3 Lessons learned at my first library conference

At the beginning of this month, Computers in Libraries descended upon the Washington DC area, taking up residence at the Washington Hilton hotel for the better part of a week. I was particularly excited to attend, not only because I live in the area, but also because this is, my first official conference attendance as an almost-librarian. I had no idea what to expect, but there were a few things I learned.


Lesson One: Know what you want out of the conference, and have a plan to get it.

Since “computers in libraries,” in the most broad sense, is my area of study, I was interested in learning as much as possible. However, it quickly became obvious that of the five similarly themed tracks, I would not be able to attend every single session. Nor were all the tracks necessarily of interest or relevant to me.

Lucky for me,  I was attending CIL with a group of coworkers. We all met up at the beginning of each day and decided how we would divide up the sessions. Between us, we were able to cover most of the content of the conference and share our knowledge over lunch and coffee breaks throughout the day. In addition, some sessions were recorded and available for streaming online. This added convenience made it much easier to choose which session to go to.

Lesson Two: Oracles do not attend conferences.

I went into most of the sessions thinking, “Wow, this sounds amazing! And interesting! I can’t wait!” Only to find myself thinking by the end, “Hmm that wasn’t quite what I expected it to be…”

I went into most sessions being interested in the subject matter, and having an idea about what would be presented. And naturally, no one read my mind and gave the presentation that I was expecting, or talked about situations relevant to me. While interesting, how should I apply lessons learned about academic libraries making the transition to online textbooks? Or how to create dynamic digital library displays in non-traditional spaces?

These specific situations don’t apply to me currently, but perhaps I could remember the methods librarians used to work with faculty, as I hope to work in an academic setting eventually. I may not be creating digital displays, but hearing about what others have done in that area enriches my knowledge on the subject.

When you attend a conference, you have to figure out how to apply what you’ve learned from others. Presenters come to show you their problems and solutions. While I feel this should have been more obvious to me, I went in expecting to hear what I wanted to hear. Lesson learned!

Lesson Three: Engage accidentally, and on purpose.

I’m pretty introverted (surprise, surprise) and didn’t think I would do very well meeting new people. However, I happened to be wearing my University of Iowa fleece jacket (I’m a native Iowan) and immediately caught the attention of a librarian who works for the Ames Public Library (Ames, Iowa). Later on in the exhibit hall, I ran into a librarian working at the University of Iowa. And in the restroom, of all places, I met another librarian who works in the DC metro area but got her MLIS from the U of I. A sweater that gets me little to no attention on a day-to-day basis in the DC metro got me a lot of contacts at the conference!

Even if you are introverted like myself, at these conferences you are likely to run into a lot of like-minded people who share similar interests, which makes engaging others much easier. And if you are uncomfortable approaching others, that’s okay! It’s just as likely that someone a little more social than yourself will start the conversation.

For me, the biggest takeaway is to go into a conference with an open, spongy mind. Take in as much as you can, apply relevant bits to what you are doing now, and archive the rest away in your very organized librarian brain for future use.

Want to read more about hackers’ conference experience? Whether it’s conference anxiety, conference award applications or networking, we’ve got you covered.

Photo from Pexels used under Creative Commons License.

5 replies

  1. At my first SAA conference, I wore my yellow pants. A few people stopped me in order to tell me they liked my pants. One of the people who stopped me is now running for SAA council. So clothing cab be a great conversation starter.


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