Third Time's a Charm?

By Jodi Shepherd

I enjoy ALA’s annual conference. I have been three years in a row now, Chicago 2005, New Orleans 2006, and Washington D.C. 2007. Each one has been unique and exciting in its own way and each city special and inviting.

However, this year’s conference was different – I was employed.

The first two conferences I attended as a student. For ALA Chicago I had one year of library school finished, and scooted up to Chicago from Bloomington after work Friday and got back for Monday classes – a short trip to say the least. New Orleans wasn’t as easy to get to. That trip involved my Subaru, a friend, an overnight stay in Alabama on the way and Mississippi on the way back.

The New Orleans conference was the first time I really thought that I would have a different experience when I was employed as a librarian versus as a student. It really struck me when I was sitting in a café on Bourbon Street with two friends from library school, both of whom had been employed for all of six months by the time of the conference in June. As we sat, listening to jazz and enjoying the atmosphere, the conversation quickly turned to “I am going to check in to doing that at my library when I get back.” and “Did you see the presentation? It would be great to try.” While I was working as a student assistant, I could relate but couldn’t really contribute. I couldn’t say, “I could take this back and adapt it to my library.”

At this year’s conference I went with an entirely new perspective, knowledge, and goals.

As I decided on sessions in D.C., looked at exhibitors, read about different presentations, and scheduled events, always in the back of my mind was “How does this relate to my position?” or “How can I use this at the library?”

I attended sessions which looked at using Web 2.0, creating podcasts, reaching the net generation, and combating plagiarism. Watching and listening, I could evaluate sessions and attain concepts which I could take back and apply to my position, in instruction sessions, and to the reference department. My goal was to find things I could implement, which was a definite change from when I was a student and could only theorize that the information was relevant to my future. As a student, I went to sessions which maybe, someday, might be applicable. I anticipated working as a reference and instruction librarian, but it was difficult to determine since attaining a job was several years away.

Having an academic library job also changed my exhibition experience. Walking around the hall I saw products that I had purchased, vendors I had experience with, and items which I could find a use for in the library. I was able to learn about products, talk with vendors about new databases, and with authority determine if a vendor’s resource fit my library’s collection. Having a purpose made my exhibit experience so different than previous conferences.

One remarkable difference was funding. I mostly noticed this when I did not have to stay with six girls in a hotel room with one king size bed. Although this created a terrific opportunity to bond, it makes scheduling showers rather difficult. I was not overly extravagant in D.C. (I shared a room in a modest hotel), but I didn’t have to take apples and bananas from the continental breakfast, or share an appetizer and call it dinner. Not only did I feel more grown up by not doing these things, I also felt secure that I could attend a conference and still pay rent next month.

I look forward to attending more conferences and appreciate the fact that I can apply my conference experience “when I get back to my library.”