Students, Succeed at SLA 2017

photo of two people talking
Published: Wednesday, April 12, 2017 by Kate M. Spaulding

The Special Libraries Association’s (SLA) tagline is, “Connecting People and Information,” which, first of all, excellent work, SLA. Second, what a great way to think about professional associations and conferences.

This is my third entry in a series about professional associations (previously: AIIP and SCIP).  For this piece, I spoke with Brandy King, the SLA 2017 chair, about why to attend and how to get the most out of the experience. I’ll be at the conference this year (let’s meet if you’ll be there too!), and hearing how excited she is about it definitely alleviated some of my anxiety. My hope is that these interviews will do the same for you! For more stress relief, be sure to check out Conferencing 101: All the Tips.

This year, SLA’s annual conference is in Phoenix, June 16-20. It’s not too late to make plans!

Show Me the Money
Student tickets, which are waaaay less money than regular ticket prices, are available until May 30. I’ve also seen a bunch of student travel grant applications floating around Twitter. Many chapters and divisions sponsor them to help get us there and lessen the financial burden. Although some deadlines have passed, there may still be opportunities this year. If you’re interested, a little bit of research could reap rewards.

Brandy pointed out two additional pieces of information regarding budgeting:

  1. All educational sessions are included. This is not true of all the conference schedules I’ve looked at lately (cough, ALA, cough), so this was a pretty big deal for me.
  2. There are some ticketed events, like a tour of the botanical garden, which do cost extra. However, if you choose to not participate in those, you won’t feel like you’re missing the conference.

photo of Brandy King

Just Right
I asked Brandy if any particular subset of students would especially benefit from attending SLA 2017. It would be a good idea for “anyone looking for nontraditional librarianship,” but, surprisingly, she also recommended the conference for anyone interested in academic librarianship. “There’s a large, strong faction of academic librarians in SLA. Some are subject specialists, but not all. They have a relatively new division, and it’s one of the biggest.”

As far as what to expect, she agreed that this conference would be a gentler, less overwhelming introduction to conferencing than ALA’s huge, 25,000-person event. Brandy told me SLA’s is usually 2,000 to 3,000 people and tends to be smaller when it’s not held on the East Coast, like this year.

Among the changes for 2017 is a smaller physical footprint; she wanted to eliminate extra space and extra walking (which takes up time and energy). Hopefully, the smaller space will encourage more frequent interactions, as people will have time to stop and chat in the halls.

Brandy argued that, in this case, smaller is better. In the past, it’s “made for really good networking because you see the same people over and over,” and you even see speakers outside of their official time slot. She really likes SLA’s size because she “finds new people to learn from each time, but it’s small enough that [she] sees some of the same people year-to-year.”

Elite Eight
When I asked if there are any programs, panels, opportunities, etc. that focus on or benefit students in particular, Brandy had many, many suggestions.

  1. First Timers Orientation. It’s new this year and she thinks it will be really helpful.
  2. Fellows & First Timers Reception. It introduces Fellows, SLA members who have a lot of experience, and us newbies. It’s a great way to connect with people who know All the Things and have been very involved in the association.
  3. Leveled Sessions. All sessions are leveled – fundamental, intermediate, and master – to give attendees a clear understanding of what to expect. Fundamental sessions are great for a lot of students, but students who have some experience may choose to jump up a level. To be clear, you can go to whichever sessions you’d like; the labels are just meant to help you pick.
  4. Career Development. There’s a whole learning stream dedicated to career development, and within that, Brandy highlighted You and Your Career and Alternative Careers for Librarians. Brandy also pointed to the Dream Jobs general session she’s moderating because she’s really excited to talk to a diverse group of librarians from Uber, Hershey, and the Fashion Institute.
  5. photo of toasting beer glassesNo-host Dinners. These are informal, pay-your-way, dinners at a restaurant. They’re mostly organized by divisions, like the Solo Librarians.
  6. Evening Receptions. These are usually open to all, and they’re often at the hotel, so you can “reception hop.” Brandy especially recommends the IT Dance Party. “If you want to see librarians being ridiculous, this is where to go.” It’s the night before conference ends, and it’s fun to at least go and watch, even if you stay off the dance floor.
  7. INFO-EXPO Hall. Basically, it’s a giant vendor fair. There will be lots of companies represented, and while it’s obviously an opportunity for them to promote their products, it’s also a “good place to see where you might want to work because all of them employ librarians.” Free stuff, free food, and great networking opportunities.
  8. Beyond the Sessions. Brandy pointed out that we should try to take advantage of everything’s that offered. Think of the conference as “not just education sessions, but as going to lunch, going to the EXPO hall, going to the wellness events. Think of attending them as adding value to your conference, and you’ll have a much better time, too.”

Brandy, your enthusiasm was contagious! I’m really starting to look forward to attending. Thank you!

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