PLA 2020 in “Music City” is just around the corner! For many in the LIS field, conferences full of thousands of people can be an overwhelming yet necessary experience. This conference is especially beneficial for those who have not decided on which type of library they would like to work in, as it provides an extensive look at what public libraries do. I had the pleasure of going to PLA 2018 in Philadelphia. As far as I know, no library school program has a “Conference Attending 101” elective, so here are some tips I learned through my PLA adventure.
(Disclaimer: I was fortunate enough to attend PLA 2018 for work and did not have to worry about most expenses. For tips on cost saving, check out this HLS post specifically about budgets.)
Registering is the first big step of any conference. I personally purchase student memberships for various professional organizations, including PLA, for the magazines, listservs, or newsletters that come with memberships. Additionally, conference registration costs are cheaper for members. Full-time library school students have the benefit of reduced cost during the Advanced registration period, but the same isn’t listed as an option for part-time students. A membership with PLA helps offset the cost for part-time students during the Early Bird registration period. If you aren’t already a member, you can become a member while registering.
Take notes during or after each program! I tell myself I have an excellent memory, but being in a conference center in a new city is already overwhelming. I took notes during programs on a laptop and then added final thoughts after. If writing out notes by hand makes it easier to remember, that’s great, but consider scanning or typing them out later. These digital notes will also make it easier to share your experience with those who were unable to attend, or with colleagues who went to other programs.
Speaking of programs, know that it is absolutely okay to leave in the middle of one. By the time the conference starts, you should hopefully have a tentative plan of programs you want to attend. There will also be last minute program cancellations that will throw a wrench in your plans. Unfortunately, too many amazing programs are offered at the same time and you will have to choose which ones to attend. If a program starts and it isn’t what you expected, quietly exit the room and see if you can find a spot at one of your alternate options. On a related note, dress in layers, as each room has its own climate.
Be prepared to network…or not. If networking is not one of your goals, try to find programs with limited interaction, as some require talking with the people around you or group work at tables. Each program description should show a level of interaction in the “Learning Format” section. If you are ready to network, look for higher levels of interaction, take business cards, and have an updated digital resumé ready to go. Check with your program to see if there’s a list of vendors with rights to use school logos on student business cards. If someone hands you a business card, jot down a summary of your discussion right on the card so you can properly follow up with them later.
Take some time to explore the city. The weather in Philadelphia was terrible for most of the conference, but it seems like Nashville will be safe from any major snowstorms. Like I mentioned before, conferences can be exhausting, and finding a quiet place to grab a cup of coffee or experiencing the nightlife is a great way to recharge for the next day.
Finally, while this will most likely not happen to you, be prepared to track down TSA Lost and Found information, just in case you leave your belongings at security. One of the most stressful work experiences occurred after reaching into my bag at the Denver airport and not feeling my work laptop. This was a major downer to my experience, but overall, the conference showed me that public libraries are my preferred library to be in.
For other conference perspectives and tips, check out the “conferences” category of HLS.
Conrrado is an online MLIS student at the University of Washington iSchool and an Adult Services Specialist at the Natrona County Library.