NMRT hits the Jackpot with Informative Conference Orientation

By Thomas Mantzakides

Over 300 people attended the New Member’s Roundtable (NMRT) Conference Orientation on Friday, June 27th in Caesar’s Palace at the 2014 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference.  Library enthusiasts of all stripes listened as panelists presented them with tips on how to meet people, get involved with ALA, and navigate the maze of programs, meetings, and other events held in a city known more for its casinos and nightlife than its connection to librarianship. 

The Orientation started off with attendees buzzing from table to table, engaged with others in an interactive game of bingo.  The aim of the ice-breaking activity was to find others who could sign off on categories matching their own library roles/skills/accomplishments.  The overall goal was for participants to make new contacts as the conference weekend was getting underway.  A handout titled “Conference Tips” offered advice on how one could design their conference, network, and stay involved with ALA.

A panel discussion ensued moderated by Kay Cassell from the ALA Membership Committee.  Other panelists included Emily Prather-Rodgers, last year’s President of the New Members Round Table, Jeanne Goodrich, Executive Director, Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, Ron Jankowski, ALA Membership Development Director, Alice Knapp, Exhibits Roundtable, and Jan Sanders, ALA Conference Committee.

Prather-Rodgers shared insights on getting the most out of the conference and encouraged attendance at events ranging from roundtable discussions to committee meetings. The former President urged attendees to communicate with one another by turning to a person next to them and asking questions such as “Where are you going to?”  Sanders recommended bringing along business cards to hand out wherever one happened to be, while Cassell promoted networking by making it a point to introduce oneself to fellow delegates.

Given the size of the conference (3000 meeting rooms which, oddly enough, is only considered a “mid-sized” conference for Las Vegas), Jankowski let everyone know about the membership pavilion where staff and volunteers with purple/white buttons labeled “Ask Me” were available for assistance.  Prather-Rodgers recommended that attendees adhere to the “Know Thyself” maxim by pacing themselves, taking a nap if feeling tired, and utilizing the shuttle bus service to get around.

The large exhibit hall where an endless array of vendors set up shop for the weekend could be especially overwhelming for newbies.  Cassell suggested that attendees target vendors whose products were of interest (an index to the vendors was provided inside the ALA convention handbook distributed during on-site registration).  Vendors are always eager to scan badges, send along material, and even distribute free books and posters towards the end of the conference.  Ultimately vendors are interested in getting to know librarians and what interests them.  A bunch of free stuff is there for the taking and even though attendees may be inundated with e-mails from vendors hawking their wares, one can easily unsubscribe if faced with an onslaught of spam.

Goodrich, the one local on the panel, provided an overview of what to expect if inclined to explore Las Vegas.  She shared a list of “must-sees” which included the Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, and the Mob Museum, and of course the usual, but pricier entertainment options such as Cirque du Soleil and Celine Dion. Addressing a room full of librarians, Goodrich did not fail to mention making a visit to the Special Collections Department at UNLV and/or other local branch libraries.

“You are in charge of ALA!” declared Prather-Rodgers, making the point that roundtables empower members who participate by going to meetings and sharing their thoughts.  NMRT guarantees positions for those willing to serve on committees.  She encouraged people to jump in right away and “just do it!”  Jankowski talked about the many opportunities to find like-minded people and get involved with the 20 Roundtables/11 Divisions of ALA.  All it takes is 3-4 people to form a good group of connections to grow and learn from each other.  He encouraged members to use their membership to find things that are meaningful to them.  Cassell urged beginners to get involved with smaller units like roundtables which are not that overwhelming – some are more general while others are more specific – and offer a cheaper alternative to becoming a member of divisions.

The NMRT was responsible for the resume review service held at the conference, which was available for everyone.  Prather-Rodgers recommended that attendees sign up for an appointment, but warned that they fill up very fast; there is, however, an option where members may submit their resumes via e-mail and a member of the NMRT review can review it and provide feedback.  On a related note, she brought up the NMRT mentoring program that can last for a whole year and beyond and indeed, an NMRT Mentoring Social was held later that evening, also in Caesar’s Palace.

As the orientation session drew to a close, the attendees moved on to their next engagement, many having just made new contacts while acquiring sound advice on how to make the most of their weekend.  The orientation also provided some good tips for engaging with and contributing to the library profession, giving many in attendance a glimpse of the exciting future awaiting those eager to get involved.

Thomas Mantzakides (MLIS, 2011, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is a Library Specialist at the Library of the Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  He is a new member of the NMRT Footnotes Committee and is also a member of the NMRT Archives Committee.