[Series] Hack ALA: Professional Preparations

Calico cat laying in my briefcase

by Michael Beck under CC license via Flickr.

Editor’s Note: This follows in a series of posts in our annual Hack ALA Week dedicated to all things conference-y and professional. As students, it’s important to get your feet wet in the LIS professional world early, and as often as your budget allows. While these posts are ALA Annual-themed, much of the advice can be applied to other professional networking situations.

It’s time to get yourself ready to attend ALA or whatever other conference or professional networking event you have on the books for this summer.

Sometimes preparations before the event take as much time and are just as important as attending itself. You can review some of our previous posts about what to wear, attending without attending, and conference planning for some great general tips and information for surviving a conference —  and we probably don’t need to tell you to plan your sessions early so you have ample time to research presenters or sessions you definitely want to see.

Conferences are not only about taking in new new information, they are an invaluable networking space. Here are some prepatory hacks with an eye on networking and professional development to get you ready to confidently hit the conference floor.

Business Cards

There was a twitter discussion which thoughtfully included HLS recently about business cards and the result was yes, they are still valuable and desirable to have. You don’t want to be that guy/girl littering every hand with a business card but you do want to have them at the ready. It isn’t too late to get some printed for ALA and they don’t have to be expensive. You can even get blanks at your local office supply store to print at home.

Dave Delaney has some good quick tips for a better biz card; I particularly liked his ideas to have whitespace for the receiver to make their own notes and possibly include a picture. As a student, you probably want to include your institution name, degree sought and expected graduation date. At the least they should look professional and have your current contact information.

Update Everything

Speaking of contact points, have you updated your professional documents and public profiles recently? Hopefully you will be making lots of new contacts and connections and you don’t want to send them to an outdated website with an old resume. Now is the time to polish, proofread (again) and prep your professional accoutrement including your…

  • Resume
  • Cover letter
  • List of references and recommendation letters
  • A drafted follow-up contact email (“Hello XYZ, It was so great to speak with you at ALA…)
  • ePortfolio (you do have an eportfolio right?)
  • Professional website
  • LinkedIn profile
  • Twitter Account (including your avatar and bio)

It also might be the time to scrub your Facebook or other social media sites of anything that might raise eyebrows to a potential employer or peer — the former will almost certainly check and it is best to know how you appear to the outside world.

Start the conversation early

Twitter is a powerful tool before and during conferences. Follow #ala12, @alaannual and of course @hacklibschool for all the latest updates (if you don’t have a Twitter account you should strongly consider getting one but you can also access in any web browser). Also, never underestimate a conference buddy! Post in your school’s Facebook group or ListServe, and talk about attending in class to find out who else might be going. You shouldn’t only spend time with those you know but it helps to walk into a room with one familiar face, for information sharing and you can also divide and conquer conflicting sessions.

While you are on LinkedIn updating your profile with your most recent experience, have you joined the ALA group? They sent out some great information this past week specifically for job seekers.Did you know you can get a “Librarian for Hire!” ribbon at the JobLIST Placement Center to put on your badge? And – shout out to Anaheim locals! – there are free resources if you are attending the conference or not. ALA also has its own resource of professional networking hacks for new librarians also for non-attendees and attendees alike. If you are going, make sure to get yourself ready to check out the exhibitors hall and the Networking Uncommons.

Keep calm with your carry on?

Finally, what will you pack and what will you pack it in? While a suit is likely overkill for a conference, you should be thinking about what you plan to wear. Will you depend on the likely conference bag giveaway or do you need to bring/buy a suitable conveyance for your stuff? Will you use a notebook, laptop, iPad, Phone etc for note taking? It is good to start thinking though these logistics so packing is a breeze and you have what you need when you arrive (don’t forget pens!).

Hopefully the hacks herein are good notes and reminders for all of us to get our professional lives in order — you never know who you are going to meet so best always to be prepared! Tune in for the rest of the week as we tackle more on ALA12 and beyond.

Did I miss anything? Something unneeded or unclear? Let us hear about it in the comments!

PS – if you missed it yesterday, be sure to check out our recommended sessions and events for ALA12. Also of important note: You should definitely come by and say hi at the Hacklibschool / Library Boing Boing Meetup on Sunday evening and our Conversation Starter is June 23rd — you can still add your voice/question here even if you wont be attending. 

20 replies

  1. Excellent tips Joanna! I actually have 2 sets of business cards. One that’s my personal card (more fun) and another that’s from my job (more businesslike).

    We’re all excited to meet our readers so if you see us, be sure to stop and say hi!


    • Thanks Annie! That is a great idea for dual cards – they are relatively inexpensive so why not?
      Challenge to readers at ALA: Find Annie and get one of her “personal” cards. I wish I was going to be there so I could play too!
      In all seriousness, I do hope it is a very enjoyable conference for everyone, you learn a ton and you make lots of great professional and personal connections.


  2. Thank you for the great ideas!

    As a new SLIS student, I was also new to conferences and networking, so I reluctantly had business cards made when it was suggested. Wow, I was surprised how handy they were. Now that I’ve attended a few, I keep a pen handy to write a note on the back to help me remember the person when I follow up. I also had separate ones made with a different contact info for vendors to reduce spam and unwanted mail, something I wish I had thought of before ALA NOLA.

    While on Twitter, I discovered about.me pages and made one for myself. I made a QR code for it and printed them two to an address label and cut them to put them on the back of my card. The about.me page can contain links to all your professional online accounts and is easy to personalize and update. You’re welcome to check mine out: http://about.me/vkingsland

    I hope everyone has a wonderful time!


    • Great notes, Valerie, thank you!
      It is great to hear from someone who uses a QR code and about.me (your page is lovely).
      I especially like your idea of having a different card for vendors to keep those communications separate and of course that pen to make your own notes.
      Thanks again!


  3. A spare cell phone battery or an external portable power charger will be a lifesaver. Your phone will inevitably die when you really need directions to some distant hotel- be prepared!


      • I’ll add that you should consider a dual charger that charges two USB devices at the same time. Also, a small extension cord.

        Power outlets are few and far between at conferences and airports, so share the power and make a new friend while you’re at it. 😉


        • Indeed! Actually that was my second thought: even if you don’t end up needing the cord/charger you could be a lifesaver to someone else. Thanks Dave for chiming in!


    • Remembered two more hacks:
      1) if possible get business cards with one side NOT glossy. People like to write where they met you on them. MOO cards are pretty, but also glossy. And I learned this advice from Patty Wong: sort all your business cards in a binder. You never know when you might need them!

      2) Try to wear your name badge high like a name tag. It prevents the awkward-glance-down when someone’s trying to read your name/location.


      • Another excellent 2 Chis.
        I read that about wearing your name badge high recently and it is very good advice and something I hadn’t thought about before. Thanks for remembering and swinging back by to share!


  4. Another note on business cards — I like to keep a few of mine in the back of my name badge holder for easy access. Otherwise I have to awkwardly dig around in my purse.


  5. Thank you for including my business card tips Joanna.
    I just launched my new blog dedicated to networking, so I hope you find more valuable content there too.

    Now to read the comments here… Keep up the great work.


  6. Thanks for the great tips! As an ALA newbie, I’m feeling a little better prepared after reading this post. Now I know to keep my cell phone cord in my bag, to bring along my Belken mini surge protector to make friends, and to be sure to wear my name badge in a non-awkward location. And if I bump into any of you while we’re all there, I’ll have my business cards ready!


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