Students Connect at ALA Annual
Published: May 19, 2017 by Kate M. Spaulding
The American Library Association Conference as viewed from the student’s perspective. “Try to take it all in … but also be willing to see what happens in the moment.”
With conference season approaching, I thought it would be interesting to speak with some of the organizers. Many professional associations hold conferences annually, and I wanted to hear their arguments for why students should find the time, money, and energy to attend. Several were kind enough to reply to my emails! I’ve already written about AIIP, SCIP, SLA, and SAA.
This week, however, I’m introducing a student’s perspective to the conversation. I spoke with Stephanie Barnaby, an iSchool student who works at a law library in Boston and who also serves as the events coordinator for our student chapter of the American Library Association (ALASC). Stephanie was kind enough to spend part of her break with me, and I’m so glad we could connect! She’s enthusiastic about professional associations in general and ALA in particular.
Stephanie’s first conference was ALA’s 2016 Midwinter Meeting in Boston; that’s where she lives, so she dropped in and wandered around. She went into a bunch of committee meetings including the Intellectual Freedom Round Table’s (IFRT). She laughed, “They like to put you to work right away!” and now she’s on the Membership Committee. She loves “meeting people that are interested in the same things you are” at conferences.
Committee participation is great for students because it’s “nice to have a thing to do when you go [to conference] and then continue to be involved with” when you leave. “Roundtable membership is only like $5, which I don’t think a lot of people know,” so it’s an affordable addition to your student membership. Stephanie also likes having access to “lots of people to give you inside tips. It’s nice to feel involved – even if I didn’t know what was going on, someone else did.
This year, Stephanie is attending ALA Annual as SJSU’s Student2Staff participant. She’ll be one of 40 representatives from ALA student chapters; they will each work 16 hours over 4 days in different offices of ALA. In exchange, participants receive free registration and hotel accommodations. She’ll be helping with Cognotes, the conference newsletter, and although she doesn’t know the details of what she’ll be doing yet, Stephanie is really excited about this opportunity.
Stephanie is “fascinated with how large ALA is and how many offices and ways to be involved there are. So this will be an interesting experience to see how to run a conference from behind the scenes.”
If there’s one thing ALA is known for, it’s its size! Per ALA, the annual conference is typically 25,000 people strong. That’s a lot of people and a lot of physical space. Asked how she handles that, Stephanie laughed. “Coffee. Lots of coffee.”
Although it may seem overwhelming, she advises, “Try to take it all in. There are so many different sessions, exhibits, posters, and speakers that having backup for every time slot is really helpful. But also be willing to see what happens in the moment. Introduce yourself to the person next to you, and if they are doing something cool, go with it.”
For her, the best part of last summer’s conference was the iSchool reception; “they know how to put on a good event!” Stephanie found it “interesting to see the different kinds of jobs that alumni have” and really enjoyed meeting up with current students, comparing notes, and making the online experience feel friendlier. We are both looking forward to meeting our classmates at this year’s iSchool reception!
Stephanie is also looking forward to “meeting more people from ALA student chapters around the country.” She’s currently running for 2017-2018 Chair of ALASC at SJSU, so she wants to find out what other student groups are doing and get ideas to help increase attendance at events.
Dressing the Part
Not surprisingly, the physical conference space must be quite large to accommodate all the attendees and vendors. Stephanie urged, “Bring good walking shoes!” and cautioned against “new shoes – [wear] something breathable that won’t give you blisters.”
Although the conference is officially business casual, she said people “take that to mean a lot of different things.” Stephanie “errs more ‘business’ than ‘casual,’” but attendees wear everything from Hawaiian shirts with shorts to jeans to more formal attire. Keep in mind, too, that “usually it’s very cold in the conference rooms but hot outside,” so layers are definitely your friend.
Stephanie had one last piece of advice: “Make sure you bring enough business cards, and when you receive one write a note to yourself on the back ASAP. Jot down how you met the person or identifying characteristics.” Otherwise, you end up with a huge stack of cards and you have no idea who any of them belong to!
Thank you so much, Stephanie! Your enthusiasm and practicality make ALA Annual sound much more friendly to this first-timer!