Student Programming at Conferences

InfoCamp Berkeley 7

by-nc-nd | Flickr User PZAO

UPDATE: We caught the attention of ALA with this one and Jenny Levine AKA The Shifted Librarian posted the following comment – we encourage everyone to submit ideas and participate in the Civics Class.

Hackers, great post. I’d like to encourage you to submit programs for the 2011 Annual Virtual Conference – there’s still time.

Also, are you planning to play along with ALA Civics Class this spring? Please say yes. I could use your feedback on the syllabus.

Jenny Levine
ALA staff


As future LIS professionals, we’re expected to attend conferences both to network and to become more familiar with our interest areas. It’s a good idea, but with most conference programming focused on those already working full-time, it can feel like our voices are getting lost. I’m writing this post to share some ideas that I have for student programming at conferences as ALA creeps ever closer. This post is also being published on the day that our student body at SLIS is hosting our first student-focused conference (more on that later!) More importantly, I want to hear from you: what is it that you look for in a conference that makes or breaks your decision to attend? What programming would help you develop as a professional, or help you explore new areas as a student?

The idea for this post came from ALA Think Tank, when Jenny Levine asked for programming suggestions for ALA’s annual virtual conference. I said I would like to see more student programming, but after posting it I realized I wanted to be more specific. What is ‘student programming,’ exactly? Obviously we can benefit greatly from a lot of the programming that is keeping people out in the field informed, but as students, we are also in a different place. Here are some of the things I’m thinking that either already exist or that I’d like to see:

  • Job hunting/PhD prep: it’s on all of our minds! ALA has some great options already (office for diversity–double check–hosts a PhD fair where you can meet folks from different programs) that I loved last year. Look up job hunting stuff. Helpful to have something focused on new job seekers fresh out of school (ie how not to get lost in the crowd).
  • Networking: conferences are a plethora of networking opportunities already. Some departments also host get togethers for attending members and alumni to network, as do some divisions/roundtables/etc. A student-specific gathering would be a great way to share advice with others in the same place to talk about student life–a IRL version of HLS!
  • Student research panels/posters: what are we doing in our classes? how about our jobs/internships? Finding ways to build on and apply this work to boosting your resume and getting some publication and presentation experience is a good thing. At our conference, presenters and posters get feedback forms from the audience to help them see how their work was received.
  • Mentoring: As we’ve mentioned here before, having real-world experience is key, and a mentor can be someone who can help show you the ropes as you learn more about the field and your place in it. The downside? Mentoring can be hit or miss (see some of the commentary included in Micah’s post coming later today) and doesn’t always give you the experience you hoped for. I wonder if ALA’s various divisions, roundtables, etc. might be more inclined to offer mentoring opportunities if there was a clearly understood ‘contract’ for what both parties wanted. For example, something as simple as having potential mentors and students interested in mentoring each fill out a form. For mentors, this could be something outlining their areas of expertise and what activities or events they are interested in sharing with a student, while students could say what they want to learn about/see/do and what areas of librarianship they are most interested in.

Also, the HLS crew has been talking about having a get-together or going as a group to certain events during ALA Annual. Readers–what do YOU want from this? Formal/informal, a certain type of venue, etc. Let us know!

Categories: Conferences

11 replies

  1. I vote for a meet up at ALA annual (it’s my first!). I’m bringing a formal, but also appreciate opportunities to get out and see New Orleans in a group (not ready to travel solo as a female…)


  2. I would also like to see some more informal social actives sponsored by ALA (or whichever conference is at hand). Networking sessions can be very intimidating and hard, particularly when you don’t have a lot of experience doing it. Schmoozing during a luncheon, dance party, bar night, live music, theme night, film showing etc is much more approachable and something many grad students already do among their peers. Why can’t you have fun while meeting people? When I was an intern at a convention center in high school, Novell (one of our clients) hired Reverend Horton Heat for the last night of the convention and it was really the highlight of their conference.


    • Lauren these kinds of things definitely happen at ALA! There are dance parties, bar nights, dine-arounds, live music, etc… If you want to see these things happen you should check out the ALA Think Tank page on FB where we are putting this stuff together without the ALA. Its a kind of Hack ALA page. Check it out and #makeithappen


    • Definitely what Patrick said, but also a lot of these after-hours events are listed in the ALA conference planner. Your favorite divisions/round tables/et cetera are probably hosting at least one lunch/dinner/happy hour/meetup, and they are great; I owe a lot of my networking success to LITA happy hour (early evening, Friday).


      • I agree! I didn’t take advantage of all the awesome ALA attendees had to offer outside of the conference when I went last year, but I’m definitely planning on it in June! I know there’s a dance party this year, and I’m sure Ill find out about tons of other exciting things in the next few months.


      • Hmm, interesting that there are so many of these events, but I didn’t hear of a single one during the last Annual conference!

        I specifically looked for events like this on my own, on the Conference website, simple Googling, searched for a D.C. Desk Set equivalent…couldn’t find a single event! Not sure if that’s my own poor searching or if it just indicates that these events get buried in the ALA madness.


  3. Re mentoring: IIRC there is exactly such a form on ALA Connect, and I filled it out and nothing ever happened. (Sigh.)

    I also want to make a contrary point here — student programming is great and welcome — but when I went to my first ALA (in Boston, while I was a Simmons student, so lots of us went) I saw that many students roved around in packs and never talked to anyone who wasn’t a student, and this severely limits your networking opportunities. I spent some time in a student-pack, and that was fun, but for most of the conference I struck out on my own, and got to meet all kinds of people with way more experience from whom I have learned a ton. Of course student events will draw people from a variety of schools, so that helps on the meeting-new-people front, but I think truly winning at conferences includes going outside your sphere, whatever that sphere is.

    Student programming straddles a fine line between welcome and ghettoization, I guess I’m saying.


    • This is a really good point you make–I wonder what the best way is to balance programming that addresses student needs while also pushing us a bit out of our bubble to interact with everyone else in the wide world of LIS! Maybe programming such as a panel discussion to give people exposure to navigating the job market that includes time to network with the panelists or others (who would presumably be out in the field in various capacities). Definitely one to think on!


    • That’s a really good point, you don’t want to box yourself in. This is going to be my first big conference and I’m afraid of roaming around all alone! I guess I’ll have to break out of my shell, or get a big button that says TALK TO ME. 🙂


    • We need a balance. People shouldn’t just hang out in student packs. Networking, breaking out of your bubbles, and discovering new opportunities is an amazing part of attending a conference. There is also a fine line between being empowered and ghettoized especially at an event as big as ALA.

      At the same time ALA is a perfect time to organize and educated students around the structural problems in library education. We can share experiences and come up with solutions to our problems. I think we should be remiss if we didn’t do something that was centered around helping students out at ALA.


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