Why I’m Attending SLA 2018
You need to be in Baltimore, June 9–13 for the SLA 2018 Annual Conference. Here’s why:
‘Ideas for Better Serving My Customers’
While I always enjoy making new connections and finding out about all the various things going on in the library world, I would have to say that, for me, a successful SLA conference is one where I leave with new ideas that I can integrate into my current job.
These can be things that help me better balance my workload or ideas for better serving my customers. They can be innovative and brand-new ideas and technologies, or a simple twist on an old idea. In this vein, I am drawn toward roundtable sessions, where we can all use our knowledge and creativity to help and inspire each other.
‘Taking Responsibility for My Own Professional Development’
When I ask fellow SLA members if they are going to the conference, there is one response that has never resonated with me: “No, I can’t go because my employer won’t pay for it.”
Now, I do understand that some people truly have financial restrictions that simply will not allow for the expense of paying for the conference on their own, but that isn’t necessarily the case for many of the people I hear this answer from.
I attended my first conference while I was still a student, way back in 2002 in Los Angeles. I was fortunate enough to win the William B. Neff Scholarship from the Museums, Arts & Humanities Division to help pay my way, but I still stayed in a super-cheap hotel and ate only what I could find at receptions and session breakfasts.
For many years after, I continued to pay my own way to the conference—you can’t win a student scholarship when you aren’t a student—maintaining as low a budget as possible. Believe me, I have done and understand a low-budget conference experience.
For me, the decision to attend the SLA annual conference has never relied solely on whether or not my employer would pay for me to go; it has been a matter of what is important to me, what do I value, and what do I prioritize in my career development. Do I treat my profession as a job or as a career? Do I treat it as though I’m a professional? Is it important to me to make new connections and learn new skills and be introduced to new topics that will ultimately further my professional development and my career?
While it has lightened my wallet on occasion, and changed plans for a vacation later in the year, paying my own way to the conference has always given me a sense of pride that I am a professional. And it gives me a much more personal sense of taking responsibility for my own professional development, in a way that I don’t get from having my employer pay for it.
No matter how I get there, I always come away from the SLA conference happy to have reconnected with colleagues, having made new connections and friends, and inspired by the sessions I attended. But attending the SLA annual conference on my own dime qualitatively changes my experience of the conference.
I have greater freedom at the conference when I pay my own way. It doesn’t always have to be about obtaining skills that will help me in my job right now; it can sometimes be about getting introduced to a new area or idea that will help me grow toward a job I want to have in the future.
When my employer is footing the bill, I sometimes have to go to a session that more directly relates to my current job, a session that I can report back on and that justifies my going, rather than attend a conflicting session that might be more relevant to a career path I’d like to pursue. Do I attend the sessions about the future of data science, pursuing alternate career paths, or improving my resume and interviewing skills, or do I really need to attend that session on the ILS my library is thinking about using even though I have no real interest in it? If I’m paying my own way, the answer may be different.
Yes, staying in the same hotel as the IT Dance Party, and eating more than granola bars and cheese-and-cracker platters, has been a nice perk as I moved on up to the mid-career stage of my life. But I would go back to the low-budget conference if the alternative was not going to the conference at all, and I wouldn’t trade all those years of hunting and gathering in exchange for not making it to the conference as often as possible, especially in my early career. Honestly, I’m not certain I would be in the same position in my mid-career if I had neglected such an integral aspect of my professional development when I was a baby librarian making my own way to the conference.
Go early. Go often. Invest in yourself.
‘It Keeps Me Abreast of New Developments in Different Subject Areas Outside of Librarianship’
What makes an SLA Annual Conference a success for me are the sessions not directly related to traditional librarianship. Librarianship involves keeping abreast of new developments in different subject areas outside of librarianship. Nanotechnology became a hot topic a few years back and Yea! for SLA there was a session explaining it. The Science and Engineering 101 sessions are always right on. Chemistry had a series on the chemistry of chocolate, wine and beer. These sessions not only help to explain the topics, but provide examples for me to incorporate into my teaching and the information needed to assist researchers with writing their grants.
‘Attending Literally Changed My Career’
Prior to becoming a librarian, I had no experience with professional conferences and had little understanding of the value of developing a network of colleagues outside of my organization. The first SLA conference I ever attended was in Nashville in 2004, and my attendance literally changed the course of my career. Not only did I attend many informative sessions, I also went to as many of the open houses and social events as I could. I met many people that I admired doing fascinating work (including my future boss), and I asked many questions. These were long and fun days, and I was hooked!
Over time, I developed an extensive network of colleagues that I could call on for help and advice. This included asking an SLA colleague to mentor a struggling librarian at my institution who needed an outside perspective, making use of shared materials when I first started to teach, and getting help formulating meaningful messages about my unit’s value that resonated with clients. Because of the help I received, I was able to keep a great person on staff, get a running start on developing my class, and gain traction with key administrators.
As I enter my 14th year as an academic librarian, I still find networking to be an invaluable part of my conference experience. I now use SLA conferences to share my experience and insights with newer professionals, as well as continue to learn from those who have served in middle management positions (my current role). I also find it invigorating to connect with newer professionals and recent library school graduates who tell me about new technology and trends. The recent addition of Main Street SLA has provided yet another way for making these connections, and I have found it to be a fantastic way to meet people from other divisions and units in a fun forum. Sometimes, I get so engrossed in a conversation that I need to remind myself to attend actual educational sessions!
I am so grateful to be part of the SLA community that continues to support and foster my professional growth and allows me to continue to meet fascinating information professionals. SLA is indeed my tribe!
—Laura Leavitt Walesby
‘An Expo That Helps Me Be Successful in My Job’
Every year, I look forward to the time that I will have in an expo hall that is practically tailor-made for special libraries and the information professionals that work to support the mission of very specialized organizations. The INFO-EXPO is so different from the other exhibit halls I see when I attend other professional conferences. There are so many of the vendors I already buy from there and so many new and interesting companies showing how their products can help me be successful in my job.
I look forward to the SLA Annual Conference every year for so many reasons: catching up with colleagues from around the globe and attending thought-provoking educational sessions. But what makes the SLA Annual Conference a success for me year after year is the diversity and density of highly relevant products and services I find in the INFO-EXPO Hall.
Check out who’ll be exhibiting at the SLA 2018 INFO-EXPO!
Visit this webpage and click on the purple button in the upper left corner marked “Exhibitor List.” Please note, these are the exhibitors to date; this page will be updated periodically as new exhibitors get added to the exhibit hall.
‘Learning Opportunities That I Cannot Get Anywhere Else’
There are two main things that keep me coming back to SLA Annual Conference each year: the wonderful connections I’ve made with other SLA members and the outstanding educational programming.
It is my fellow SLA members, and especially those in the divisions of which I am a part, that are a huge part of why I attend. They understand the ups and downs that I have in my daily work, because they have experienced those same things themselves. They are doing the same sorts of work with the same types of patrons, in my case, faculty and students. Just as importantly, my fellow SLA members are persons I hang out with at the conference, eat dinner with, and have some down-time with between educational sessions. I look forward to seeing them each year.
The educational programming at SLA is top-notch. There are opportunities for learning at SLA that I cannot get anywhere else. I see great speakers that are both general in nature, as well as people who speak to my particular specialty in the information world. This specialization is, in my opinion, what differentiates SLA from other organizations and conferences.
I feel fortunate to have found SLA and specifically the SLA Annual Conference. It is exactly what I need for both networking and professional development. I encourage anyone who is on the fence about whether to attend to say “Yes!” After you have attended just one time, you will be hooked and understand why I feel that SLA is the best conference in the field.
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