Why you should register for a conference ASAP

Zombie Frommelt badgeHere we are in the second month of the semester and 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 has published some great resources for hacking a conference, particularly the Grandaddy of them all ALA (herehere, 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 through 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 2 additional huge takeaways.

There is no replacement for one-on-one contact with potential employers and mentors.

Meeting one professor at FLA I can say with certitude 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 coverletter 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 different and 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 topis 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 then? 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 listserve (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!

Photo via Flickr under CC license by HighEdWeb.

Agree? Disagree and think conferences are a waste of time? Please voice your thoughts below. If you had a particularly strong reaction to a specific conference, I’m sure others would appreciate a recommendation or warning.

35 replies

  1. Major problem: $$$. Registration, lodging, travel, and meals add up significantly.

    That, and I don’t work in a library, so it’s personal vacation time used up for me to attend a conference.

    I love librarianship, and want to be an amazing librarian someday, but I’m not going to break the bank to participate in an extracurricular.

    I have attended a Reforma conference and my state library assocation conference and learned a few new ideas, etc. I would love to attend PLA, ALA or a regional library conference, but money’s a killer. I’d love to see some advice for seeking out funding to attend these conferences.


    • I agree — even places relatively closeby sometimes have prohibitive registration fees. Many smaller conferences offer scholarships for students, but getting money at larger ones like ALA or even state-wide library conferences is challenging.


    • I agree, and completely empathize – money and time off can be major obstacles in attending conferences as a student. I managed to attend 5 conferences as a library school student – ALLA (Alabama Library Association), ALA, SLA, Mississippi State Emerging Technologies Summit (another great local conference), and the Military Libraries Workshop.

      My tips are: 1. definitely look into local conferences. Not only are they better for networking, they’re better for your budget. I presented two posters at the ALLA conference, the registration fees were waived (same at the MSU Tech Summit, since I presented a poster there too), and I stayed with a friend who lived in that city.
      2. Look into any small travel stipends your program may offer. To attend the local conference mentioned above, I got a small travel grant (which I applied for) because I was presenting a poster. I also got a small travel grant from the state chapter of SLA for being president of student SLA (which wasn’t automatic – a good friend/colleague went to bat for me). Every little bit helps!
      3. If at all possible, find someone to stay with – either for free, or to split hotel room costs. I was extremely lucky – for every single conference I attended as a student, I stayed with someone for free. Librarians (and good friends) are amazing that way!
      4. I only paid airfare for one of those conferences, and I used travel points I’d been saving up (for about 3 years) on my credit card. So I got a free flight.
      5. See if you can serve as an intern at a conference. Thanks to networking at SLA ’10, I got to attend the Military Libraries Workshop as a student intern, waiving the registration fee. That was their first year to have interns, and thanks to me and my fellow intern, they set up an all expenses paid student internship for each subsequent conference.

      I still had to pay for food, gas, and other expenses for these conferences, which do add up, but what I got out of these experiences was invaluable. I wholeheartedly agree with Joanna’s post – if you can someone get there, it will be so worth it. Best of luck!


      • Wonderful Tips Lauren!
        Thank you so much for your insights and how-tos. You actually posted just about every idea I had in response to JP — I hear you and Rebecca that can be an an expensive proposition but in my mind the value outweighs the cost.
        I completely agree on trying to stay local – particularly if you plan to stay in that area when you graduate. If you do travel, couch surfing and hostels are a cheap/free option if you don’t know anybody in a city. You can see if there are others in your program who want to go to split hotel and gas. As Lauren mentioned, interning is a possible entree. If the conference is local or close, call the organization and ask if they have any scholarships and if not if they would be willing to allow you to work the registration desk in exchange for conference attendance (maybe if you promise not to eat!)
        My greater encouragement was to make it a priority and find the time and resources to make it happen. As my experience and Lauren’s shows – it is valuable – and it will only be more expensive when you aren’t a student anymore.
        Where there is a will there is a way,


  2. I cannot agree more with the importance of attending conferences. However, I feel small, local conferences are much more conducive for networking than the large, national conferences. The smaller conferences allow you to network with local professionals, and the smaller size really allows for collaboration and conversation. Whereas the giant conference halls of the national gatherings can be a bit overwhelming and daunting. Plus – the smaller conferences are cheaper and way easier to get to.

    Here is Oregon I have attended the National PLA conference in 2010, as well as the OLA conference, Oregon Virtual Reference Summit, Oregon Information Literacy Summit and InfoCamps both in Portland and Seattle – and the local conference were heads and shoulders more influential, inspiring and comfortable than the giant national conference.

    Ironically – today is Online Northwest, a favorite local technical conference. I wish that I could be there, but trying to follow along on twitter with the hashtag #onw12…


  3. I cannot stress enough how valuable conferences are for networking, especially the local ones and state ones. I have been able to get involved with the Washington Library Association over the last couple years and the contacts I’ve been able to make and the advice I’ve gotten has been stellar. On the note of budgets.. Yes, conferences can be expensive. I have also seen that the opportunities for scholarships to attend are out there, ESPECIALLY for Library School students. A lot of the times, all it takes it the time to apply. Another option would be to get involved with planning the conference itself – of you have the time, I know.. Sometimes conference committee members are able to get “perks” when it comes to registration, lodging or meals. Never hurts to ask.


    • All very good ideas Brianna, thanks! Your insights, particularly to get involved with the planning committees and such are wise. I can imagine that pays even stronger dividends in terms of networking and gaining valuable experience and knowledge — plus it is a way of giving back to the community which is its own reward!


  4. Thanks for the advice that’s kickstarting my adventure into LIS. I wanted to say hello at the “mother of all conventions”, but Annie said you were on a Tweet mission.


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