Network, Network, Network: Attending ALA Annual as a Student-To-Staff Program Participant

By Ashley Guy, University of Wisconsin – Madison ‘12

If I had to summarize my experience attending ALA Annual for the first time into one word, it would be “networking.” The networking began when I found I would be attending the conference with the ALA Student-To-Staff Program along with 40 other library students. The Student-To-Staff (S2S) Program provides free conference registration, hotel housing with another S2S participant, and a per diem for meal expenses, in exchange for assisting an ALA staff member or unit for 16 hours during the ALA Annual Conference. I was placed with Cheryl Malden, a Program Officer with the ALA Governance Office.  My primary responsibility was to be an extra pair of hands and feet for Cheryl as she executed different programs and award ceremonies, including a luncheon she planned for the Schneider Family Book Award winners.

Friday, June 22nd
In the afternoon, I helped set up the Opening General Session, which featured Rebecca MacKinnon, author of Consent of the Networked. During the dress rehearsal, I met then-ALA President, Molly Raphael; ALA President for 2012-2013, Maureen Sullivan; and ALA President for 2013-2014, Barbara Stripling, as well as a handful of past Presidents, including Roberta Stevens and Betty Turock. Friday evening, my S2S hotel roommate, Rachel, and I were invited to the Emerging Leaders reception. We had a great time talking with the outgoing group of Emerging Leaders and hearing about the projects they worked on over the last year.  I had the opportunity to meet John, an S2S member who worked with the Governance Office last year and who is now an Emerging Leader. I feel John said it best when he described his S2S experience with the comment: “For every mundane task I was asked to perform, there was a great conversation waiting for me in return.” After the Emerging Leaders reception, we attended a reception for Barbara Stripling.

Saturday, June 23rd
This was my free day to explore the conference. I attended a few sessions on reference and information literacy throughout the day, and I took other’s advice and sat next to people I didn’t know. I was rewarded with several conversations with reference librarians that offered tips and tricks for conference attendance, such as registering for vendor lunches to check out updates to commonly used databases. The highlight of the afternoon for me was to see Chris Colfer, known for his character “Kurt Hummel” on Glee, talk about his first children’s book, The Land of Stories. I wrapped up my day by strolling through the Exhibit Hall, checking out the Bookmobile Parade, and visiting with those at the Diversity and Outreach Fair. 

Sunday, June 24th
I spent the morning focusing on my job hunt by spending a few hours at the ALA JobLIST Placement Center located in the Exhibit Hall.  I had made a career counseling and resume review appointment well in advance of the conference, having heard that they fill up fast.  The JobLIST Placement Center was very well organized and I had the opportunity to scope out the booths being set up for the Open House while waiting for my appointments.

The career counselor asked me about my interests and what I have been doing so far in my job hunt. I’m happy to share the advice I received during my career counseling session:
• Have a search strategy.
• Join ALA units (such as ACRL) and LinkedIn groups relevant to your interests.
• Get involved by participating in group or listserv conversations, or by joining a committee.
• Be active on Twitter and LinkedIn, as some jobs are only posted in these places.
• Look into foundations or non-profits that serve the populations you would like to work with.
• Ask about volunteer opportunities that would develop transferrable skills to a future library position.
• Read the following:
I'm on LinkedIn--Now What??? by Jason Alba
Job Searching with Social Media for Dummies by Joshua Waldman
The Twitter Job Search Guide: Find a Job and Advance Your Career in Just 15 Minutes a Day by Susan Whitcomb, Chandlee Bryan, and Deb Dib

Sunday afternoon, I assisted Cheryl with her big event at the conference. The ALA Awards are part of the President’s Program and, this year, featured Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer. While ALA President Molly Raphael presented the awards, I sat backstage and watched as Jodi and her daughter, Samantha, practice pirouettes before they took the stage to talk about their new book, Between the Lines.  Moments like that made me realize that I was having a truly unique conference experience that would have never happened if I wasn’t working as a student volunteer.  Immediately following the President’s Program was a reception for the award winners and their guests. While I may have torn up my hands a bit while boxing up the award plaques with an industrial strength tape gun, I had some great conversations with the winners as they waited for me to finish.

That evening included attending the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction event. The event would normally be out of this recent grad’s budget, but a friend and I were fortunate enough to attend after my S2S supervisor gave use her two extra tickets. It was great to hear from each of the six authors, or their representative, as they discussed their work and what it meant to them to be nominated. The event concluded with a reception, where—you guessed it—I was able to network with a whole new group of librarians.

Monday, June 25th
Today I helped Cheryl at the luncheon for the Schneider Family Book Award winners.  This award honors authors and illustrators for books that embody artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. The winners included Brian Selznik, who wrote The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was turned into the movie, Hugo. This intimate lunch allowed me to meet amazing authors and their publishers and to hear great stories, such as Brian’s story about meeting Jude Law on the set of Hugo.

Following the advice I used on Saturday, to sit with conference attendees I didn’t know, Rachel and I attended the American Psychological Association Lunch and Learn to hear about recent changes to PsycInfo. Monday evening, we attended the International Librarians Reception hosted by the International Librarians Round Table (IRRT) at the gorgeous venue, Muzeo.  We snacked on international food and visited The Word: Ink & Blood – Dead Sea Scrolls to Gutenberg exhibit in the museum. We ran into other S2S participants by spotting their green “Student Volunteer” ribbon and were able to ask them about their time at ALA.

Tuesday, June 26th
The highlight of my conference experience came Tuesday morning when I got the chance to have my picture taken with J.R. Martinez (Iraq war veteran, Dancing with the Stars winner, and All My Children actor) before he gave his emotional and inspiring speech at the Closing General Session. I wasn’t scheduled to work the Closing General Session, but Cheryl invited me backstage since she knew how much I wanted meet him. Then it was time to catch my plane back to Madison, ending a rewarding—and exhausting—conference trip.

Attending ALA with the Student to Staff Program has given me an even greater appreciation of everything that goes on behind the scenes to make ALA Annual such a successful conference. All the S2S supervisors went out of their way to introduce us to everyone and make sure we felt included. I left Annual with an arsenal of new professional connections, as well as a refined and well-used elevator speech that will be beneficial to me at future conferences and as I embark on my career.