ON LIBRARIES: Confessions of a Conference Junkie

It’s true.  I admit it I am totally hooked on library conferences. On Wednesday afternoon I will be flying to Phoenix to attend the AASL Conference.  The following week I will be at my state library association’s conference.  I am already registered for ALA Midwinter in Denver (yes, winter in Denver) in February of 2018.

Those of you who haven’t attended any of these, particularly the ALA/AASL ones, may wonder how I got hooked and why I keep going.  It started innocently enough.  I went to my state conference. And one of the reasons I chose to go was because it was easy to get to the site.

It turned out to not only be familiar but a lot of fun. A number of my librarian friends were there and the vendor reps for the most part were the ones who called on me. I got to see several programs that were helpful, some of which were led by people I knew so I could follow up with them.  There were some nice freebies (now called swag), and I met more librarians from my state who I hadn’t known before.

I continued to attend and I became known by leadership people which led to my being asked to serve on committees.  Although it was a bit scary, I tried one.  It accelerated my learning curve, and I became a truly active member of the New Jersey Association of School Librarians (then called EMAnj).

Then in 1979, (yes, I have been a librarian for a long time), I attended my first ALA Annual Conference.  Along with Ruth Toor, I had written my first book – The School Librarian’s Almanac – and thought it was time to look at the larger scene.

That year the site was easy again. It was held in New York City. As a New Jersey resident who was born in New York, I was comfortable there. Lots of the New Jersey librarians I had come to know also attended.

It was somewhat overwhelming, but thrilling at the same time.  It was SO much bigger. As I walked to the Convention Center I saw so many people wearing conference badges and carrying the bags attendees were given.  I struggled a bit to choose among so many programs.  There were more vendors than I ever heard of, but I did see a quite a few familiar faces among the reps. And the swag was amazing. I came home with bags, books, bookmarks and other great things for my library.

One of my best memories from that conference was meeting Isaac Asimov.  I had loved his works since I discovered them while in high school.  He even kissed my cheek.  I didn’t want to wash it.

Sitting at the food courts and sharing tables I met so many librarians from all over the country. There even were some from countries around the world.   I was learning even when I wasn’t at a program or in the exhibit hall.  I was hooked.  I never looked back.  I couldn’t wait for the next conference.  Fair Warning—conference going is addictive.

Since that time I have never missed an ALA Conference. I remember going to Toronto, Canada in 2003 for the first joint conference with the Canadian Library Association.  It was made even more memorable because shortly before the conference, Canada experienced an outbreak of the SARS virus.  Those of us who didn’t decide to skip the conference were made extremely welcome.

After attending ALA Annual for several years, and taking volunteer positions in my state organization I became the president-elect of NJASL and was therefore a delegate to AASL’s Affiliate Assembly. Since it met at ALA Midwinter in addition to annual, I attended that.  And discovered it was the same and different from Annual.  Smaller in some ways, without as many programs, there were still committee meetings, great exhibits—and of course, swag.

In my new position I met our national leaders. I was surprised to discover how approachable they were. Before long I was serving on AASL committees.  In 1980, AASL had its first conference.  I didn’t the first or second (they are every other year), but I did go to the third held in Atlanta, GA. Aside from a family emergency that caused me to change plans at the last minute, I have attended every AASL Conference since then.

I had no choice but to be hooked. So many programs, so many vendors.  And all of them directed to school librarians.  It was perfect.  When AASL began holding its National Institutes, commonly known as the Fall Forum, I couldn’t wait to attend.  These were very small, and focused on a single topic/issue of importance to school librarians. It was the perfect setting for intense learning.

So here am I once again eagerly packing for an AASL Conference. (I will be skipping my blog next week as I will be in Phoenix.) What do I have to show for it?  Well, the swag does accumulate.  I will never need to buy a canvas bag.  I always have a huge supply of pens and post-it notes plus assorted helpful items from thumb drives to earphones.

More importantly, to a great extent, the leader I am today came about as a result of all my conference going.

Are you a conference junkie?  Which ones do you attend?  What are some of your best memories? What would be a good first one for you – state, AASL, or national? Wanna join me in New Orleans next year?

 

 

 

 

 

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