The Road to ALA ’11: LIS Student Tips and Tricks

{This post is largely derived from these posts on my blog — for more detail on my ALA ’10 experiences, check them out!}

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)?

Click through for more!!

  • 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!

27 replies

  1. I’m currently sitting at the iConference Information Desk and I just want to reiterate the point about free food now being available. Several people approached me wondering about food this morning — and there isn’t food. I was happy to see a couple of people with some goodies in their bags. Smart cookies! Pack snacks!


  2. Just got this email and thought it was very timely and worth posting:

    Broke, Young*, and Thirsty
    *Young= an individual (of any age) who is new (within 3 years) to IRRT

    Scraping the money together so you can go to the 2011 ALA Annual Conference is hard work. Maybe you recently joined International Relations Round Table. Chances are, after all that scraping, you’re thirsty. Chances are, you’ve heard about the exclusive parties that take place after the conference sessions close. Chances are, broke librarians rarely make it on the A-list.

    That’s about to change.

    One of the most popular ‘after hours’ events is the International Librarians Reception. People from all over the world attend, who, just like you, scraped up enough money to get to the Annual Conference . The IRRT is giving away 25 tickets to young* members who volunteer three hours at the International Welcome Center or attend the International Orientation/Mentoring Program on Friday, June 24, 2011. Chances are, a few hours of your time will turn into the time of your life.

    To apply for a ticket, send your name, institution affiliation, title, and email address to before 3/4/2011 5:00 pm CST.

    Winners will be notified on 4/4/2011. Chances are, you’ll still be broke and young*, but maybe not as thirsty!


  3. Hi Lauren – Thanks for the shout-out! I am absolutely loving the hacklibraryschool blog. What a great resource. I wholeheartedly second your advice about choosing some fun sessions – try something outside of your comfort zone, you might come away with some fabulous new ideas. 🙂


    • And we at HackLibSchool love Library Scenester! 🙂 I couldn’t agree more about trying something out of your comfort zone – I did that for several events last year and loved it!


  4. I asked this on Twitter today, but I want to ask here, too. Have any of you started using QR Codes on your resumes or business cards? What sort of reactions have you gotten? How are people using the information?

    We had the option to put a QR code on the back of business cards earlier in the year. I didn’t do it, but I’m thinking I might look into it now.


    • Heidi – I had considered putting a QR code on my (non-existent) card, and then decided I will probably not. For some reason I just get the sense that QR is something that might not have the staying power we all hope it might. How often have you actually scanned a QR? Maybe once or twice for fun?

      To be honest, a friend of mine had a card that was just his name, in big bold font. MIKE TUTEN. Kinda haughty maybe (he’s a tattoo artist), but since anyone who wants to contact you will probably look you up anyways, all they might need should be a name to Google.

      As I’m a fan of minimalism, I say less is more. Name, Email, “Information Professional.” Or we could all go watch that scene from American Psycho and take notes. 😉


      • I see your point, Micah. I also think less is more…usually. When I was volunteering at the iConference today, I saw some major networking going on and people were scanning QR codes! My worlds (Twitter and real life) collided! I think it worked well for them because they were all chatting (and texting) while grabbing coffee, so it worked to scan the code.

        On the other hand, I have Googled myself and I’m pretty easy to find, so maybe if I can make an impression with a catchy card, I’ll be okay without the code.

        Plus, I’d rather my phone and my new networking opporutnity’s phone be in our pockets so we can shake hands and make eye contact. I like to think that’s still worth SOMETHING!

        So much to consider! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  5. Great advice! I’m looking forward to my first year at ALA but will probably be paying for things with student loans I’ve set aside, or putting any tax return money towards it. Looking for scholarships, too, but boy do they seem rare or oddly complicated.

    As far as being a first-timer…hmm…what about what kind of clothes to pack? I was thinking business casual, dress-in-layers, etc. Any reason to have a suit jacket or heels?

    Any liveblogging to follow or to get involved with? It’d be great to *participate* and not just passively consume.


    • Ooooh! What to wear??? That is such a good question! I do not have a good answer. Personally, I dress business-casual. It is definitely going to be hot in New Orleans. I’d suggest professional-looking skirts, and definitely layers. You’ll want something to cover up with in the air-conditioned convention center.

      And wear comfy shoes! If I wore heels, I’d end up in the ER before I even stood up!

      I hope other people have “what to wear” thoughts!


      • Such a great question! I agree with Heidi on layers. Last year at ALA in DC it was HOT! I brought two really simple sleeveless/business casual dresses from H&M that were cheap and breathable and in black and a mauve or something. Then I just brought nice cardigans to put on when I was actually inside the convention hall where there was AC always pumping out.

        For shoes I actually just did my nicer Naot sandals. I was worried that would be too casual but it seemed fine. I mean I wasn’t interviewing or anything but I felt like for the networking I did that I was dressed totally appropriately, for the conference and the crazy heat!


    • This is a great question, and one that people could never satisfactorily answer for me before I went. Business casual and layers are definitely two key concepts to keep in mind. Both Heidi and Nicole’s suggestions are great. I was in New Orleans last summer for SLA, and it was chilly inside the convention center, and “sweat pouring down your face I need a shower just from walking outside hot.” At SLA, I was fortunate enough to not have to leave the convention center until the day’s sessions were over, but ALA will be spread out to nearby hotels, too. So definitely dress in layers, and overall, just look nice and presentable. I wouldn’t wear jeans except to social events (as lib school students near graduation, it behooves us to make a nice impression), but you will see tons of people wearing jeans or who are dressed more casually than you. The key is to look “nice” and feel comfortable and confident. I would DEFINITELY skip the heels unless you can dance in them like Beyonce. You will walk and stand until your feet want to fall off.


    • Oh, and I’m not actually sure about liveblogging. I don’t *think* so, but I could be wrong. I followed #ala10 on Twitter whenever possible and that was very helpful. You definitely can and should add your own thoughts there, and use the hashtag #ala11! I don’t know how much other librarians are still using Foursquare, but I saw a lot of that last year, and it probably facilitated a few meet ups.


    • Hi Melody. This’ll be my first ALA too, but not my first conference. Expect a future post from us on practicalities like how to dress, etc. Also, We’ll be doing a “HLS Approved ALA Sessions, Live Blogs and Meetups (and Afterparties!)” post right before the conference. Keep checking in! As for money, did you see Julia’s post from a few days ago?

      I’d highly recommend you meander over to Profhacker and search “Conferences.” They’ve done more than a few posts answering a lot of those types of questions.

      I tend to be on the casual, casual side, but seeing as I’m trying to be “super marketable” and get my dream job, I might get dressy. Comfort is key, as you’ll be out most of the day, walking, standing, etc. I hear cardigans, thick-framed classes and moo-moos are the librarian staple, so you could always go with that!

      The official hashtag is #ala11, and that will probably be the best way to stay involved/plugged in to whats going on. Tip: carry your phone charger with you throughout the day. A dead phone is worthless for tweeting, texting or QR code scanning.

      Should we do a “How to dress” post here at HLS?


      • Oh, and I’ll state this now and right up front: I am done with shaving for interviews. I’m in training for the National Beard and Mustache Championships in Lancaster, PA in September, so whoever hires me will do so based on my skills and qualifications and the beard comes with that package. So THERE!


      • Glad the how-to-dress question is on other people’s minds, too! I’ve worked more conferences than I’ve attended as a participant, so suit jackets, heels, pinstripe pencil skirts are what my mind jumps to first. I get terribly cold in conference centers, so a jacket of any kind is welcome over something with short or no sleeves. I cannot wait for that “sweat pouring down your face” kind of hot, Lauren! The conference being in New Orleans was a big draw.

        Micah, I *did* read Julia’s post on the funding question. My next step is to approach my state library association. It’s not obvious who to contact with inquiries, tho. John at ALA membership services was really responsive and helpful with my scholarship questions, so ALA is doing good there. I think a general tip list might be a helpful post, like you all are planning, rather than a how-to-dress post specifically. The dress question is all wrapped up in that presenting yourself professionally topic. Like your beard conundrum, how does one exude professionalism when others have a bias against something that makes you you?

        Thank you all for your input!


  6. I posted a “Lessons Learned” blog post here from my experience at ALA 201 here in DC –

    Going to a big conference can be overwhelming. The dressing part was difficult. I ended up bringing an extra pair of shoes in my bag (they give you a free tote bag ;). Also, carry a water bottle around at all times. And read the manual they post on ALA’s website with all the conferences…it is huge, but it is good to have all your sessions planned out when you go. That is the only additional advice I have, to add to the already great advice given here.


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