Planning out the ALA Annual

By Ava Iuliano

The ALA Annual in Anaheim was the second Annual I have been to in my limited experience as a library science student and then as a neophyte librarian.  Whereas I felt my first Annual in New Orleans was a bit chaotic, I was more confident setting out to Anaheim with a more coherent plan of what I wished to experience.  The most important thing that I did to prepare for Anaheim was to make a large mental adjustment.  Normally, I hate to miss out on anything!  I have yet to figure out what aspects of librarianship I would like to focus on in my own career because I just love it all!  My unfocused enthusiasm is often a source of stress and burn-out as I struggle to prioritize what I would like to be involved in.  This year, I made peace with the fact that I would miss some programs that I sorely wanted to attend.  In fact, I would miss a lot of programming!  It is impossible to be in three places at once, and I made a point of accepting the fact that I would have to miss some things in order to fulfill my committee responsibilities.  The importance of prioritizing tends to be wrapped up in trite aphorisms that are easily agreed to and promptly forgotten.  I was struck by how similarly this felt to selecting resources for the library collections.  I had to fight my urge to collect comprehensively, working instead to collect essential resources that would fit my budget, in this case time-based!

This year, I made a rule for myself that the first things I would put on my scheduler would be all of my obligations to ensure that I would be able to fulfill all of my responsibilities.  Even this would be difficult as I had presentations in the midst of committee meetings.  Additionally, I refused to add more than three things in any one time slot using the ALA Scheduler.  My first Annual, I had huge lists of every program I wanted to attend with as many as seven things in one time slot.  The result was overwhelming as well as debilitating.  I made an effort to focus on the programs I deemed as absolutely essential.  When push came to shove, I added location as a possible weeding strategy to ensure that I could make as many sessions as I could without spending too much time in transit.  ALA Scheduler became almost a collection development task on a condensed timeframe.  I selected, I evaluated, and then I weeded until I had a streamlined collection of events that I felt would serve my needs and help me meet my obligations best.  I channeled my collection development skills to cull through which events to attend and why.  Even with all my planning, I allowed myself to be flexible enough to join my colleagues for impromptu sessions that I hadn’t planned on attending.  One of the pitfalls of my excessive planning was missing much of the major programming, including the opening sessions.  Additionally, I was restricted in the amount of programming I could attend due to committee responsibilities.

Regarding travel plans, I expanded my time at ALA by a day, allowing me to take advantage of another day of programming that I would have missed otherwise.  To allow for the additional hotel cost, I stayed with three roommates in a hotel with a cheaper rate.  While we were a bit further from the convention center, the savings were well worth it, and I definitely appreciated having an extra day to take advantage of programming.  While I didn’t do too much strategic planning by themes this year, next year I will make more of an effort to focus on one or two aspects of librarianship and hone in on attending programs for these areas, rather than attempting to fit in everything I’m interested in.  Unfortunately, my presentations and committee meetings took up a large amount of my time.

Having only been a professional for a year and a half, I only just now understand the connection between my career goals and professional development.  My first year of librarianship mimicked my first ALA Annual experience: scattered and without focus, although energetic.  As I write my upcoming work plan for the next year, I see the connection between planning out my development as a professional and organizing my involvement in ALA, including planning which events to attend at the Annual.  Much like a collection development plan guides purchases for a collection, my professional goals will provide guidance for attending events at the Annual in the future.  Just as I will have to organize and weigh my professional interests and direct my enthusiasm and interest, the same process of evaluation and prioritizing will guide my plans for next year.  What can you learn from my experience?  Look at your experiences or interests in librarianship and stick to events that will be the most helpful to supporting your development in these areas.  Trying to do everything is impossible and exhausting!