By Sarah Brown
Midwinter 2013 was my first ALA event. I've been to smaller, local conferences, but have never ventured to Midwinter or Annual. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I ended up having a great experience that I would recommend to anyone.
My first scheduled event was the Saturday morning Library Instruction Round Table (LIRT) All Committee Meeting. I am a member of the LIRT Newsletter Committee, so I planned to attend, but I wasn't sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to find a room full of tables with each committee at its own table. Everyone was very friendly, and I had a great discussion with the other members of the newsletter committee.
Next, I attended the luncheon provided by EBSCO. Some of my colleagues had suggested signing up for these vendor lunches, and I'm glad I did. The lunch was good, and we got to hear a presentation about the newest innovations offered by EBSCO.
After lunch, I rushed back to the Exhibit hall. I was scheduled to volunteer at the NMRT Resume Review service as a greeter. I really enjoyed this part of the conference because I got to chat with both job seekers and experienced librarians who had served on search committees.
Saturday afternoon, I attended the NMRT Networking meeting. This was a very informal meeting where the leaders of NMRT introduced themselves and answered questions from the group. It was nice to put faces with the names I see so often, and to hear stories about how they first became involved with NMRT.
Looking back on Saturday, I do wish I had left some free time. I had everything scheduled back to back because I wanted to experience as much as possible. However, this made it almost impossible to visit the Exhibit hall, which was definitely impressive.
Sunday was another busy day. I decided to be brave and attend the ACRL Distance Learning Section all committee meeting, even though I was not a member of any of their committees. I was interested in finding out more about the Instruction committee, and it turned out to be a great idea. We had a thoughtful discussion and I left with plans to join the committee. Moral of the story: Don't be shy.
My second session on Sunday was the ACRL New Members Discussion Group. This was an informal panel discussion which included a panel of four experienced librarians. The topic was about finding a balance between our day to day jobs and professional development activities. I loved hearing the individual experiences of the members of the panel, and the discussion was enlightening and inspiring. I definitely left with ideas for how I would incorporate more professional development activities into my daily activities.
Sunday afternoon, I finally had a chance to spend some time in the Exhibit hall. I could easily see how a person could spend hours looking at the Exhibits and speaking with the vendors. I also picked up some free books, which was a nice bonus. However, I do have a tip for first timers: Remember, you have to carry these books home, so plan ahead and don't take more than you can fit in your luggage!
When I try to describe what was so great about my experience, the word that keeps coming up is "accessible." All of these successful professionals, whose names I've seen in print, were so accessible. They were easy to talk to, and willing to chat with me about any aspect of librarianship. Also, presenting itself has always seemed like such a daunting task for me, but the presenters made it seem accessible. After talking with a few of them, I felt like it is something I could actually do. The greatest value of attending a conference such as this, in my opinion, is the one on one communication and networking that lets us know we're all human, and we all care about the profession. Each of us can make a contribution, no matter how "new" we are.
Sarah Engledow Brown is a Reference/Information Literacy Librarian at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. You can find her on Twitter at @Bioniklibrarian.