Going to ALA Conferences? You’re Doing it Wrong!

I never used to enjoy going to the ALA Conferences and I’ve heard so many people say the same thing. They were always too big, too overwhelming, and just… too much. But, at the ALA Conference in Washington DC 2010 I was invited to stay at a vacation house with 11 other Librarians that was organized by Justin Hoenke and JP Porcaro. I was excited about this for a couple of reasons.

1) Justin and JP are awesome humans
2) It was way cheaper than the ALA hotels
3) It would be a totally new conference experience

So of course, I said yes. In the days coming up to the conference various emails were sent to introduce everyone to each other and to talk about anything that we might want to do as a group at the conference. Somewhere in these emails, someone, at some point, jokingly called the house the ALA Think Tank (because it rarely seems as if people are thinking at ALA) and the name stuck. This conference experience was amazing and I learned more than I could have ever hoped. By the end of the conference, I realized that this was the only way to go to ALA and the ALA Think Tank folks have done one Midwinter and two annuals like this. What follows is everything I learned about conference going from the awesome folks in this house.

Start a Think Tank.
I can’t stress this enough. The benefits of a house are HUGE! The full kitchen and communal living dramatically reduce the cost of conference housing and food. There will always be someone to do something with and you’ll be plugged into so many different things going on at ALA then you would be alone in your hotel room. It also makes a great space to have your own meetings and socials to meet even more people. You also get to hear about all the other things that your roommates learned at the conference and greatly increase the amount of take-away information you’ll get. I learned so much from my Think Tank folks that I’m still processing information from DC.

Get on Twitter, Facebook, tumblr, instagram
I know, everyone is saying this, you’re probably sick of hearing it. Why aren’t you on the social medias? By following the ALA conference hashtag or seeing what your friends are posting online about the conference you can find out about the best sessions, networking events, book signings, latest updates from ALA, where all the freebies are, blogs about what other people learned at the conference, tons of various tidbits of information from other librarians learning things, and you’ll get to find opportunities to meet more librarians. If you don’t know where to start:

1) Facebook – Join the ALA Think Tank
2) Tumblr – Browse the Tumblarians list
3) Twitter/instagram – Follow the hashtags (the official hashtag is #ala2013 but everyone is blowing up #ala13)

Meet Everyone
Meeting folks and networking with other awesombrarians is really one of the best things I get out of ALA. There are so many people doing rad projects at their libraries and meeting them at the socials and after parties gave me opportunities to find out what they are excited about. Of course, there are over 20 thousand people at ALA so meeting everyone is not at all possible but at least put yourself out there and talk to everyone you can! You would be surprised where a random conversation at a meeting or a networking event will take you.

Forget about the Sessions and Workshops
As a tie-in to the previous three tips, I think this has really helped me learn even more while at the conferences. I know it seems totally backwards but I learned so much more at everything else ALA has to offer that I stopped going to sessions and workshops. The problem is that the session proposals are written a year ahead of the conference and by the time you get to the conference (if you’re on FB and twitter) you’re going to be sick of hearing about whatever the session is because it will have been discussed and blogged about ad-nauseum all of the days to and following the conference. Instead, I recommend the following three tips;

Get involved… In something!
My own personal choice was Emerging Leaders. This was a great pre-Think Tank kind of group learning experience. Through Emerging Leaders I figured out how to navigate the ALA and first met many of the people that I currently work with in the ALA. While my experience in my EL project itself was less than stellar, I did meet a bunch of amazing librarians and got gently pushed into running for ALA Council. All of the committees and council stuff that I’m involved in keeps me learning and pushing me forward. If you don’t want to get involved in Emerging Leaders you should visit the ALA Office at the conference and they can explain how to get involved in ALA in many different ways.

Typically, I get up at 7-8am on conference days to get to the conference for my morning meetings and various obligations. This is rough considering I also typically spend most of the night out with librarians at various council forums, meetups, socials, and after-hours networking events. It’s during these times that I corner my professional heroes and talk to them about what they are working on right now. I’m interested in learning what the next big thing is that they are excited about. Also, I find that people are far more truthful about their previous projects over a beer then they are at the session they held. People are more open about their fails and how they overcame obstacles at these events then they are in the more professional conference setting. It’s also during these times that some of the best projects that I have been involved with in librarianship arose. Basically, by partying as much as I could with as many brilliant people as I can find, I have been able to learn more meaningful, current, and useful information in librarianship.

ALA loves to say that they are your organization. This is a lie. You are ALA’s organization. You are the one who has the ability to make your conference experience as amazing as you want it to be. It is your duty and obligation to get out there and make whatever you think should happen at a conference happen at the conference. For example, JP Porcaro, Amanda Pilmer, Justin Hoenke, and Jenn Walker decided to make an ALA Dance Party happen so they organized it and it was epic. If you think your conference experience would be better if there was a QR code hunt, you can make that happen. If you would like to help other people make awesome stuff happen at the conference you can join the group on FB called the ALA Think Tank and see where you can help #makeithappen. Overall though, it’s your conference and if you don’t get everything you can out of it, you have no one else to blame. Don’t complain, #makeithappen.

Bonus tip – Friend JP Porcaro on Facebook and Twitter. (and google+)
Trust me on this one.

Weekly #Library Recap of Awesomeness

Here is list of some of the awesome things I’ve seen online about libraries in the last week. There is always so much that I want to go back and revisit but I can never find it again. So, I’m going to generate this weekly list of library awesomeness so that I have a good record. But also, so that you can find out some of the things you might have missed. If I missed something super awesome, please let me know so that I can add it! Thanks team.


#onthisday in 1986, a fire at the Central Los Angeles Public Library destroyed 400,000 items.

whens the last time u been to the library tho?!?…they just call em barnes and nobles.. or borders now huh?

Great study from Gates Foundation on importance of electronic access & library patrons, when NJ is facing 74% in cuts. http://bit.ly/a1unuZ

So… if you want a library job, apparently Harvard is the place to be. 12 jobs posted on @higheredjobs today!

This summer our library is reading this book for a special event called “One Book, One Twitter!” Join us!

Mental Floss posts links to things happening at libraries around the United States. http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs

5 great tutorial websites to learn how to do something: http://is.gd/bIQwM #yam


21st Century Library Blog
I just found this blog, forgive me… But its filled with awesome!

Finally, good news on the library funding front!

Other Nonsense

The most ecologically sustainable way to read your books is still a walk to the local library

Awesomeness in Iraq! Cool story

If you are planning any awesome CA Bay Area Library events, don’t forget to post them on the facebook page !

Why Harry Potter is evil
Well… on her list of reasons why its evil… The Latin language HAHAHA

Obligatory Twitter Blog Post: What Twitter has Done for Me – Thanks!

I was just thinking, as I was reading through the tweets from all you lucky librarians who are at PLA right now, that Twitter has so significantly changed my conference going, and professional experience that it deserves a little blog post tip of the hat. So while I know that there are probably a least a hundred thousand blog posts about Twitter going around the web right now, I hope that I can at least share my experience and what benefits it has brought for me.

Good times
First and foremost, I tweet therefore I have a good time. While at the first couple of ALAs, CLAs, and various other LAs in my pre-twitter life, I found that I had no idea where the fun and exciting people were. I didn’t know what was going on where, who I should be hanging out with and of course I had no idea where to go for all the after conference fun. So, I got an iPhone, started to tweet to find other librarians, built up a network of folks who seemed to be having a good time at the conferences and then I basically stalked them and followed them (in real life) to where the good times were being had. Every conference that I have been to since then has been amazingly fun and exciting and I’m surrounded by good people who are excited about the profession and having a good time.

Running for ALA council
At ALA midwinter this year I was following the council twitterers and on a break decided to peak into the Council Sessions to see what was going on. I had never seen a council session and embarrassingly had no idea what council was responsible for or what they did. It turns out… They’re responsible for lots of really interesting things that are directly responsible for what I am passionate about in librarianship. These people were basically deciding what my professional experience was going to be like. I don’t like other people telling me this and at the unmerciless hands of @awd, @infowidget and @tadawes I was gently encouraged to run for ALA councilor-at-large. So vote for me.

Beer and burgers with John Berry
I cannot even begin to describe this experience here. But have to say that it was all because of fellow twitterers @natenatenate
@phromberg, @hadro,
and @gcaserotti.

You can read about that whole night at this blog post .

Right places
As I mentioned earlier, following the twitter feed has allowed me to continuously be at the right places at the right times at conferences. By seeing what sessions that the most interesting tweets are coming from, I can make adjustments in my schedule. I even found that before a good session begins there is a flurry of posts in excitement. I haven’t had to sit in a dull or boring session since.

Besides the sessions, I have been to amazing pre-conferences, un-conferences, and conference socials as well as the amazingly fun Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and after dinner tweet-ups. This has been a cornucopia of meeting new librarians who I have become friends with and who I am excited to work with. I have met so many amazing librarians that I can’t list them here, but I’ll give you a start-
@jaimebc ,

You should check out who I’m following and you can find them all!

My career
One of the great things about this profession is how much we are all willing to help each other. I have found out about jobs that others have wanted and sent them on, and I have had people send some to me via Twitter. I have gotten all kinds of managerial tips from twitterers like @ pat2pattern and from many others.

I think this might be my favorite aspect of the twit-o-sphere. It seems like whenever someone has a good idea, they put it out to the rest of us and we can discuss, debate, and sometimes argue over various points that we might disagree or agree on. For example, we discussed police and library funding and it spurred @amandamcneil to write a great blog post response. And I think that’s the way it’s supposed to work sometimes when 140 characters just isn’t enough. So it’s become a great whiteboard where people write their ideas to share and can disagree and then take the debate off twitter to their blogs.

Hey someone reads my blog posts now! That’s a pretty nice feeling. But I also get an announcement whenever other people write their blog posts or when someone new starts blogging who I didn’t know about before and it’s always nice to read a new blogger.

For the future
I won’t say what’s coming for the ALA Annual in 2010 but you should be checking out http://www.8bitlibrary.com in the coming months for details and other awesomeness. I absolutely acknowledge @justinlibrarian and @librarianjp for their great efforts in making ALA Annual something to really look forward to.

So what should you do? I would suggest that you get in on the dialogue and make your twitter account. It might take a while to make it fun, and the first couple of tweets while be boring and pointless but the effort is absolutely worth it and it pays off in the end. So, please join your potentially new friends in making Librarianship even more awesome and don’t forget to let me know when you join us so I can follow you!

The Unabashed Fervor Surrounding #alamw10

The unabashed mounting fervor surrounding ALA midwinter is about to crash down on Boston like an Avalanche. I’m not going to lie, I’m one of the conference fanboys, but I feel like this conference is already off to a kind of insane beginning. As I’m watching the twitter feed it seems to be exploding with just about every kind of activity that makes these overly large conferences such a good time. I’m going to share with you some of this craziness in case you’re missing it.

1) Librarian Tattoos
Inspired by Andy Woodworth’s campaign for a Ben And Jerry’s Library Flavored Ice Cream, there has been a call for all librarians to get tattoos at ALAMW. Or, as the creator of this campaign (Justin Hoenke also from 8bitlibrary.com) has called the campaign – “Project Brand Yourself.” Yes, this is as crazy as it seems. Librarians are going to descend on Boston area Tattoo parlors and get branded with the library logo. Now, I’m a big library fan and I would love to just go and watch librarians get branded with the library logo, and I even want a tattoo, but I’m not sure this is going to be my first. If you get one, let me know when and where so I can watch or at least post a photo. I support this project and support everyone who gets a tattoo. Go get’em!

2) The Socials
By following the twitter hashtag #alamw10 I’ve decided that librarians drink the highest amount of alcohol per capita vs. just about any other profession anywhere. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the socials and happy hour events going on at ala. It’s going to be hard on my liver.

  • LITA Happy Hour
    YALSA Happy Hour
    GODORT Happy Hour
    ALA Emerging Leaders Meetup
    ALAMW Tweetup for Newbies
    ALA After Hours Social
    LibraryThing Party
  • 3) The Twitter Feed itself
    Already, the hashtag #alamw10 is on fire with content and information. I’m excited to see how this plays out over the course of the conference. It’s possible, that like #CLA09, the feed will die out once the conference begins but with the number of power tweeters attending this conference I’m not sure that will be the case. If you’re new to Twitter or just need some good folks to follow for this conference, I’d like to recommend a couple to you (there are far too many to list them all, these are just a few);


    And of course the Official Tweet of ALA Midwinter

    4) Bloggers
    With the high number of power tweeters comes a high volume of power bloggers. What’s nice about these folks is that they almost all have a Twitter account and you can find them via the conference hashtag. One exception, of course, is Annoyed Librarian, but nobody likes her anyway. But, in case you’re not a twitterer I’ll give you some of my favorite bloggers just in case. Here they are (in no particular order);


    5) The Conference
    Of course, let’s not forget the reason we are all here in the first place. This conference is huge. Perhaps this conference is not as big as ALA annual but it is still very large. ALA reports an average attendance of 11-12 thousand librarians. While this conference is mostly a business meeting, there will be some really great institutes, meetings, discussion groups, and other events covering everything from web 2.0 to such staples as Library Management. With so much going on it’s hard to decide what to do first. But everything you need to plan your ALA conference is available online via Twitter, Facebook events, Organization Blogs and websites, and at ala.org through their event planner, and ALA Connect. Take some time and check them out.

    6) ALA Secrets…
    For those of you who want to know what really happens at ALA midwinter, or those of you with secrets to share I’d like to introduce you to alasecrets.com. You can submit you own secrets, trysts, misdeeds, and misfortunes at the conference anonymously for the rest of us to live vicariously through. This twitterfeed is absolutely entertaining and so are many librarian’s reactions to it! I love that it causes such a stir that it was hacked and brought down at the last conference. I hope that everyone can be cool and have a good time checking out what’s really up with librarians (even if we’re lying about it).

    Have fun team!

    Friday Favorites: My Favorite #library Tweets from 12/07/09-12/11/09

    As I’ve been perusing the twitter feed for the hastag #library, I’ve noticed that there are some great ideas on here and I want to collect as many of them as possible. It just reminds how many librarians there are out there who are much smarter than me. These folks are doing some great work and showcasing a lot of it on their twitter feeds so I thought I’d like to share some of my favorites from this past week. There were a whole lot of other great posts out there besides the ones marked with the #library hashtag but I limited it because this post would be far too long had I not set some kind of limitation on it. Some of these posts are funny, some are informative, and some have links to even more information if you’re interested. If people like this, I’ll try to do it every Friday!

    @Renato71: They’re building the new library here in #helmond http://twitpic.com/t24tg
    I love new about new libraries being built! It seems like Library Journal is filled with a lot of doom and gloom news about libraries closing right now and posts like this make me happy

    @Jason_Scroggins: The Library Study at Fresno State: http://bit.ly/4XIRfp
    This is a very complete study on library spaces and usage at Fresno State via a design anthropological perspective. This study is so complete, in fact, that it is longer than 140 characters and thus I haven’t read it, but I’m thinking really hard about reading it.

    @interactiver Thanks for the nifty craft ideas! http://www.onehourcraft.com/?p=168
    There are some great one-hour craft ideas that are a boon to library programs available here. They are cheap and easy, just the way we like’em!

    @wawoodworth: Blogged: The search for the next big thing, ctd. http://bit.ly/8Y9yGu
    Yet another great post from the Agnosticmaybe.wordpress.com blog. If you’re not reading it…

    @dmguion: How to take the fullest advantage of resources http://bit.ly/7qef2R
    This is a great blog post that would be more suitable for our patrons to read than us librarians. If you’re in a position to get this post out to your public, then I think it should be done. There is a lot of good information here about the ways that your patrons can take advantage (in a good way) of your library.

    @tamahoc: excited about the soon-to-come new city centre http://bit.ly/7rst9r
    Excellent information the economic value of a new library in a community and what that library will bring its residence in $$$. Most of the information comes from the Urban Institute. (not to be confused with the Urban Libraries Council)

    @tamahoc: rethinking the restroom question at the http://bit.ly/70WQMl
    I just always a big kick out of debates that are going on in the reference sector of librarianship. RUSA always makes me smile and giggle a little

    @brothadave202: oh shit..my battery bout to die..time to hit up da Library
    Way to use the library brothadave! Thanks for stopping by, even if it’s just to charge your batteries. While you’re here, by the way, we also have books! Just FYI…

    @justhvk : Should you become a librarian? http://justhdoit.freeblog.hu/archives/2009/12/07/Should_you_become_a_librarian/
    SUPER FUNNY flowcharts always make for a better day!

    @CoffeeTimeRoman: Every librarian needs to see this: How libraries can adapt to changing users & environments http://bit.ly/5DRB6o
    This is a good slideshow, some good thoughts

    @tiffanye Top 5 library commercials on youtube: http://bit.ly/5YrdTs // Number 2 is my fave! Which is yours?
    Oh good, more ways to waste time on Youtube! I’ll always oblige. There are some good ones.

    @cougarlibrarian: The balls on our library Christmas tree are big and unbreakable. Just like the balls of our #library staff.
    HAHAHAHA!!! ‘nuff said…