What I Learned at SLA 2017

Career Blog

Published: June 23, 2017 by Kate M. Spaulding

A conference newbie reflects on her first professional conference experience and shares her five takeaways from attending the Special Libraries Association 2017 Conference.

Earlier this week, I attended the Special Libraries Association’s 2017 annual conference in Phoenix. Although I researched extensively, I didn’t really know what to expect, other than very hot weather. I definitely had first-timer’s butterflies, which I dealt with by making detailed packing and pre-trip to-do lists and worrying about my wardrobe choices.

Now that I’ve survived my first professional conference and had a minute to reflect on the experience, here are my takeaways:

  1. Librarians really are the nicest. Everyone I interacted with before, during, and after (I met someone new at the airport!) was unfailingly kind. I asked lots of questions of people I barely, if at all, knew, and they were all generous with their time, insights, and encouragement. Even very early and very late, folks at the conference were cheerful (if sleepy) and approachable.
  2. Conferences are exhausting, and you must take care of yourself. I’m old enough to know myself, and as a confirmed introvert, I knew I would need to give myself time to recharge. Although I pushed myself too far a couple of times, for the most part I was good about finding a quiet corner to rest when I needed it or relaxing in my hotel room between afternoon and evening events.
  3. Fellow SLAers wanted the best for me. This certainly ties in to #1! On Monday, I co-presented a contributed paper with recent iSchool grad Ame Maloney. We were confident in our research, analysis, and written work but nervous about speaking in front of a group of professionals. From Scott Brown and Cindy Hill, the contributed paper chairs, and fellow presenters, to people I met at breakfast and fellow iSchool students, everyone encouraged, helped, and cheered us on. It was so much less terrifying to get up in front of a group of a people who had shown me they wanted us to succeed.
  4. There’s something relaxing about hanging out with a bunch of librarians. You know how when you get together with your best friends, you don’t have to do a lot of explaining because they know you and your backstory? Going to the conference was a little bit like that, but professional. No one was wondering if libraries are relevant or librarians necessary; I didn’t have to convince anyone that no, Google does not have all the answers; and I didn’t have to defend or refute librarian stereotypes. We could just jump right into the heart of the matter, which was refreshing.
  5. Conferences aren’t so scary after all. Really, it was an experience that taught me a lot, grew my network, and boosted my confidence. I’d love to pay it forward, so please don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments or contact me more privately. Maybe I’ll see you at the next one?

Photo courtesy WOCTechChat

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