Erin Dorney

Blogging life & librarianship

Conference Attendance Advice.

with 23 comments

ALA Midwinter 2010 Exhibit Floor

At the request of Jen & Jason of The Dean Files, I’ve put together some conference tips for ya’ll. To be sure, the tips below are based on my own experience and your conference experience could vary based on a number of factors (where, when, weather, personality, roommates, alcoholic tolerance, available technology, etc). I’m drawing from my attendance at various state, local and regional conferences (the State System of Higher Education Library Cooperative Organization, the Pennsylvania Library Association Annual Conference), two ALA Midwinter Meetings, and one ALA Annual Conference.

(in no particular order)

1. Volunteer for something. It doesn’t matter what, just do it. If you’re a student, it gives you something to put on your resume other than just attending a conference. You can volunteer at the exhibit booth for your alma mater or for one of your professional associations (ACRL, PLA, LITA, YALSA, etc.). Try being a NMRT resume reviewer or greeter. Some conferences seek bloggers/microbloggers to cover certain presentations which can help you get your name out there and hone your journalism skills. I know for the ACRL Virtual Conference we’re going to be looking for volunteers to moderate webcasts and give tours in Second Life. There’s something for everyone! It’s a way to build in some structured social interaction to your conference experience and you never know who you will meet or what you’ll be invited to do next time once people realize that you’re reliable.

2. Some of the programs you are really looking forward to will inevitably disappoint you. Maybe this is just me, and it’s probably just because I read about the programs weeks in advance and literally plan my entire day around them. Maybe I just build things up too much in my mind. But the point is, you should have a “plan b” for almost every session you want to attend. Just in case there’s no room, the speaker winds up droning on and on to a text-heavy PowerPoint, or you realize that you already learned all of this in library school or real life.

3. I have to second Steven Bell’s suggestion to leave the program book behind. You do not need to carry the weight of that book around with you all day in addition to your laptop, food, water, notebook, smartphone, cords, business cards, etc. I usually end up looking at the schedule online or the night before, tearing out the one page with the hotel map, and tossing the whole thing into a garbage recycling bin in the hotel. I think the program book could probably get phased out if conferences are really looking to be more green. You tell me, do we need printed programs with the net and all this mobile? Just a thought.

4. To borrow a phrase from Stephen Abram, don’t hoard your business cards. “They’re like smiles – they only have value when they’re given away.” We’re all at a conference to learn, not only about libraries, but about each other (aw, so touchy feely, but true). Personal connections are really important, so trade information with the people you meet so you’ll remember each other later. There are also some technologies that help you do this without having to hand out actual cards, like QR Codes or the iPhone Bump app. Follow up with your new friends after the conference about collaborative projects, job opportunities, and shared interests.

5. Things to bring: ibuprofen, band aids, water bottle, granola bars, a sweater, mints/gum (sooo much conference coffee breath!), cold medication for days and nights, at least 2 pairs of comfy shoes.

6. Make a schedule. You will probably deviate based on how you feel that day and what opportunities come up (a colleague or new acquaintance cancels or asks you to join them for dinner, you don’t get enough sleep the night before because you’re adjusting to the hotel bed so you sleep in, etc). But having a schedule will give you a starting point. Another note on schedules – pace yourself! Resist the urge to cram one thing after another day after day because you will wear yourself out. Leave enough time in your schedule to accommodate spontaneous activities (these are often where you learn the most!). Allow yourself to enjoy being in the presence of others who care and make sure you have time to test the local flavor (a bar, restaurant, theatre performance or local band).

7. It helps to know a few people who will be attending the same event as you, so utilize your computer-based social networking connections to facilitate real-life networking opportunities. Conferences are a great place to meet the colleagues you have been tweeting with virtually for the past six months or that blogger you follow religiously. Let people know you’ll be in the area and put out some feelers for meetups, dinner, coffee breaks, etc. Lots of this happens serendipitously as you network, but you’ll feel more confident if you can recognize a few familiar faces.

Some other library conference tips can be found here:

And interesting non-library specific conference tips can be found here:

So tell me, what conference tips do you have?


Written by Erin Dorney

March 1, 2010 at 10:30 AM

23 Responses

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  1. Erin,

    Thanks so much for this – I am excited to see the schedule for the conference, and your pointers are so helpful to me, not knowing at all what to expect! (Also, it makes me happy to hear I can finally use the awesome business cards Jen made for me as a wedding gift) Thanks thanks thanks for this!!!


    Jason Dean

    March 1, 2010 at 10:59 AM

  2. Do some sightseeing. If there are conference sponsored opportunities, take advantage of these; but if not plan your own. If you don’t, you’ll look back at the end of your career and regret it.

    As long as you aren’t ONLY sightseeing, it shouldn’t be a problem. Even if you are there on your institution’s dime, there is no reason you have to be “on” the entire time. When you work your regular work week, you get to go home, right.

    To be sure, the conference is the priority. However, I can bet you’ll remember the leisure time longer than you’ll remember the conference topics. I still remember some of the conference topics from San Diego midwinter a few years back, but I’ll remember the fish tacos and going to Tijuana forever. (BTW, I don’t recommend visiting Tijuana).


    March 1, 2010 at 12:48 PM

  3. great post, and #1 is an excellent advice.


    March 1, 2010 at 1:36 PM

  4. If I might offer a #8…

    Do a little research where you are going to be. Google Maps combined with Street View can give you an idea of where you are staying, places to eat, sights around town, and where there are workshops. It gives a nice feel for the areas you might be walking, riding, and driving. Yelp and Foursquare can give you some reviews of those local eateries and bars so you can keep some spots in mind. For me, at ALA MW, it helped to see some of the area around my hotel so I could know when I was getting close as well as look for places to eat around it. Since my GPS broke earlier in the trip, it was literally a life saver to recognize landmarks around the hotel and guide myself there.

    Also, check out any public transportation system. Trains, buses, and cabs can get you where you are going if driving or walking isn’t an option.


    March 1, 2010 at 10:06 PM

  5. Re: #2 I’d recommend discussion groups and interest group meetings as places where it is easy for new people to drop in and interact with the existing sets. Most of these groups have open meetings. We had such a great time at the interest group meeting I attended at MidWinter we went over time, thankfully no one needed the room immediatly after us.

    Speaking of meeting up, I’ll be there Thursday-Monday, we should plan something 🙂

    Kiyomi Deards

    March 2, 2010 at 2:56 AM

  6. And of course once I submitted I thought of a #9.

    9. Try and attend all of the receptions/parties you are personally invited to, if you can fit them in try and attend some of the open receptions/parties. The ones you are invited to are usually based on your membership in a group and will provide great semi-relaxed places to get to know other with similar interests. The open receptions are more intimidating, but the people are just as interesting to get to know. Of course you should keep in mind #6, pace yourself.

    Kiyomi Deards

    March 2, 2010 at 3:00 AM

  7. Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    @Jason – No problem, I hope the tips are helpful. I better get one of said business cards once I see you guys. 🙂

    @Greg – Great point about seeing some sights. I will have to hear more about this infamous trip to Tijuana…

    @Leo – Thanks!

    @Andy – Another great point! I used Google Street View for Midwinter to see what my hotel looked like from the outside – so I could recognize it from the car. I also think Jenny Levine is working on some Foursquare thing for ALA.

    @Kiyomi – Yes, let’s plan to meet up! I think I’ll be there the same time as you (although possible Friday – Tuesday but I’m not sure yet). Interest and discussion groups are not only great ways to meet new people, they are breeding grounds for getting involved with committees.


    March 2, 2010 at 11:14 AM

  8. These are some nice additions to the growing list of “tips” for attending a conference. I agree with Andy about the utility of Google Maps. For MW I knew I was going to have to get from the conv center to the copley square hotels a few times. I used G-Maps to plan my travels. What’s great about it is that you can get both walking and public transit routes. This way you can know in advance how to get to your meetings/programs efficiently – because you can’t always count on the buses. But don’t be overly dependent on technology. When you get to your hotel, take some time to walk a few blocks in each direction so you know what’s around you (but don’t try that in a place like Anaheim which is so spread out) and you get a feel for the lay of the land. And as I’ve said before – take cab fare money. If you need to get somewhere fast all the google maps in the world may not make a difference. Just get a cab and say “step on it”.


    March 3, 2010 at 9:08 AM

  9. Hi Erin,

    I ended up making a post out of my further ideas after I thought about it some more with a link back here 🙂



    March 3, 2010 at 9:44 PM

  10. […] also highly recommend Erin Dorney’s blog post "Conference Attendance Advice”. It has her own conference tips as well as links to other posts with advice. Check out additional […]

  11. Erin,

    I just have a quick follow up question – how do people dress for the conference?

    Jason Dean

    March 6, 2010 at 11:22 AM

  12. […] ALA Connect page for more information on getting familiarized with ACRL. Also check out the pieces of advice other academic librarians are giving (you can pick up other tips by following the ALA Annual hashtag on Twitter – when it’s […]

  13. @Steven – Thanks for the comment! It’s important to get a feel for the area, particularly for new attendees. If you know where you are, where you’re going, and a number of ways to get there, you’ll feel more comfortable and confident. Attendees will be able to let go of some of the travel stress and focus on the more enjoyable parts of attending a conference.

    @Kiyomi – Awesome! I am headed over there now to read and comment. Thanks for the link and the post shout out 🙂

    @Jason – This is a commonly asked question. I have a few thoughts, but these are just my personal opinions. First, it depends on the purpose of your conference attendance. If you’re actively job searching, nicer is a good choice. Not suit and tie, but business casual maybe? Second, even if you’re not actively looking for a job, you’re networking and could be talking to a potential employer. So don’t look like a slob. However, need to be comfortable trumps all of these for me, because if you’re in pain from heels or worrying about sweat marks underneath your arms, you won’t be able to focus on making a good impression to anyone. You’ll just be worrying bout your outfit. I have gone pretty casual with my conference attire – jeans and a blouse for sessions, some skirts, business casual if I am presenting, accepting something, or dressy for a fancy reception. What other people wear really varies – I’ve seen people in shorts and tee shirts, people in suits, embroidered sweaters and denim jumpers, hipster-wear (haha) and just about everything in between. I think you should be honest to your personal sense of style and comfortable so that you can make the most of your conference experience. But don’t look like you just rolled out of bed. 🙂


    March 10, 2010 at 9:59 PM

  14. I appreciate the chuckle on hipster-wear. Thanks for the input, that is very helpful!

    Jason Dean

    March 12, 2010 at 10:05 AM

  15. No problem, glad I could help 🙂


    March 13, 2010 at 6:22 PM

  16. […] from others such as Vicki Owens (who attended LILAC last year and shared some great tips) and Erin Dorney. I’ve got some comfy flat shoes, got loads of business cards ready to exchange, lots of mints […]

  17. I just saw this post by Bobbi Newman at Librarian By Day – it’s about Computers In Libraries, but it has links at the bottom to some more conference advice. Check it out!


    April 10, 2010 at 5:19 PM

  18. […] Conference attendance advice from Library Scenester […]

  19. I like #4. The first conference I went to I forgot to bring my business cards and I was so disappointed. Whether the exchange is a business networking contact, or just someone you enjoyed chatting with at lunch and want to stay in touch with, the business card is the answer!

    Scentsy Consultant

    September 13, 2010 at 8:14 PM

  20. […] Conference attendance advice […]

  21. […] Conference Attendance Advice. March 2010 20 comments 5 […]

  22. […] Erin Dorney’s Blog, includes a further list and some helpful comments: […]

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