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How to Survive a Large Conference

February 6, 2019

I spent much of last week at ALA’s Midwinter conference in Seattle, and my mind is still swimming from all the work, the committee meetings, the programs, the social events, the great things I learned and experienced, and the terrible times, too.

ALA is huge, and getting involved in both the organization itself and its conferences (two each year!) can be daunting. But once you begin to dip your toe in the water, it can be hard to stop yourself from diving in completely. For example, much of my conference time was taken up with committee work, since I serve as a member of:

And have also just begun service on the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table’s Rainbow Book List Committee. On top of all that, I’m running for a spot this spring as an ALA Councilor-at-Large, because I believe that governance matters and that decisions are made by those who show up.

So with that said, here is my advice for how to survive an ALA (or PaLA, or any such similar) conference:

  • Drink lots of water. Bring snacks. This is general life advice, really.
  • Make time for downtime. Have lunch with friends (or friendly strangers!). Wander the exhibit hall. Take a nap if you need one.
  • Be flexible. Sometimes it makes more sense to skip a program and have a great conversation with some colleagues.
  • Be a good colleague. Remember that even though you’re not in your office and you’re having fun, you’re at a work event. This means, among other things, treating people professionally and respectfully.
  • Examine your biases. You are about to be thrown into an unfamiliar environment with a large number of people you have never met before. Be a good ally. Call out microaggressions when you see them. Make sure your BIPOC colleagues are being afforded the same courtesy and respect as you. (Learn from the mistakes made at this ALA Midwinter.)
  • Always use the microphone. Always ask others to use the microphone. Yes, even in a smaller room. Yes, even during the Q&A. It’s an accessibility issue, and an important one.

The PaLA 2019 Conference isn’t until October, but consider submitting a proposal to present – the call for presenters is open until March 15. And you don’t have to wait until the end of the year to practice these conference tips – ER&L in March and ACRL in April are particularly relevant for those of us in academic libraries.

What conference tips and advice do you have?

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