Kicking Off Your ALA Annual Experience: NMRT's Conference 101

By Yasmin Mathew

My first American Library Association (ALA) Annual experience started with the New Members Round Table (NMRT) program Conference 101 on Friday, designed to provide an orientation for first-time attendees and encourage our participation in ALA in the form of committee and roundtables. Conference 101 was one of the few programs that I decided to attend in advance. I knew ALA would be an interesting experience and that experience would be enhanced by some practical guidance at the beginning of the conference.

I wasn't alone. The ballroom in the Renaissance Washington hotel was filled to capacity people were sitting on the floor and one of the speakers suggested that this was the biggest turnout yet. I was happy to see some familiar faces, as I ran into a fellow Pratt Institute SILS student at Conference 101, as well as a fellow Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Diversity Scholar.

The Orientation Committee introduced Courtney Young, NMRT president, who began with an energetic welcome address in which she described the New Members Round Table and its services. One of the most valuable services that NMRT offers and one that I will take advantage of myself as I embark upon my job search is the Resume Review Service. This service is free to NMRT members via e-mail year round and was free to all ALA attendees at the NMRT office at the Washington Convention Center. Young also encouraged us to join NMRT, not only for the benefits of networking, resume review, and committee work, but also for the opportunity to be mentored and to mentor others. According to Barbara Wittkopf, only 26% of ARL libraries surveyed had formal mentoring programs (Wittkopf 1999). This suggests that there is a gap in formal mentoring for new librarians that professional organizations such as ALA and NMRT can fill.

Teri Switzer followed with a high-octane crash course on navigating ALA Annual. While she purported to be a fan of low-tech conference attendance, Switzer nonetheless introduced us to the online Conference Planner, (which was new to me--I started using it almost immediately). Switzer suggested that we pick up the daily issue of Cognotes, where we would find changes to room assignments, cancellations, conference updates, and event recaps. The most practical bit of advice offered was to rip out pages from the Conference Planner so that we didn't have to carry around the heavy schedule in our bags. I followed Switzer's recommendation, but I more than made up for the weight of the missing Conference Planner with tote bags, posters, bags of popcorn, and pens.

Other highlights of the program included hearing from Joseph Frueh of Agati, who gave us some useful tips on navigating the exhibit floor and helped to explain the connection between vendors, librarianship, and sponsorship of events at ALA Annual. John Chrastka, the director of membership development for ALA discussed the importance of ALA membership for early career librarians. Finally, ALA President Camila Alire closed with a few spirited words of welcome, ending the hour long orientation on a perfect note: while ALA Annual is about great speakers, interesting panels, and vendors, it is also about building relationships with each other. Who knows who your next collaborator will be or your next employer? Attendees might even meet them at ALA. Overall, this orientation did a great job of preparing us for both the business and the collegial aspect of conference attendance and librarianship in general.

I would highly recommend NMRT's Conference 101 for anyone planning on attending the 2011 Annual Conference in New Orleans. At the very least, it can be a meet-up spot for your friends and colleagues, as well as an informative and low-key way to start the conference. At best, it will help prepare you for the intense but exhilarating five days ahead of you.

Works Cited

Wittkopf, Barbara. Mentoring Programs in ARL Libraries. ARL Spec Flyer 239 (1999): Online.