I go to a lot of conferences and although I used to be absolutely flustered and overwhelmed by these events, I think I’ve got it down at this point. Library conferences are a really fantastic way to meet new people and network with others in the field, as well as to learn about what exciting and cutting-edge things librarians are doing right now and what future trends will be. But they are also an absolute non-stop flurry of events, learning sessions, and social activities, within what is oftentimes a brand new city. Hopefully this list of tips will be helpful to those who are new (or even those who aren’t!) to library conferences.
BEFORE THE CONFERENCE
1.) Make a Packing List
This may seem obvious but took me a while to figure it out. I now use these Pack This! lists (you can get them at the Container Store and many other places online) that are pre-printed with everything I might need and I simply check items off as I add them to my bag. They come in a pad of 60 and I’ve yet to go through one.
2.) Bring Plenty of Business Cards
This should be first on the list of things to bring to the conference, and also to carry with you! I can’t count how many times I’ve met someone at a conference and they’ve told me they either forgot their business cards, or they brought them to the conference, but they left them in the hotel room (I have to admit I’ve made this mistake myself). When you think about how many people you meet at one of these events, it’s tough enough to remember who people are afterward when you do have their business card, and nearly an impossibility when you don’t.
3.) Pack Your Walking Shoes
Many library conferences, especially the major ones such as ALA Annual, AALL, etc. are sprawling affairs which may be spread throughout giant convention centers as well as satellite hotels and host venues. You will do a lot of walking if you want to get the most out of your time there, so leave the narrow-toed shoes at home and bring your walking shoes.
4.) Bring Your Camera and Take Pictures
You’ll probably want to take pictures when you get there, either of the event itself, the host city, or people you meet. Although this isn’t a vacation or trip you’d normally think of bringing your camera to, you may want to pack it just in case. Also, maybe you’re not a blogger but you still want to share what happened at the event, taking pictures while you’re there is a great way to communicate the vibe of the conference. Both during and after the conference attendees as well as librarians who couldn’t make it will be searching online for photos of the event.
5.) Pre-Plan Your Sessions and Make an Action Plan
Nearly every conference today will post the schedule of events and sessions well ahead of the actual event. This is a great time for you to sit down with the program and decide on what you want to attend. Trust me, figuring this out on-the-go once you’re at the conference can be stressful, what you’ll be spending time on once you’re there is finding where all the rooms are where the sessions you want to see are happening. Keep in mind that when you’re planning, you don’t have to attend a session in every single time slot – much of what’s learned at conferences happens in the hallways rather than in the sessions through conversations with colleagues, so plan for some of this as well. Include in your action plan any luncheons you want to attend, and can’t-miss cocktail receptions. Also include any excursions you plan to go on. This will not only ensure you have time for everything, but will make you feel more organized and less stressed about how much is going on. Remember also you may want to note vendors you want to visit, for example when I was researching eBooks packages for my library, I found that a great way to demo all of the offerings was to find the vendors at conferences and test out the platforms there.
6.) Publicize your schedule
I usually make my schedule for conferences publicly available online through my blog, or what’s even better is if the conference has a scheduler tool (AALL is great about this), or an event wiki. This way people can connect with me beforehand and let me know they’ll also be going to the same session or event, or just meet me there. Not everyone will be comfortable with this so use your own judgment, but you may find that you meet and socialize with a larger group of people if they know where to find you.
7.) Do Some Pre-Conference Networking
If there’s a major conference coming up, you may want to do some pre-event networking through social media outlets such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Make some coffee appointments or plan to meet people you’ve met online but never face-to-face at a session or a specific reception. This will not only give you a chance to network but will guarantee that you’ll know at least one person when you walk into the event.
8.) Plan Your Introductions
Think about it, you’re going to be meeting a LOT of people at the conference (whether you like it or not!!), wouldn’t it be better to be prepared for how to describe yourself in a succinct way? People will be asking you where you work and what you do and what you’re working on right now. You will appear (and be) more confident if you walk in prepared for these introductory questions rather than being caught off-guard.
9.) Plan for Bad Wifi
It’s unfortunate but the fact is that a lot of conferences will have bad wifi, or there will be so many people connecting that it’s virtually impossible to do anything of note online. If a continuous internet connection is something that’s important to you because you’re blogging the confernce, or just (like me) feel the need to be constantly connected, now’s the time to plan for that. If you have an iPad or Android tablet capable of a 3G or 4G connection in addition to wifi, you may want to turn on that service until you’re back from the conference. Bring an extra battery pack for your smartphone so that you can get online without running out of juice. I’ve been to many events where the conference hotel did not provide free Internet in rooms and it can get costly, so now I plan ahead.
If you’re really introverted and don’t like networking at cocktail receptions, etc. but still want to meet people at the conference, you may consider volunteering. There are many interest groups and organizing committees that would be thrilled to get an email asking “How Can I Help?” before the conference. This would not only put you in touch with the many people organizing the event as well as those attending, but would be great experience as well.
11.) Is There an App for That?
Some conferences are starting to develop apps associated with the event, whether it’s a conference schedule or a networking app that will let you input your profile as an attendee. Find out beforehand if you could be easily accessing the conference schedule on your phone rather than carrying around the printed version.
AT THE EVENT
12.) Tweet, Blog, and Facebook the Conference
A great way to solidify what you learned (or are in the process of learning) at a session is to blog about it, or tweet the session while it’s happening. This makes your focus even more sharp because you’re reporting on what you’re hearing. Posting links that the presenter mentions on Twitter or Facebook is a great way to share what’s going on with those who couldn’t make it to the conference. So if you’re using social media, think about live blogging, tweeting, or Facebooking the event.
13.) Visit the Exhibits
The Exhibit Hall is a great place to find out about what all the latest products are in the library space. You can also pick up a lot of swag, I personally love the pens! But it’s an opportunity to speak with vendors in a less formal way than having them do an on-site visit to your organization, and it’s a great way to test drive a lot of different library products such as new databases, eBook packages, ILS programs and more.
14.) Leave Sessions Where You’re Not Learning
Librarians are loathe to do this because many consider it rude to get up and leave a session before the end, but the fact is that if you’re not learning anything there’s no point in being there. And it’s not necessarily a reflection on the speakers (and they realize this), you may just be more advanced than the session’s offerings. You can usually tell within 5-10 minutes of a session whether it’s going to hold your attention for the full 45-90 minutes. If it’s a re-hash of something you’ve heard many times, consider that you could be learning something new in another session. So keep a program handy and move!
15.) Challenge Yourself to Meet New People
This is not easy for many of us. Librarians tend to be introverts so socializing at conferences doesn’t come naturally to many in our field. But it is a very important part of attending library conferences. I challenge myself to talk to at least two new people at each reception. And honestly I end up meeting more than that because each of them usually introduces me to their colleagues and people they’ve just met as well, but I find that starting with the goal of two makes it less overwhelming.
16.) Go on a Fun Excursion
You know what they say about all work and no play! There’s a lot to absorb at conferences, between all of the learning experiences, the non-stop networking, and the sometimes crazy scheduling – 7am breakfast reception anyone? It’s important to take it down a bit and weave in a couple of fun activities and possibly some alone time. There are often organized excursions associated with the conference, but also the hotel will have plenty of information about major attractions and goings on in the area. Find something fun to do and/or perhaps some good restaurants to visit in the city you’re in.
17.) Sing Some Karaoke!
Believe me, you don’t want to miss librarian karaoke!! Librarians really know how to let loose and have a good time at conferences and one way that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing is the librarian karaoke outing. You get to see a whole other side to people when they are belting out ’80′s rock ballads! This type of informal event is the first thing I look for when attending a library conference and I would recommend that you keep your eyes open for such an outing or instigate one yourself!
18.) Connect with Everyone on Social Media
After the conference, when it’s still fresh in your mind, you’ll want to “friend” and connect with everyone you met on social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. That way you can stay in touch and also learn more about each person you met and what they’re working on.
19.) Send Follow-up Emails
This is little more formal than connecting on social media, but you may want to send a follow-up email to people you had interesting conversations with at the conference. Let them know that you remember who they are and that you look forward to keeping in touch going forward.
20.) Write a Wrap Up
After each conference I attend I write a wrap up of not only what I learned, but what I want to find out more about. I also usually have a list of links scattered across various session notes I’ve taken and I add these to my wrap up as well. Oftentimes I’ll blog about the conference afterward using this wrap up, but mostly it’s a way for me to organize and synthesize everything I learned at the conference.