by Joanna June
If you are new to your LIS program, you’re probably just trying to get your feet under you (as I was a year ago). Old hands are re-acclimating to the familiar not-enough-hours-in-the-day feeling and we are all looking at due dates, reading lists and task lists with dread.
For the first time or the 10th, you might be drowning in a sea of acronyms and the thought of adding ALA, MLA, SLA, or AMIA seems like it will shortcircuit your brain. Believe me, though, the effort of finding a good conference and then attending is going to save you tons of time, energy and even money in the long run.
It is worth it to add this to-do to your plate in a place of priority. Hack Library School has published some great resources for hacking a conference, particularly the Grandaddy of them all: ALA (here, here, here and here). Even if you can’t make it to Anaheim this summer, you ought start planning to attend at least one LIS conference in the next year. Let me explain my experience.
I was the one who knew what they wanted to do when she grew up: work on Sesame Street. TV was “it” for me. That is, until it wasn’t. A strange confluence of events brought me to LIS and I thought that after getting an MLIS I’d either work in a traditional library or in a media center of a school.
In my first semester of my distance learning program I was overwhelmed by the new vernacular and issues of LIS. I wanted to meet some fellow librarians/archivists face-to-face and was lured to the Florida Library Association conference because one of my favorite (guilty pleasure) authors Tim Dorsey was the guest speaker. Plus the meeting was in Orlando so I had friends to stay with and visit so it was low-wallet-impact.
I wasn’t entirely wowed overall but at FLA I heard a rousing and thought provoking keynote from R. Dave Lankes, was able to make contact with a few professors and fellow students, and attended a number of interesting sessions that slowly seeped me in current library language and issues. In total, valuable experience but I had two additional huge takeaways.
There is no replacement for one-on-one contact with potential employers and mentors.
I can say with certitude that meeting one professor at FLA resulted in landing a stellar year-long internship in Florence, Italy. There was hustle and work after the initial contact but that one meeting made the cost of FLA attendance completely worth it.
Not only is association membership a good line for your resume, think about the time when you are or will be drafting a cover letter for a position with 500 other applicants. How much more will you be able to stand out if you are able to include “we spoke at XYZ actually about…” or “I participated in your break-out session on ABC and was particularly impressed by your thoughts on…” or even “at ALA I attended numerous sessions on ZYX and am excited to bring the ideas learned there to this position by…”
The education you get at a conference is one your classes can’t give you.
At FLA I discovered that despite my ideas of small-town librarianship, I don’t want to be a public librarian or even a school librarian. The issues are interesting to me academically but the day-in-and-day-out job description, as felt by session topics and related by conversations with other attendees, is not compelling. I have the utmost respect for school and community librarians, all the more because I know that isn’t for me.
How much time, money, effort, and frustration did that one weekend save me? I came back and switched my concentration to something I’m enjoying much more. I joined AMIA and found a volunteer/intern opportunity to learn more hands-on. I had plans to go to their conference which fell through but I’m getting a good deal of information from the newsletter and listserv (benefits of my student membership) and know that I’m on the right path.
You owe it to yourself and your future career. I hear that specialized conferences are even better in terms of networking and education. From ALA chapters, to various special library meetings, to the myriad of state conferences, there is likely a conference close to you which wouldn’t require too much monetary or travel investment – particularly as it is significantly cheaper to be a member and attendee when you are a student.
Un-conferences and webinars are great but there is no substitute for in-person contact. So get thee to a conference!