Getting the Most Out of a Conference Experience

Having just attended Internet Librarian 2012, I thought it would be appropriate to bring home a little bit of what I learned at the conference and provide some tips for getting the best out of a conference with the MLS community.

Plan, plan, plan…then let it go.

The most important thing you can do before traveling for a conference is to make up a rough schedule of what you’d like to see. I say rough because it’s highly unlikely that you’ll make it to all of the sessions you want to attend. Why? Hopefully you meet people at the conference that will recommend sessions you never would have considered, invite you to a long lunch, or who you end up chatting with well after the session you were supposed to attend has ended.

Also key is preparing a back-up session. Sometimes the description doesn’t line-up with the actual presentation (when you send in a proposal 6-12 months before a conference, things do change). It is ok to leave a session (quietly) and join another (quietly). Presenters expect it.

Get out away from what you know.

Go to sessions that cover a topic you know very little about. For example, if you’re not very informed about school libraries, attend a session on that. It never hurts to know what is going on outside of your comfort zone. At Internet Librarian, there was an Internet@Schools Track. One of the sessions covered “Live Blogging in the Library,” and speaker Carolyn Foote discussed how she uses this technique in her information literacy sessions. Live blogging is just what it sounds like – blogging in real time. In her information literacy classes, Foote had her students answer & ask questions, as well as provide observations. My first thought: “Wasn’t that distracting?” Turns out, it actually encouraged the students to pay closer attention and encouraged deep learning. It also gave students who don’t normally participate a chance to do so in a different way. While this session was designed for school librarians, it’s very easy to see how this would be useful in all sorts of library settings, and I never would have thought about it had I not decided to try something new.

Another example was “Library Created Content for Clients,” (complete presenter info here). What was most interesting about this presentation was the portion presented by librarians from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. They discussed the resources they’ve created using existing data and resources that help consumers understand the economic news they see every day. One really interesting resources is Page One Economics, which breaks down the economic headlines into language that non-economists can understand, and can be used in classrooms (elementary thru college) to teach financial literacy. How cool is that?! It’s a fantastic example of librarians responding to the needs of their patrons and the current climate. For complete details on the resources, check out the full presentation here. You can look at all the uploaded presentations here.

Don’t fall into the “libraries are dying” malaise.

Despite the “Transforming Libraries” theme at this year’s Internet Librarian 2012, there was at least one presentation where the presenter supplied an over-simplified discussion of libraries dying, talked about programming ideas that people are already doing, and suggested that everyone has access to the Internet and knows how to use the devices that take them there. You’re always going to come across these kinds of presentations. Some tips on how to deal with this sort of thing:

  1. When the Q&A starts, question the presenter (preferably with evidence, in this case the Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study done by our very own iPAC was a good counter point to the idea that everyone has the Internet and knows how to use it).
  2. Stay positive and talk to the librarians surrounding you who are doing great things and ensuring that libraries remain relevant to their patrons.
  3. Become a presenter. Nothing works like beating the detractors at their own game.

Have some fun!

Conferences are usually held in interesting places, which you have to pay a fair amount of money to get to, so don’t forget to have a little fun. No doubt, some of the folks there are local and can make some great recommendations. At this conference, The Story Sailboat was there and offered sailing trips around the bay, which was a great way to both have some fun and network with some amazing librarians.

What tips/tricks do you have for conference attendance? Share them in the comments!

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