A First-Timer Goes to Annual: Conference Report from a Student-to-Staff Participant

By Megan Hodge, MSLS anticipated in August 2010 from the University of North Texas

I attended my first ALA conference this year as the University of North Texas’s Student-to-Staff representative. This is a great program that provides registration, housing, and meal costs to the first 40 ALA-accredited library schools that submit a nominee’s name. In exchange for all this, students are assigned to an ALA division or office and are expected to work 4 hours a day, Friday-Monday. I was extremely fortunate with my work assignment--Cognotes! For those unfamiliar with it, Cognotes is the conference newspaper, read by thousands of attendees each day. A pretty plum assignment, because I got a staff badge holder, a Press ribbon, and an excuse to ask detailed questions I may have been too shy (or star struck!) to ask otherwise. I was able to choose most of the sessions I wanted to cover and even to suggest a couple that weren’t listed. I had dinner with most of my fellow Student-to-Staffers just hours after arriving in D.C. Thursday night. It was wonderful getting to know some future colleagues other than my UNT classmates, particularly when walking around the conference in later days and recognizing some friendly faces.

Friday, June 25

On Friday I attended my LITA Membership Development Committee meeting—exciting to finally meet people I’d worked with for the last year! The committee’s mission is particularly close to my heart because I feel that, at UNT at least, ALA doesn’t have much of a presence and marketing its opportunities to future librarians is extremely important. I then made my way to the Emerging Leaders Poster Session to take notes for my first Cognotes article. Learning how librarians new to the profession and even current library school students had made such helpful contributions to the association was both inspiring and motivating. Afterward I attended the NMRT Mentoring Social. One of the many helpful services the NMRT provides is a conference mentoring, which connects an experienced conference-goer with a first-time attendee. My mentor, Kathryn Munson, is an Emerging Leader alumna and was generous with both conference and career advice.

Saturday, June 26

Saturday I went to my first vendor meal, EBSCO's academic librarian luncheon. I RSVPed for a number of vendor-sponsored meals throughout the duration of the conference, and not just for the free (usually excellent) food; they're so huge that there's no chance of finding anyone you know to sit with, so they're excellent networking opportunities, and as a future reference librarian I was genuinely interested in learning about the products. After lunch I attended a REFORMA program on improving information literacy in Latino youth, something that's outside my expected career purview and not something I would have attended if I hadn't been assigned to write an article on it for Cognotes. It was unexpectedly fascinating--school and public librarians have come up with some pretty innovative ways of reaching out to Latino teens, and use marketing techniques and programming ideas other library types could benefit from. A reminder to look outside the box when planning which programs to attend! Afterwards I sat in on Karen Sobel and Lisa Carlucci Thomas' Starting Out?: Start with You: What Every New Librarian Needs to Know. The room was packed to standing room only with both new librarians and library school students, so the topic obviously resonated with many in today's tough job market. Their advice on publishing and becoming a library leader was inspiring and I can't wait to put it into practice in my first professional position.

Sunday, June 27

I got up early on Sunday to attend the ALCTS panel on the Year of Cataloging Research. With the imminent introduction of RDA and the growing popularity of user-supplied metadata such as tags, there has been much debate among catalogers as to what concessions, if any, should be made for users’ inability to search OPACs effectively. This is a topic that directly affects reference librarians as well, since frustrated users often either turn to them for help or use non-authoritative resources such as Internet search engines to get needed information.

An ALA conference wouldn't be complete without at least one visit to the Exhibit Hall, which I had been assured, would take hours to cover thoroughly. I got my picture taken with the Baker and Taylor cats, entered numerous vendor giveaways (netbooks and iPads were the bribes of choice this year), and sat in on some highly attended presentations in the Job Placement Center.

That evening I attended the Newbery Caldecott Awards Banquet, a gala event whose ticket price ($98) would normally be out of this grad student's price range, but as one of the three recipients of the NMRT Marshall Cavendish essay contest, my ticket was very generously paid for by Marshall Cavendish. I was seated at the same table as the publisher herself, as well as a former ALSC president and award-winning children's author Carmen Bernier-Grand. It was pretty spectacular being in a room with 1400 well-heeled librarians, authors, and publishers listening to two of our finest children's authors wax poetic about libraries, children, and their work. The publisher, Margery Cuyler, was extraordinarily gracious and took pains to introduce me and the other scholarship recipients to all the big names who came our way and to help us network.

Monday, June 28

My final day, I decided to take things easy. I attended not one but two vendor breakfasts (and scored some pretty cool swag--a flash drive at the Oxford University Press Berg Fashion Library breakfast, and a copy of Marilyn Johnson's This Book Is Overdue! at the LexisNexis breakfast) and attended Dorie Greenspan's session on French cooking in the Exhibit Hall's Cooking Pavilion. While the UPS shipment of her newest book sadly did not reach DC in time for us to receive free copies, it was fantastic to be mere feet away from one of my favorite cookbook authors.

I can't wax enthusiastic enough about the Student-to-Staff program; librarians are a friendly, helpful bunch in general, but the attendees who noticed that I was a student went out of their way to provide advice about navigating the conference, job-seeking, and the profession in general. It was a great networking experience and made me even more eager to get involved in the association. I can't wait to attend many more conferences in the future.