Last year, I attended my first ALA conference as a library school student, and it was an eye-opening experience. Of all the local and national librarian conferences I’ve been to, it is by far the biggest and most overwhelming. Here are some of my tips for staying on a library school student budget, networking, and more:
- Seek funding to offset your expenses. ALA’s Student to Staff program has already picked its members, but ask around at your library school for other opportunities. Are there any scholarships or grants for travel at your school? Do you know anyone you can split a hotel room with (if not, ask librarians on Twitter)?
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- ALA is not flowing with free food. To reduce your food expenses, sign up for free vendor lunches (not sure what I mean? wait until you start getting vendor emails a few weeks before the conference). These will give you a free meal AND help you learn something about a new library product. For breakfast, I recommend stopping at a local grocery store and packing muffins or breakfast bars. The ones in the convention center will cost you $3.00-$5.00 apiece. You’re pretty much on your own for dinner, but it’s not bad to have a nice dinner once in a while, especially in New Orleans. You may want to use dinner as a networking tool, even — use Twitter or other means to find some librarian dinner dates!
- Create business cards. I used Vistaprint, and it was extremely cheap. What should you put on them? See Erin Dorney’s extremely helpful post. You need to make your own networking opportunities, so don’t wait for a librarian to talk to you! I monitored Twitter for networking events, and found a Facebook/Twitter networking social at a local pub. I also found that certain round tables and committees had events like “Lunch with LIRT” – try to find out if a round table you’re interested in is doing something similar, because it’s a great way to meet librarians in your area of interest, as well as potentially give you a jump start on round table/committee work!
- If you want to take advantage of any of the ALA Placement Center’s offerings, such as the resume reviewing or career counseling, make an appointment, even if it’s not required. Trust me — everyone else made an appointment, and you’ll be waiting a while for an open one.
- If you plan to spend time in the exhibits, try to make a plan beforehand. My friend Courtney made a list of vendors she specifically wanted to visit and why, and that saved her from wandering around feeling aimless and overwhelmed (like me). When you see the exhibit hall, you will understand. Also, if you plan to take a lot of free books home, plan to ship them, or pack an extra bag or suitcase. I have friends who shipped home 4-5 boxes worth of books — you know who you are!
- Don’t be afraid to pick “fun” sessions (like author talks) over librarian sessions. I felt guilty about this sometimes, but ultimately I knew I wouldn’t get the chance to see these authors again, and there’s always a way to get your hands on a program handout if you’re resourceful — many speakers post links session presentations or handouts on Twitter and on the ALA Conference Wiki.
- Speaking of Twitter, follow the ALA hashtag whenever you can – I made many, many contacts (even in-person ones) by interacting with librarians that way.
- Finally, don’t forget to get some rest — if you stay out late, skip that early morning session. You will be SO exhausted by the end of the week if you never sleep. Sounds simple to do, but wait until you plan your ALA schedule and your New Orleans tourist schedule!
Do you have any ALA tips and tricks of your own? If you’re a first-timer, is there anything you’d like to know? Feel free to ask!