Attending ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition

iStudent Blog

Published: July 30, 2023 by Kesheena Doctor

This past June I got to attend the ALA Annual Conference & Exhibition in Chicago, Illinois. I intended to attend as many conferences as I could while an iSchool student. However, I originally had not planned on going to this year’s ALA Conference but some unexpected opportunities arose that allowed me to attend. 

Logistics of Attending ALA

Most of my summer budget was planned around the 2023 Zine Librarian unConference I would attend in August. I also missed travel scholarship deadlines and didn’t have enough personal funds to attend ALA without assistance. A library friend notified me that the Zine Pavilion, an exhibitor at ALA, was providing their volunteers with complimentary exhibitor passes. Even with the student rate, ALA registration was quite costly and was one of the primary factors for me not initially attending. I looked up some travel and lodging estimates and seeing that attending ALA was feasible, applied to be a volunteer. While I planned on attending with no other agenda than to volunteer for the Zine Pavilion, my schedule quickly filled up for the five days I would be in Chicago. 

The iSchool at ALA

I am currently taking summer classes and am taking INFO 298 Special Studies where I am part of a large research team assisting Dr. Chow with the Reading Nation Waterfall project. One of the summer interns’ first tasks was presenting at ALA about the program’s results so far. While my presentation contributions were small, I had to get up to speed on the project and help prepare our presentation slides. The presentation was scheduled for Saturday, my first day at ALA. I got to meet not only Dr. Chow, but other iSchool students who were a part of the project. I had never presented at a conference before and learned about the process, including some technical tips Dr. Chow provided.

Presenting at ALA was a very positive and exhausting experience. I also planned on attending the iSchool ALA 2023 Reception, which was scheduled for early Saturday evening, so I spent my afternoon perusing the Library Marketplace. ALA Conference is an enormous event, and after some misnavigation, I was able to locate where the iSchool’s reception was being held. Though early, there were many attendees already at the event. I got to look at the posters iSchool students presented while the attendees mingled and snacked on complementary food. I met two former iSchool students and we discussed the e-portfolio process, the iSchool’s competency requirement, and some history of Chicago.

Diversity at ALA

A week before I departed for ALA, my mentor notified me that APALA was providing a small number of complementary student tickets for the APALA Literature Awards Banquet 2023. When I arrived at the Ming Hin restaurant, where the banquet was held, I ran into members of my ARL Kaleidoscope Program cohort and my Kaleidoscope Program mentor. I got to meet many Asian American librarians from across the US, and was also able to meet one of the organizers of the International Indigenous Librarians’ Forum 2023. We had a very nice dinner and got to hear the speeches from all the award winners, including the actor, John Cho, who wrote the book, Troublemaker.

On Sunday I volunteered with the Zine Pavilion, helping put together pamphlets, showing librarians how to make a one-page zine, discussing the finer points of zine library programming, and sharing information on Zine Pavilion events. While volunteering, I met many librarians from all over, including two academic librarians from California who were not only making zines in their Indigenous language, but using zines in their library as instructional tools. I even got to meet friends of friends! Volunteering at the Zine Pavilion was extremely fun and I encourage anyone interested in attending ALA to also consider volunteering as it is an easy way to get to know librarians and feel at ease while at such a large conference.

Traversing Chicago

I spent a lot of time attending ALA but I also was able to explore Chicago. Sunday afternoon, I went to the National Museum of Mexican Art in the Pilsen neighborhood. On Monday, I got to go to the Art Institute of Chicago, visited Lake Michigan, and went to the Wicker Park neighborhood. One of the highlights of the trip was finally getting to go to Quimby’s Bookstore, which is an alternative comic and zine store. Chicago was very eclectic and I really enjoyed getting to see some of the diverse neighborhoods and culture that arose around the city.

My Tips for Attending ALA

  • Go to ALA! If you get an opportunity to attend, I highly recommend going to ALA. It is such a wonderful experience to be surrounded by thousands of librarians, learning more about the profession and networking.
  • Consider volunteering. I love volunteering and have found that volunteering a few hours at a conference is a great way to meet new people.
  • Prepare a light schedule. ALA is a very large conference and it is easy to get overwhelmed. When I asked other colleagues about their experience, many noted how huge the conference actually was. I suggest making a few plans for each day, but do not overwhelm yourself. 
  • Plan to meet with colleagues. Though you can meet new people while at ALA, I found it easier to network in larger settings like this if you are introduced to people from colleagues you already know.
  • Explore the host city. I was very excited that ALA was being held in Chicago. I had never been to the city and was eager to visit. One of the benefits of attending conferences is visiting a city you might otherwise never have the chance to go to.

I had a lot of fun at ALA and was very happy that I was able to attend. I loved getting to meet iSchool students and alumni as well as meeting new librarians from all of the pathways. Did you attend ALA’S 2023? If so, please share your experience in the comments.