“I Can Do This”: A First-Time Account of the ALA Annual Conference

by Charissa Brammer

I tried to plan really well for my first ALA Annual conference in Las Vegas, NV.  I took advantage of the scheduler, listened to tips from people who had attended before, and thought myself to be generally prepared before I arrived. When I entered the conference center on the first day, I was completely taken by surprise by just how large a conference that is accommodating more than 20,000 people can be.  It took most of the first day just to get into the rhythm of the conference. When I returned for the morning session on day two, I had a moment where I just stepped to the side and thought, “I can do this.” With the help of a lot of people, I did.

As a current MLIS student and a full-time staff member at a University library, I found it somewhat difficult to prioritize sessions.  I wanted to make sure that I got some theoretical knowledge to support my education and some immediately usable information that I could take back to my home library.  To this end, I focused on teaching and serials first, electronic resources second, and allowed myself to go to one session per day that was purely for my own entertainment.  This led to having up to five sessions planned for each time slot in my scheduler, and then I would decide which one to attend based on location, whether the other options were completely full, and my ability to get across the city in a limited amount of time.  I got to attend sessions and events that ran the gamut from change management in cataloging, electronic resources management, and two inspiring author talks.

I found the sessions to be interesting, and perhaps the most familiar, since I am used to the classroom environment.  However, it was at the poster sessions that I felt I was able to learn the most actionable and easy to implement ideas.  I really enjoyed getting to talk to the people who were presenting and to learn about the ideas that people are excited about in libraries across the country.  The poster sessions showed me that there is an almost unlimited number of ways that librarians and librarians can make an impact upon their community, and that those opportunities are only constrained by your creativity and the needs of your specific community.

One of the most memorable experiences from my conference was the drop-in career counseling that was provided by the Placement Center.  I dropped in when there weren’t any career counselors immediately available, but a woman was in that area waiting for her session to start in the adjoining room.  She took at least thirty minutes out of her day to speak to me about my career goals and give me advice that really helped me to imagine and plan the trajectory of my career.  I am still amazed by her kindness and generosity, and grateful for the help that she gave me.  This person, along with many of the other librarians and members of the library community that I was able to meet, talk to, and share ideas with, really demonstrated a kindness that seems to lie at the heart of the people who choose librarianship as a career.

 The different types of sessions all helped in their own way, and I was able to bring back some tips that have already begun being implemented in my home library and in my teaching. I feel like I am able to help the library in a new way using the things that I learned at the conference. More than that, I brought back a new excitement about librarianship and what libraries can bring to our communities if we work together.