Monday, January 18, 2010

Conference debriefed

ALA Midwinter has come and gone once again, and my head is spinning after meeting so many people, absorbing so many new ideas, and just generally having a great time! Although my Monday conference plans were thwarted by six inches of wet snow early this morning, I feel like I accomplished quite a bit over the past several days. And yet, mindful of the Set Sail For Fail discussion I participated in on Sunday at the Networking Uncommons, I have the urge to examine my conference experience and see what wisdom I can offer for future ALA attendees:

1. Put everything in your planner. Even if you're only tangentially interested in something, or you are already double or triple booked for that time slot, don't omit anything from your conference schedule if you think it might be worth going to. Plan for the unexpected, and be sure to have readily-accessible options in case your day radically changes on you. Although ALA does a great job of making the information available both in print and online, trying to figure out where you should be next when you're wandering around the convention center is more difficult than you'd think.

Next time around I'm going to load up my Google Calendar with everything I might possibly want to do (and, just as important, where everything is taking place!) so I have a quick reference wherever I go...

2. Don't be afraid or serendipity. No matter how well you've planned your schedule, you'll run into a million different opportunities that you hadn't even considered before you shipped off to the convention. You'll run into a colleague you haven't seen in ages, or stumble into an interesting program in progress. I know that many of you are here for specific purposes (some of them pertaining to committee membership, some of them work-related) and there is often little margin for happenstance, but try to be open to it if you can.

Over the past several years I have swung between going to ALA with a completely open agenda and overprogramming my time here with section-related meetings and other business, but this time around I seem to have struck a nice balance between the stuff I ought to be doing and the stuff I want to do. For example, I made sure I made the time to meet up with several librarians I only know from Twitter and other virtual correspondence. Not only was it great to put names to the faces, but I can't wait to see them all again at the next conference.

3. You will not be able to do it all, but you'll love every minute of it nonetheless. Going to ALA is a lot like visiting Disney World- there is no way to ride every ride, see every show, and eat every churro. Due to the fact that the conference was in Boston this year and I needed to be mindful of both the logistics of my commute in and out of town and the fact that I had a family who wanted to see me at least once or twice during the long weekend I knew that I was going to have to make some sacrifices about what programs I could attend and how many people I could see.

Instead of obsessing about what you can't do, be sure to enjoy what you're doing! I may not have been able to see everyone I know who was at this conference, and I'm still kicking myself over some of the meetings, events, and receptions I missed, but I did a lot of things. I caught and Tweeted some excellent presentations (including LITA's Top Tech Trends), met with some excellent colleagues-- such as Andy Woodworth and JP Porcaro of and even won a $25 gift card from Barnes and Noble for sharing my sad tale of Fuzzy Bunny Fail.

Needless to see, I'm already looking forward to my next conference- safe travels to all of you who made the trip to Boston, and see you in Washington D.C. in June I hope!


Breeezy said...

Thanks for the great advice. I just attended for the first time and had a great time, but believe I could have gotten more from it. I wrote about my experiences if you want to check it out at

On a side note - I'm a Jersey exile too and I love your banner pic!

Dreadful Penny said...

Over-planning and allowing for serendipity are two conflicting impulses that work particularly well together at ALA. I got caught in the slow lane of life Saturday morning and ended up having to scrap some plans and replace them with others... it would have been helpful to have a bailout plan in place so I didn't have to scramble. Thanks for the advice!

Tom said...

Thanks to both of you for your kind words! Breezy, what part of Jersey are you from originally? I was born and raised in South Jersey, just across the river from Philly.

And yes, Penny, as odd as it sounds the combination of overplanning and flexibility is exactly what you need for a conference like ALA. I had originally planned not to come to town for Sunday's events but changed my mind at the last minute- only since I hadn't mapped Sunday out at all I was scrambling around trying to figure out what was going on when and where.

So even if you think you know what you're going to be doing, it's useful to map out Plans B, C, D, because you never know!