Road-testing advice from NMRT's conference orientation session

By Melanie Griffin

Bright and early on Saturday morning, January 16, the New Members Round Table hosted its conference orientation session at ALA Midwinter. As Midwinter 2010 was my first ALA conference, I attended the NMRT conference orientation session specifically to receive tips for navigating the intricacies of the conference. The session did not disappoint, offering two full hours of introductions to ALA and NMRT as well as pointers for making the most of conference attendance. Rather than providing a laundry list of the numerous suggestions provided, this general overview of the session highlights the tips that I found most useful and analyzes how they worked in practice.

Hosted by the NMRT Orientation Committee's Emily Prather-Rogers and Kate Zoellner, the session provided a wealth of information on how to go about navigating Midwinter. The session featured a number of speakers, including Courtney Young, NMRT president; Camila Alire, ALA president; John Chrastka, Director of Membership Development; Michael Golrick, Public Library Consultant, State Library of Louisiana; James Shimrock, chair of the Exhibits Round Table; Tiffany Wilson, NMRT Resume Review Service; and Jenifer Grady, ALA-APA director.

Kate Zoellner directed attendees' attention to the Midwinter meeting tips provided on the back of the agenda. Three seemed and proved to be particularly helpful: 1) Don't schedule things too tightly. 2) Meetings are held at many different hotels in the city. 3) It's okay if you arrive late or leave early from the events. I was particularly relieved to hear about tip #3 and, having already discovered how long it can take to get from one venue to another, I decided to implement it immediately, leaving the conference orientation session a little early so that I would not be late to my committee meeting that was scheduled at a hotel across Boston. Despite learning from experience that leaving early or arriving late is not frowned upon, I also decided to revisit my schedule in light of tip #1, scheduling a bit more time between events and attempting to find sessions in closer geographic proximity to one another. These tips proved invaluable in creating a hassle-free Midwinter experience, as well as one not overly defined by large amounts of time spent in transit.

Courtney Young provided attendees with information about NMRT and NMRT's place in the overall structure of ALA. She also mentioned several social networking events taking place at Midwinter. While I was unable to attend any of the socials mentioned, I took the broader advice being offered and made a concerted effort to network with colleagues, both from my home institution and those that I met at committee meetings, discussion groups, and on the bus. Such efforts made an otherwise overwhelmingly large conference more personal and provided me with many new insights into librarianship in general, and my career path in particular.

John Chrastka's remarks echoed Young's, offering insight into the structure of ALA and stressing the importance of treating Midwinter as a tool for networking. Chrastka also helpfully pointed to the Midwinter wiki as a place to plan not only official, professional points of contact but also to find opportunities for personal networking. As Chrastka mentioned, the wiki also has a helpful page on ALA acronyms; without this cheat-sheet and its corresponding page in the Midwinter schedule, this first-time attendee would have been quite lost given the plethora of acronyms used throughout the weekend.

Michael Golrick offered some words of wisdom about the Midwinter meeting itself. Unlike Annual, Midwinter is a working conference full of business meetings. Golrick encouraged new attendees to become involved in the governance of ALA and its many divisions and sections. He offered tips for how to do so, including the simple (but not intuitively obvious) strategy of attending meetings of interest and introducing oneself to the current leadership. Remembering these remarks throughout the weekend helped me to keep the larger picture of the meeting's purpose in place and to focus on the opportunities offered (committee work and networking) rather than what was not there (namely, programs).

As I decided to implement the wonderful advice offered by most of the session's speakers to leave a meeting early when it is necessary on account of tight scheduling, I was unable to hear the remarks made about the exhibits, the NMRT resume review service, and the ALA Allied Profession Association. From the tips and tricks I was able to hear, however, I render a verdict of "resoundingly helpful" to the conference orientation and encourage other new members to attend this session in the future.