Notes for ALA Midwinter

Just back from the American Library Association's annual Midwinter Meeting, the first such event of my new career. I had a bit of impostor anxiety walking around wearing a name tag with my new school listed under my name when I had been enrolled there for all of TWO DAYS when the conference started, but I'm not one to decline such a gift as this -- namely, a major professional conference taking place practically in my own back yard. I did not have as much fun as I do at major conferences in my old field, which have the distinct advantage of being places where it is impossible to walk down a corridor without crossing paths with people I love, but it was still well worth my while.

Observations and reminders to self re: future library conferences:

1) The Midwinter Meeting actually has very little going on in terms of formal programming.
If I had been paying closer attention, I would have figured this out before I registered, but as it was, it was a little puzzling to sit down with the conference schedule and try to sort through what was going on. Why does everything seem to be a committee meeting or a discussion group?

Well, it turns out, committee meetings and discussion groups are what ALAMW is all about. If you want to attend presentations of the sort that you would normally expect at a big conference, go to ALA's Annual Conference, which is held in the summer. That's also the one to go to if you want to witness the bookcart drill team world championships. There are a few plenary-type events at midwinter featuring famous authors with books to hawk, and there is a big press conference announcing the annual youth media awards, including the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, but for the most part, Midwinter is bureaucracy in action.

But all those committee meetings and discussion groups are after all an excellent way to get plugged in to the life of the Association -- probably better than attending a slate of formal presentations. I didn't actually go to any committee meetings, even though my understanding is that most committee meetings are open to any interested attendee and that newbies are encouraged to sit in on the meetings of the committees that are of interest to them. The discussion groups that I attended were very colleagial and informative experiences. In the largest group I attended, I was able to sit back and observe the frank and thoughtful exchange of ideas among practitioners in a branch of librarianship I am interested in pursuing; in the two smaller groups I attended (fewer than 10 people in each), my input was solicited and respected, even after I introduced myself as a rank neophyte.

2) SJSU SLIS throws a kickass party.
Probably the thing I was most looking forward to in the entire weekend was the chance to attend the reception hosted by my new school and actually meet in person some of my fellow students and even some faculty members. By the time the reception time rolled around, I was utterly dead on my feet and not a little irritated at my school for selecting an off-site location for it's party, but there was no way I was skipping out.

Good thing I didn't. It was an excellent spread, an excellent venue, and an excellent opportunity to schmooze with SLIS students past, present, and future. (Faculty turnout was rather low, but I did get to meet a couple of instructors.) I have been told that the reception at the summer conference is even more fabulous. The next time it comes around to California (Anaheim, 2012), even if for some reason it doesn't work out for me to attend the entire conference, I think I will make a point to travel down to the O.C. just for this party.

3) Notes from the exhibit floor:

  • Only pick up the ARCs you are actually interested in reading.  FREE BOOKS! I anticipated swag, but not the extent to which it would come in book form -- at other conferences, you have to buy the books. That is also true at ALA, of course, but publishers also use the Exhibit Hall to curry interest in forthcoming titles, significantly by handing out Advance Reading Copies to people who might be in a position to order the official version for their libraries and/or recommend it other readers.

    I think I would have been more disciplined about accumulating books from the outset, except that, a couple minutes into the opening reception, I was passed by a young adult lit. aficionado who already had her arms FULL of free books, which experience triggered some kind of shortage anxiety in my mind: must grab books! What if they run out?

    Here's a tip: they don't run out.

    I mean, okay, sure, they may/will run out of particular titles, but there will be no shortage of book-acquiring opportunities throughout the conference, and as long as you swing through the exhibit hall with some regularity (I suggest making at least two passes a day), you are unlikely to miss the opportunity to pick up the one or two titles that you really want. (For me, the coup of the conference was an ARC of Mary Doria Russell's latest, Doc.)

  • You don't need to bring an extra tote bag.  Other than books, the most prominent form of swag was free tote bags. (For hauling around all your other swag. Natch.) Followed closely by badges, ballpoint pens, bookmarks, and those stress-relieving squeeze toys.  Some publishers were even offering bags with zippers on them, which were particularly useful for hauling all the free books I couldn't resist home on the train without spilling them all over the luggage rack. My household is pretty well set for reusable grocery bags for the foreseeable future.

  • You do need to bring business cards and self-addressed address labels. Okay, not need, but these things would be useful. A lot of exhibitors hold drawings (this year, the prize of choice was some variety of ebook device), and if you want to enter, you can save yourself considerable time by having a sheet of return address labels ready to slap on the entry forms.
4) You know you're a library geek when you go absolutely gaga over a page-turning book-scanning robot.

5) I wish I had an iPod touch.
I'm not sure how useful it might be to have such a device at the rest of the conferences I plan to attend this year, since most conference venues are not blanketed with free Wi-Fi. But since ALAMW was, it would have been supremely handy to have a lightweight, uber-portable, app-enabled device ready to hand. I refuse to get a smart phone (at least until I have a real job), but I was lusting after my sister-in-law's iPhone-without-the-phone at several points over the weekend.

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