By Margaret Howard
I was able to attend my first ALA conference at Midwinter as a 2013 ALA Emerging Leader and with the generous sponsorship I received from the New Members Round Table (NMRT). I was definitely a little nervous going into it as I knew I would meet individuals who I had heard about over the last few years and that there would be so much to do and see at the conference and around Seattle. Not knowing what to expect, I made the decision to make the most of everything, try to learn and experience as much as I could, and enjoy the fine Seattle atmosphere.
Emerging Leaders is a wonderful opportunity to work with accomplished individuals and I enjoyed learning about the members of my team and the 55 other librarians selected as Emerging Leaders this year. Each team is given a project to work on between the Midwinter and Annual conferences. My team has been challenged with researching ALA membership, learning where members find value, and what makes some leave and others stay. As a new member who had never attended a conference before, I hoped ALA would be beneficial to my career by encouraging, educating, and connecting me with librarians who shared my interests and goals. I accomplished this in part by finding a mentor through the NMRT mentorship program and working on a few committees, but without attending a conference, I was still struggling to figure out where I fit in ALA.
During Midwinter, I was able to meet industrious librarians from around the country, learn what they are doing in the field, and share new ideas. I attended sessions covering advancements in technology, best practices for networking and public speaking, and heard great speakers like ALA President Maureen Sullivan and Caroline Kennedy. During this experience, I began to better understand what ALA offers. I realized that attending conferences is very worthwhile for me, because I love being inspired and connected to other professionals. I met several people to whom I said, "I follow you online!" It was wonderful to connect not just faces, but personalities with their names. Being surrounded by so many creative people and ideas really inspired me and made me feel that the ALA community is a place where I can make a real impact on librarianship. I left Midwinter in such a positive place and am looking forward to trying some new ideas within my library system.
My recommendation to new members who are attending a conference is to throw yourself into the mix, meet other people who are interested in the same things you are, find sessions that either speak to you or challenge you, and be yourself. ALA membership is what you make of it. I believe that ALA offers a great deal of professional and personal development to members who are proactive and thoughtful with networking and learning opportunities. As my team works on our project regarding membership retention, I look forward to learning where other members find value, presenting our findings in Chicago, and of course, attending more conferences in the future.