My experience at last year’s ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC, was guided by the 2 credit course I took with Scott Nicholson, IST 600: Leadership and Organizations. Scott gave us some tips and required us to meet with a leader in the field at the conference. I met with Sari Feldman, Executive Director of the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library, who has since been elected PLA vice-president.
Another perk of having taken that course in preparation for the ALA Annual Conference was that hotel accommodations were included with participation in the course.
Friday, June 22
I got to the hotel later than expected. There was a mix up from either the university or the hotel, but all was well 20 minutes later. One thing I didn’t do, as others suggest as well, is to check hotel reservations prior to arriving.
When I arrived, I met my roommate, Dawn Cadogan, shortly after making it to my room. We went to the Washington Convention Center via the metro to get our badge holders (and Dawn’s badge).
When we got there, we discovered that many, many, many people had the same idea. It was crowded, but the lines moved quickly. There must’ve been hundreds of people ahead of me, but it took less than 15 minutes to get to the head of the line. Once I got there, I was greeted warmly and taken care of quickly.
By that point, it was already late and we were hungry. We entertained the thought of going to the Film and Libraries program, but our hunger won out. Near the registration booths, Dawn, her coworker, and I found another booth we put to great use. ALA offered dining suggestions. We asked the lady behind the booth where we could find good food at decent prices, and we were directed towards Chinatown. (It was really helpful as none of us knew our way around DC.)
We went out to eat at Tony Cheng’s in Chinatown (right near the Convention Center), and by the time we were done, it was too late for the film program. We wandered around Chinatown for a while and then came back to our hotel.
Saturday, June 23
Saturday was my first day fully immersed in the conference. As a newbie, I found myself overwhelmed by the size of it all. Upon entering the Washington Convention Center early Saturday morning, I was truly impressed and intimidated by the number of people in the building, keeping in mind that the convention center was one of many locations for the conference.
The first thing I decided to do was attend the ACRL 101 program for first-time ALA conference attendees, and I am glad I did. The program was designed as an introductory course for people interested in both ACRL and the conference itself. I found the presentation informative and inviting. After an introduction to ACRL and all that it offers, Louise Sherby, an ACRL Representative to the 2007 and 2008 ALA Conference Program Coordinating Team, and Julia Gelfand, Past Chair of the ACRL Science and Technology Section, attempted to give us newbies some advice for tackling the conference. Ms. Sherby gave us advice on choosing programs to attend. Ms. Gelfand spoke of creating a strategy for tackling the exhibitions: choosing specific booths to visit from the handbook or visiting in an organized way.
My next program for the day was Teen Graphic Novels: Maintaining Your Collection for Maximum Impact!, sponsored by PLA and YALSA. It was great. There were four panelists, three young adult librarians and one young adult collections specialist: Angela J. Reynolds, Robin Brenner, Michael Pawuk, and Todd Krueger, respectively. Another librarian, Anne Leon, was on the panel asking questions, so the session had fluidity. They all came from different places, and two of the four were fan-people (fans of graphic novels). Those two wrote books about the subject. The session was organized and the panelists were well-prepared. Robin Brenner made some goods points. One of which was that not all comics are for children; there are different comics for different maturity levels. Some patrons are unaware of this and give YA librarians a hard time about it. Todd Krueger claimed that it is vital to have an adult collection of graphic novels if you are to create a collection; it is the easiest way to avoid challenges to the collection. The panelists talked about manga as a culture shift — more explicit than “normal” comics. Americans, especially parents, are wary to the idea of nudity, and don’t understand its place in manga because of the culture difference. At the end of the session, they opened the panel up to the audience. One librarian asked about the challenges to collecting graphic novels and what is a good way to deal with it. Robin Brenner explained that nudity is common issue, but it is generally not an issue in Japan, where many of these works come from. She suggested that our American society was going to have to catch up with the rest of the world somehow.
Afterwards, I went to the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee Subcommittee on the Impact of Media Concentration on Libraries. It was really interesting. The members were working on a guideline for ALA support. They are calling for the library to support laws and regulations that promote and preserve equitable and affordable distribution and transmittance for small, independent, alternative, and community groups or businesses, such as license fees and postal rates. Some key issues they addressed in their guidelines were net neutrality, internet radio, and the rising postal rate. They said that there is an importance to the existence of an environment that fosters new and independent ideas. Recent laws have worked against the idea of diverse voices being protected and encouraged.
The members of the committee were welcoming and extended themselves to me in conversation. They made eye contact with me throughout and took my name at the end. Deborah Caldwell-Stone took my email address and offered to put me on the listserv for the subcommittee.
Sunday, June 24
Sunday was my favorite day at the conference. I went to tons of great programs and met with the Chair of the PLA Library Services Cluster Steering Committee.
The first thing I did on Sunday morning was go to the PLA All Committee Meeting. At the meeting, I met with Sari Feldman, Chair of the Library Services Cluster Steering Committee. Sari Feldman spoke with me a lot about her career and roles as a leader. As the Chair of the Library Services Cluster Steering Committee, Sari represents Library Services on the PLA board for the year. She attempted to explain the way PLA and ALA infrastructure works, but I was slightly overwhelmed with the incredibly vast hierarchy of it all.
After talking with Sari Feldman, I was able to walk around and eavesdrop on various PLA committee meetings, since most of the PLA committees were in the same ballroom. Newbies are encouraged to walk up to tables, introduce themselves, and ask if they can listen in on the conference meetings.
Next, I attended a program called Trendsetting in Teen Literature, hosted by PLA and YALSA. When I walked in the door, I was encouraged to take an advance reading copy of a graphic novel called Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, by James Sturm and Rich Tommaso. This program was another excellent one. First, a librarian gave a fantastic presentation on Trends in Teen Literature, and mentioned that it would make a great subject for a dissertation. The room was huge, one of the biggest in the Washington Convention Center, and people were even sitting on the floor. Many people took notes, and when the librarian attempted to change PowerPoint slides, gasps were heard because nearly everyone wanted to record what she was saying. I liked the idea of “feminizing” in teen literature; I’m curious to read some books that were mentioned. After her great presentation, there was a panel of editors and authors of teen literature, including the authors of the free graphic novel advance reading copy. The panelists spoke about what was acceptable for teens and publishing. Two of the four authors were cartoonists and they spoke of the graphic novel genre and how it should be published as a graphic novel only if the creators take advantage of the medium and do with it what they could not do with a regular novel format. Ethnicity, sexuality, gender roles often covered. One editor on the panel made a comment that she doesn’t think our society will ever publish anything for teens on bestiality in her lifetime.
Following that program, I attended another hosted by PLA and YALSA. This one was called Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails: A Different Kind of Story Time, Informed by the Immerging Science of Sex Differences. Before attending this program, I had believed this program to be about encouraging boys to read. I was caught off-guard at first, upon entering the room in which this program was held, and reading the handouts given to me. I decided to stay, even though I had conflicting feelings about this subject. Regardless of my conflicted feelings, I’m glad I stayed. The presenter was a doctor, Leonard Sax, with a PhD in psychology and an MD, a practicing physician. His presentation was essentially an introduction to his idea of the problem, and by the end of the presentation, he tied it in with libraries and librarians. It was an eye-opening experience, very well presented and scientific.
The best program I attended at the conference was the last one I went to on Sunday. This was Videogames as a Service: Tournaments, Teenagers, Testosterone, and Torterra, hosted by PLA. This one was about video games in libraries, how to do it effectively and efficiently, and one library’s story of their success with it. The library the presenters are from is in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The presentation was excellent: extremely engaging speakers (two, both librarians at the same library), a fascinating and organized PowerPoint presentation, and videos of their video game tournament in progress. It was wonderful. They not only explained their experience with it, but introduced a sort of game plan for other public librarians to do the same with a low budget.
Monday, June 25
I took it easy on Monday. It felt like one of the most humid and hot days in Washington DC. I was not feeling great, and it was also my 23rd birthday.
The first thing I did was go to a program called Zine-a-paloosa, which was about zine collection development. Like the majority of the programs I attended, it was hosted by PLA. (Zines are homemade magazines, consisting mostly of personal thoughts and illustrations, though some authors go off the beaten path.) It was another excellent program. There was a panel of groups of people who started zine collections in their libraries, one of which claimed to be the first people to think of it. They were hip and happening librarians. One of the problems with attempting to develop zine collections is that they are new to libraries and librarians. One of the reasons it is difficult is because there is little to no precedent set. A few great things about establishing a zine collection in one’s library are that it takes very little money, it creates an excellent tie to the college-age patron community, and it lends support to the local zine-creating community as well.
Later on in the day, I attended the Syracuse Alumni Reception at the District Chop House Restaurant and Brewery with Dawn. At the reception, I not only met Heidi, another member of my class, but I was able to talk with several Syracuse iSchool alums. It was a pleasure. Though I was not able to overcome my shyness completely, it was a great opportunity to connect with alumni, as well as celebrate the iSchool.
Tuesday, June 26
Tuesday was my last day at the conference, and my day to work at the university booth at the ALA Expo. Having scheduled my two turns at the booth for Tuesday, I was not able to experience it until the last day. I wish that had not been the case. It would have been nice to experience the booth when it was busier, but the several visitors I did get to see made it an especially worthwhile experience.
At that point, the exhibitors were already packing up, and a lot of them were giving away much of what they were previously selling because they didn’t want to ship it back home. I was able to wander around the exhibition hall and view the remains of exhibitions. I was also able to buy some low priced books, as well as acquire free ones. It was rewarding to stay until the last minute for that purpose alone.
Reflections and Recommendations
Coming into this graduate program, I had my mind set on becoming an academic librarian. However, learning about all the other different kinds of library careers had opened my mind to other ideas during the spring semester. Due to this, I came to the ALA Conference without a specific library job in mind. What I found was that all of the programs I attended and enjoyed most were in a different direction from academic librarianship. All of the programs I attended and enjoyed most were sponsored by the Public Library Association (PLA) and/or the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). This was a pleasant surprise and something I will keep in mind.
I learned from this experience not to limit myself to what I think I should go to at the conference, but rather what I find sounds most interesting. I was right 95% of the time.
In addition, as other members of my class suggest, I suggest staying in a hotel that is part of the conference. Traveling from a hotel far away is not particularly enjoyable, especially when it is in the middle of the summer, public transit is all you can afford, and you have a full day planned. Staying within the group of hotels that are part of the conference allows you to be in close proximity of all the rest of the hotels, as well as allow easy access to buses to and from each hotel in the group. (Bus access is available to everyone else who attended the conferences, too, but after traveling for a while on public transit, I was not too thrilled about getting on a bus, even though it was a coach bus.)
Always keep timing and locations in mind when planning your schedule at the conference. I was lucky in that the majority of the programs and meetings I attended were in one place, the Washington Convention Center. I kept the locations in mind when I was choosing what to go to, and when I did have to travel away from the Convention Center, it took a while. It took some time because I had to wait for the next available bus, and that bus had to drive through the city of Washington DC, where there is traffic. It’s also a good idea to be flexible with your schedule. If you have a program you want to go to, but it’s at a hotel away from where you would be prior, have another program in mind as a back up. It is good to keep in mind just in case you miss the bus or change your mind.
During the ACRL 101 program I attended, the president of ACRL explained that new members should not feel bad about leaving programs early or coming in late. Everyone understands that the programs are all planned one on top of the other at the conference, and everyone has a million places to be. So if two programs or meetings you would like to attend are overlapping a little, it is okay to leave the program early or go to a program late.