By Katie Elson Anderson
As I began preparing for my first ALA conference, I couldn't help but notice the similarity with planning my first trip to Disneyland. In both cases I was simultaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed with the information and details that were being shared. Some information seemed unimportant or uninteresting while other details, such as what to expect, were lacking. I had the feeling that I was missing some vital information which everyone around me knew because they had already been there. I was hard pressed to find someone who remembered what it was like to have the experience for the first time. I knew that once I got to my destination I would figure things out. The anticipation of going into the unknown was exciting but also stressful and frustrating.
The parallels with a trip to Disneyland did not end in the preparation and planning. The conference itself is a lot like a trip to Disney. There is too much to see and too little time. Shuttle buses take attendees from one destination to another. There are items to collect and souvenirs to purchase. Receptions and luncheons provide opportunities to meet and greet your favorite characters/librarians. One might think that a big difference between Disney and an ALA conference would be the presence of people dressed up in animal costumes, but ALA Midwinter even had that, Baker and Taylor's mascots were available to take photos.
I know that I am not the only one who has made this connection. During the NMRT-Orientation, a vendor representative described how the exhibit floors had been transformed from a giant warehouse into something that looks like Disneyland. I have overheard others making this comparison. I have even found some blog posts, such as this one (http://oodja.blogspot.com/2010/01/conference-debriefed.html), which have referred to the similarity. As with my first trip to Disney, I realized after the conference that no amount of reading, mapping, scheduling and planning could fully prepare one for the experience. In fact, part of the experience is figuring out how to make the most of the opportunities provided.
The opportunity to get involved in a committee or take part in a discussion group enhances the conference experience. I am fortunate to work with several active ALA members who gave me advice on how to get involved and provided me with the opportunity to join some RUSA committees and an ALA group. These meetings, along with the NMRT orientation and several social events, helped fill in my conference schedule.
When I noticed a large gap in my schedule, I decided to investigate the list of discussion groups. One group that jumped out at me was the ACRL-BBB discussion group. The BBB stands for Balancing Baby and Book. The description of the session read: "meet with other parents to discuss the challenges of balancing family and professional interests. ACRL BBB is a fun and informal group for both moms and dads with questions about parenthood and librarianship." The words, "fun, informal and open to all" were extremely inviting to this librarian parent. Attending ALA Midwinter not only marked my first ALA conference, but it was also the first time I had left my son in the very capable hands of my husband and family for an extended period of time. I had seen some information about child care and family friendly policies at the conference and I was hoping to get more information for future conferences should I decide to have my family join me. I also looked forward to the opportunity to chat with other parents about balancing work and parenting.
The ACRL-BBB discussion group was started in recent years in order to provide a place for ALA members to share their thoughts, experiences and advice regarding the issues that face working parents. The group also works to make sure that parents who attend conferences are provided with appropriate facilities, such as child care options and nursing rooms. Attendees of the discussion group represented public, special and academic libraries and library school students. The discussion group included parents of adopted children, single children, multiple children and those with questions and concerns about starting a family. Each person brought a different experience and perspective to the discussion, providing a lively discourse. Topics included: the challenges of parenting and having a career, points to discuss with ones employer before, during and after starting a family, leave policies, day care, advancing one's career with family obligations, institutional and state differences in leave polices and day care. Attendees shared examples of changes that have been made and programs have been developed, which prompted a good discussion on what is needed to be done for more actionable change to balance baby and book.
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting other parents and discussing the issues and experiences. This group provided an opportunity for some informal downtime from a hectic conference schedule as well as a networking opportunity. I encourage anyone who is a parent, on their way to being a parent or thinking about becoming parent to join this discussion in order to add your voice or ask questions. ACRL-BBB is an informative and supportive discussion group that provides ALA members with an outlet to discuss aspects of their lives beyond their desks, but never far away from their desks.
If you are interested in joining the discussion, join the ALAConnect community or become a fan on Facebook (ACRL-Balancing Books and Babies). This discussion group will be meeting at annual. I hope to see you there.