Navigating Conferences as a New iSchool student
Published: October 21, 2022 by Kesheena Doctor
As a new MLIS student at San José State University School of Information, one of my biggest questions was whether I should attend a conference and how to go about the process. I had limited experience with academic conferences as an undergrad but knew that it was a fantastic opportunity for students.
Attending a conference has many benefits, especially for students and those who are just entering the field of librarianship. They are a great way to network with other MLIS students and librarians, learn more about different library pathways, attend informational sessions and workshops and familiarize yourself with potential employers. When I started preparing for my MLIS journey, I began investigating the specifics of attending conferences and would like to share them with you.
How to Select the Right Conference
Picking a conference may seem overwhelming at first, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you want to consider where it is located. If it’s too far away or travel is too expensive, you’ll want to stick to conferences in your area. If you are familiar with a specific library organization, check their website for any upcoming conferences. Most organizations will host their conferences in different cities each year. If you think attending a larger conference would be too overwhelming, consider going to a regional conference to save costs and practice your skills in an intimate setting. Your state’s library association will have more information on conferences in your area.
There are a variety of conference types to choose from as well, so I recommend narrowing them down by your MLIS Career Pathway and/or professional interests. Conferences are also a savvy way to supplement your e-Portfolio with any Core Competencies that may need to be filled. Consider attending a conference where you can present your research topic or offers workshops to fulfill your competency.
Preparing for a Travel Scholarship
Attending conferences as a student is a smart financial choice, as many conferences offer lower student rates and travel scholarships for students. Scholarships often give preference to students who are presenting, too. There are also other financial aid benefits available from other organizations. SJSU offers travel scholarships for students up to $1500. Students must be actively enrolled in at least three units, have a 3.2 GPA and are only allowed one travel grant per academic year. Please also note that travel grants offered by SJSU are not eligible for travel to certain states due to California legislation.
Things to Consider When Attending Conferences
There are many factors to consider when attending a conference, including what to bring. The most overt consideration is clothing. Many conferences have business casual attire, but it might be best to bring at least one outfit that is more formal and one that is casual. The ALA Annual Conference often offers free resume reviews and/or interview sessions with hiring organizations. Consider bringing your resume and an interview outfit – you never know! If you are planning to attend any workshops or info sessions, having a writing implement or smart device for taking notes is also a plus. Since conferences are full-day affairs, it is advisable to bring snacks and drinks to get you through the day. I also suggest bringing a tote bag to put these items in. The Illinois Library Association compiled a handy resource for first-time conference attendees. The University of Oklahoma Libraries also provided some great tips for attending conferences.
Networking is also an important part of conferences and all students should take advantage of potential networking opportunities. If a list of attendees is supplied, review the list and identify any people you would like to meet. Business cards are a good networking tool to bring, even for students (you can easily create a professional-looking business card with your SJSU Adobe Creative Cloud account or at canva.com). Since meeting new people is a given, I also highly recommend having a short introduction prepared to highlight your accomplishments and provide insight into who you are. LinkedIn Learning, which is offered for free to SJSU students, offers many courses on how to create these introductions best.
Look out for special iSchool gatherings for meeting faculty, alumni and fellow students. You can review the iSchool Events Calendar to find out if iSchool representatives will be there. The iSchool hosts an annual gathering at the annual ALA conference, which I understand is a great networking activity. Check if other iSchool students are attending, so you can coordinate a get-together and meet fellow students in person. If iSchool faculty are also in attendance, scheduling a meeting with them is an effective networking approach. Conferences may also host special evening programs and events, so ensure you check their program and plan. If the evenings are open, you can unwind and explore the host city with other iSchool attendees.
Presenting at a Conference
Once you decide on a conference to attend, you may consider presenting. The most accessible way to take part is by doing a poster presentation. These presentations are a simple way of showcasing any research you have previously done as a student, such as a paper or a slideshow presentation. While selecting a topic might be cumbersome, there are many online resources for putting together poster presentations, including a guide from NYU and a comprehensive guide from UC Davis. If you are located near SJSU, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library offers a poster printing service for students. LinkedIn Learning also offers courses on public speaking and giving presentations to best help you prepare for presenting. Check this post about iSchool students and alumni presenting at the 2022 CLA Annual Conference for more insight on the poster presentations process.
A Partial List of Upcoming Conferences
The following is a list of national conferences that might be of interest to MLIS students. The ALA has a regional calendar to peruse events in your region, or you can check with your state’s library association for events.
- 2022 International Conference of Indigenous Archives, Libraries, and Museums | ATALM, October 25-27, 2022, Temecula, CA
- Critical Librarianship & Pedagogy Symposium, November 2-4, 2022, Tucson, AZ
- YALSA’s 2022 Young Adult Services Symposium, November 4-6, 2022, Baltimore, MD
- LibLearnX: The Library Learning Experience (LLX), January 27-30, 2023, New Orleans, LA
- Joint Conference of Librarians of Color, February 8-12, 2023, St. Pete Beach, FL
- ACRL 2023 Conference, March 15-18, 2023, Pittsburgh, PA
- Art Libraries Society of North America, April 18-21, 2023, Mexico City, MX
- ALA Annual Conference & Exhibition, June 22-27, 2023, Chicago, IL
- PLA at 2023 ALA Annual Conference, June 22–27, 2023, Chicago, IL
- Joint Annual Meeting of the Council of State Archivists and the Society of American Archivists, July 22-29, 2023, Washington, D.C.
- Core Forum 2023, October 19-21, 2023, New Orleans, LA
If you have any tips for attending conferences or have a conference recommendation, please leave a comment. I hope to attend ACRL’s conference next year and see you there!