The first conference I ever attended was ALA Annual in Anaheim in 2007. I had just finished my first year of library school and I was full of hope and inspiration and ALA was right in my backyard. Despite the staggering prices, I thought, “You know what? I need to get involved. I need to make this a career and not a job”. So, I decided to go for two days. The first day, as Christian and I drove down Harbor Blvd., we played “Spot the Librarian”, a game I love to do as I travel for conferences in airports, waiting for shuttles, and around the conference center. Many people might argue with me here and say that with the diversity and youth of the profession, how can you stereotype? Well, I would argue back that the profession still has a long way to go and I’m pretty sure that a disproportionate amount of librarians still love cardigans and cats. Myself included. I’ll watch a Maru video to cheer myself up any day.
Anyways, after I was dropped off at that first conference, I was thrown into a storm of chaos. I had carefully selected the panels I wanted to attend, and, if I remember correctly – with the exception of 1, I skipped out and tried many many panels. And was satisfied with very few. Other than my one library school friend who I attached myself to at the hip, I knew no one. I wasn’t involved in anything like I am now, and outside of my library school I knew hardly anyone in the profession.
It was a miserable experience.
Fast forward to last year’s ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans. I went in nervous. It was the first conference I was attending without Christian and I was getting in 2 days early for sightseeing. But who was I going to sight see with? Who was I going to ride back to the airport with? Who was I going to eat all my meals with? While I enjoy alone time, I knew that conference was not the time for that. And over the course of time, since 2007, I have become more active in smaller associations, such as APALA, which take that conference loneliness away. By doing committee work and attending socials and just kind of inviting yourself along if you’re within ear shot, you make connections and you find your conference family. In response to those fears I had in NOLA, my friend Danica let me tag along with her as an old friend gave her a tour of the city. Instead of the bus, which is what I had planned to take back to the airport, I was offered a ride with a colleague I kind of knew but grew closer to in NOLA (and she became one of my JCLC roommates later!). And, I ate very few meals alone. I had dinner with my amazing Emerging Leader cohorts. My APALA people. My new AILA people. Everyone was welcoming and food is something we can always all share and bond over together.
When I decided to go to JCLC, I wasn’t as worried about all the down time. I was more worried about carving out down time. When my roommate had to cancel at the last minute because of an emergency, I knew that I wasn’t going to be sleeping in the lobby of the Westin or having to pay for a room all to myself. I had the privilege of cramming four awesome library folk into a pretty comfortable room.
Because I’ve been able to find a great support group, a great group of friends, and an inspiring group of colleagues who I call my conference family. Sometimes I see them between conferences, sometimes I don’t, but I know that they are all just a phone call or email away. That they will offer advice, and they will make this big ALA world a little bit smaller for me. A little bit more manageable. And a lot more fun.
I encourage all people to at least try a small association. Try to join a few different committees if the first one you try suck. Because let me tell you, I’ve been on a few doosies. And then, once you’re comfortable, you can move on to the beast that is your state organization or ALA. Or you can jump right in with both feet and see what happens. But do it. Because it’s worth it. If you stay inside your own library or branch or library system, you’re missing out on the greater world of librarianship. The people and the work that makes a difference between a job and a fulfilling career.