NMRT Communications Committee – April Blog Post

by Caroline Akervik

The ALA Annual Conference & Exhibition is taking place from June 22-27, 2023, at McCormick Place Chicago in Chicago, IL. Per the conference FAQs, “Librarians, authors, publishers, business professionals, educators and students—anyone who is passionate about books, libraries, and eager to learn and shape the future of the industry.”

Okay, well, I qualify. I am currently a library media coordinator for a public school district in western Wisconsin and I have worked in or supported school libraries for going on sixteen years. I have never attended an ALA conference. As I completed my registration for this conference, I felt more than a little overwhelmed.

I have spent some time exploring the conference pages. I had a total fan girl moment when I read that Rick Riordan and Brian Pinkney will be speaking at the conference. Cool beans! I continued to explore the conference pages and then decided to put a feeler out to the real experts on My Connect. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the library people who responded. (One truism of library folk is that they tend to be exceedingly generous with knowledge.) Annice Sevett, Library Director of the Albert Lea Public Library, suggested the following:

“New Members Round Table has quite a few services that are extremely valuable for first-time conference attendees. First, I highly recommend attending the Conference Orientation session that will happen on Friday, June 23 at 1:30 p.m. The event features a panel discussion that talks about tips and tricks for getting the most out of the conference in addition to having a local recommend must see things in Chicago. It’s also a great opportunity to network with other first-time conference attendees and ask questions.

The second thing we offer is an ALA Annual Conference Mentoring Program, where first time attendees are matched with seasoned conference goers. This opportunity provides a chance to get all your questions answered from someone and hopefully an opportunity to meet up with them in person at the conference. I have been a mentor a few times for that program and met with individuals I was matched up with on Zoom beforehand to answer whatever questions they had and provide tips that I have for getting the most out of your conference experience. This program will open for applicants closer to the conference.”

Next, I heard from Kacy Helwick, the Youth Collection Development library at New Orleans Public Library. She shared these fabulous suggestions for attendees:

“There’s a lot that happens on Friday, so I usually like to book my flight to arrive on Thursday, and I’ll leave late on Tuesday afternoon. The opening reception of the exhibit hall on Friday night is always fun, especially if you’re looking for free stuff. There’s usually like this advertising/coupon book that you get when you pick up your conference badge and it tells you which booth is giving out giveaway items and when to get them. I actually try not to take too much stuff home when I attend, but I’ve still gotten t-shirts, scarves, mugs, pins, pens, notepads, wine and delicious frozen beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), and of course books and tote bags. You can also decide if you want to be a person with a few or a lot of ribbons on your conference badge and get those at the ribbon bar when you pick up your badge and in the exhibit hall, especially at the comics publishers’ booths (I included a picture of my last 2 badges as examples). I think they make for a good conversation starter when you meet new people. 

If there are any ALA division and roundtables you belong to or are interested in joining, you should keep an eye out if they are doing any events. I’m not sure what will be happening this year, but I’m a member of ALSC and there’s often a membership networking event, last year it was a meet up at the Planet Word Museum and a really great time. GNCRT usually hosts a Friday Forum, a free pre-conference on Friday late morning/early afternoon that is a highlight of my ALA every time I attend, and they’ll also be doing a ticketed event: the Magical Comics Tea. I’m not a member of the GAMERT, but they usually host an ALA Play evening on Friday night after the opening reception and it’s a great opportunity to try out games for library programs. Rainbow RT is having a gala on Sunday night to celebrate their 50th anniversary, free for members and $25 for guests of members. 

If you have any existing relationships with any vendors, like if you buy books from Follett or Baker & Taylor or have Sora from Overdrive for your school district, reach out to your sales reps to let them know you’ll be attending the conference and that it’s your first time. You can set up meetings to talk in person with people, or just get on their email lists to find out if they’re doing any special events (like having authors sign books in their booths or if they’re hosting a lunch you can be invited to). 

This is already very long, but lastly, conference sessions can be spread out across the convention center and nearby hotels. Pay attention to maps and how far apart everything is when you’re making your schedule. There will probably be so many relevant sessions for you to attend, but I would make sure I had at least 20-30 minutes in between events. I was late to so many sessions my first year because I didn’t realize how far an exhibit hall stage was from a program in a different area of the convention center. Also it’s good to keep your schedule a little open or flexible so you have the opportunity to discover a session you hadn’t noticed or have an unexpected conversation you don’t need to rush away from.”

Many thanks to the librarians who so generously shared their suggestions. Their words and the sense of library camaraderie those words evoked in me have contributed to my anticipatory excitement. I also have a better understanding of my preconference homework. I will check out the offerings of the divisions and round tables. I plan to work out logistics upon arrival. Most importantly, I look forward to seeing all you library folk who plan to attend ALA this year!

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