwhelming? I could not fathom it. Being in between jobs, I had recently left my last job and was starting a new one in August, I was not really looking for anything specific from the exhibitors. How to attack? NMRT Past President Amanda Roberts was next up to provide Exhibit Tips. She started out with the basics: 1600 booths featuring products and services for all types of libraries and the “Stacks” hours. Roberts was keen on stating that vendors want your money, they are genuinely interested in meeting you, and they want your feedback. For those who wonder why there are so many participants in the Exhibit Hall: it keeps conference attendance costs down, so do not knock it! She explained that exhibits are also a great place to learn. There’s product training, sneak previews into technologies and databases, and professional development opportunities; not to mention all the free stuff. Plus, it is inspiring to go and browse. She encouraged doing small chunks each day, advice that I took over the next few days. Make an extensive list or write down five booths you really want to visit and serendipitously find your way. There really is no wrong way to do the Stacks. And I can now say from personal experience, even though at first glance your eyes bug out a bit, the exhibit hall does not need to give attendees shudders.
Finally, with many people filtering out and scattering in order to attend other events due to the packed Saturday schedule, Cory Lampert of the NMRT Local Arrangements Committee took a little time to share places to go in Chicago including: museums, shops, historic neighborhoods, the Buckingham Fountain, the Navy Pier, the Sears Tower, and, of course, restaurants. With minutes to go Keith Michael Fields, the Executive Director of ALA, said something that resonated with me throughout the conference and it has stayed with me since I have gotten home: ALA Annual is a great opportunity to find out what is going on within the profession and within the organization. It represents “the difference between having a job and having a career.” I know I want to have a career. Conference 101 was a tremendously beneficial program and I encourage any future first time attendees to make sure it is on their schedule.