Participating and Networking: First Time at ALA Midwinter 2010

By Bohyun Kim
Digital Access Librarian at the Medical Library of Florida International University, Miami, Florida

Last summer I attended ALA Annual for the first time. The number of concurrent programs and the sheer amount of information available was overwhelming. As an eager first-time attendee, I was busy trying to go to as many programs as possible. However, in most programs, I remained a passive observer rather than an active participant. I also spent little time networking and was absent from social events during the conference.

During my second ALA conference (Midwinter 2010), I decided to be more active. I organized a Tweetup for new librarians, and I met many interesting new and experienced librarians at other social events. I was also a presenter at the ACRL New Members Discussion Group (NMDG) meeting.

The ACRL NMDG meeting provides an excellent opportunity for new ALA members to discuss topics of interest in an informal setting. The topic discussed at Midwinter was "Incorporating Technology Tools in Library Instruction." Felicia Smith presented "A Day in the Second Life of Notre Dame Students" in which she introduced games that she uses to teach her students information literacy skills. During my presentation I discussed some larger issues in technology instruction such as whether the use of technology improves learning and what should guide the adoption and evaluation of technology in the learning process. Then I shared my experience of planning and conducting technology workshops as a librarian whose specialty isn't instruction. Lastly, Raquel Slough presented some useful tools such as Guess the Google, Survey Monkey, and Poll Everywhere and discussed how to use them to start instruction in a way that grabs students' attention.

NMDG requires that each of the three presentations be approximately 10 minutes-long. The use of technology (PowerPoint, for example) is not permitted. This format provides sufficient time for discussion after each presentation. The small group setting encourages the audience to actively participate in the discussion. In addition, new ALA members can freely discuss other topics of interest such as how to get involved in ALA and ACRL.

In general, discussion group and interest group meetings at ALA Midwinter are particularly helpful for new ALA members because of their small size. In those meetings, new members can relatively easily participate in discussions and meet librarians with interests similar to theirs. Discussion and interest groups also often look for programming ideas from the group members and meeting attendees. By attending a discussion or interest group meeting and then following up through ALA Connect or an email discussion group, new members can quickly find ways to get involved in various programs.

Social events provide a chance for new librarians to get acquainted with other librarians. Attending the NMRT Social is a wonderful way to meet other new ALA members who work at many different types of libraries. The Tweetup offered a chance for library school students and librarians with varying degrees of experience and involvement in ALA to meet in person, exchange opinions, and discuss topics of common interest. I also attended the LITA Happy Hour, the After Hours Social, and the Young Librarians Reception.

Networking can be less daunting if one is already active in some library-related channel of communication such as an email discussion group, a blog, or Twitter. New attendees can also use online social media channels to meet and network with other librarians during off-hours at a conference. Those spontaneous meetings can not only provide an opportunity to network but also help new members find information about potential interest groups, round tables, sections, and committees that match their interests.

The experience of presenting at a program and of meeting and getting to know many librarians at social events made me feel more comfortable at the conference. It also helped me see how new librarians can make the best use of the conference by actively participating in a program and making efforts to meet and network with other librarians.