Attending My First Professional Conference
LibLearnX 2024 - Baltimore, MD

Career Blog
Photo of several empty black chairs gathered in a conference room

Published: April 2, 2024 by Aryn Prestia 

Though I am now in my second year here at the iSchool, I still feel like a brand new student. This most likely has to do with the constant exposure to new and exciting information as well as the hunger to learn even more.

After realizing this year’s LibLearnX Conference, hosted by the American Library Association, would be held on the East Coast and not too far from my home in Connecticut, I decided to take the leap and apply for SJSU’s Student Travel Stipend to help me with my journey. Upon notification that I’d been approved for the funds, I finalized my travel plans and set my sights on Baltimore. A conference seemed to be a great opportunity to be exposed to lots of new ideas in one location.

I arrived in Maryland on an unusually cold and snowy Friday afternoon eager to attend my first professional conference. At the vast Baltimore Convention Center, attendees were encouraged to perform a self check-in at their own kiosks. Once I entered my registration world, the machine printed my badge for me while an ALA staff member delivered my “Navigator” – a workbook of sorts to accompany me throughout the conference. I downloaded the immensely helpful ALA app to get a sense of the convention center layout and to start work on the Scavenger Hunt which brought me to fun places like the Networking Nook.

Having arrived a little later than expected due to a delayed flight, I made it just in time to the Orientation session hosted by the NMRT (New Member’s Round Table) which provided some helpful context and background through which to navigate all of the new ALA jargon as well as ideas for involvement through ALA roundtables and committees.

The conference’s first keynote speaker, former NPR reporter Michele Norris, took the stage a little after 8am on Saturday. She offered an engaging discussion of her new book, Our Hidden Conversations, as well as an overview of her Race Card Project, and shared her candid love for libraries. She shared some inspiring and helpful notes of advice that she had received in the past, including that if you’re writing something difficult, reduce it to one sentence (hence the theme of her race card project being just six words).

She also commented on how our divisions as people are profitable for companies but that it is hard to hate up close, and through storytelling and the understanding of others we can gain so much more empathy. It was easy to see how libraries can be that connector to allowing those from divergent groups to access the stories of others.

Day Two’s keynote included a panel discussion between librarians from very different backgrounds and environments. The greatest takeaway for me was that libraries are a reflection of their community and “a hospital for education” as one speaker aptly noted. The discussion was inspiring, though a bit overwhelming when considering the challenges that so many libraries are facing today.

Across the two days I was present, there were dozens of educational sessions to choose from. It was impossible to attend them all, but I did my best to stop by the ones that sounded interesting. Some of my favorites covered these topics:

  • The importance of teaching difficult histories and the ability to use fiction to build empathy
  • Teaching with maps and primary sources to spark curiosity and a sense of belonging in children
  • Using conspiracy theories to teach information literacy

Whenever I had downtime between sessions, I was able to explore the Marketplace. This large area was full of library vendor booths like OCLC and Overdrive as well as publishers who were handing out ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) materials- yes, they do give out lots of free books. Even our very own San Jose State University School of Information had a booth within the marketplace. I had the opportunity to volunteer in the booth for a couple of hours talking to prospective students about my experience in the program thus far and even meeting professors in real life after previously being a part of their online courses. I was also able to try out a few VR headsets with Dr. Chow and even teach other conference-goers how to use the technology.

In other areas of the marketplace, several authors made appearances to either give talks about their books, sign copies, or both! I was told many times to ensure that I had enough space in my suitcase to take home some new books.

While my schedule required that I leave the conference on Sunday afternoon, the event concluded on Monday morning. Even during my short time, I had very full days and was able to head for home with a heavier bag (full of books) and a well-notated workbook with all kinds of ideas to bring back to my current library.

If you are ever considering attending a conference, I wholeheartedly encourage you to try it out! There is no better way to learn from industry leaders than by hearing them speak in person.

Two More Things…

Here are a few job opportunities on Handshake that might be of interest!


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