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FRL’s Tips for New Annual Conference Attendees

The ALA Wiki has some good tips, and provides links to several other collections. Here’s my gathered wisdom:

* Don’t assume you’ll have ubiquitous web or email access; do assume that friends will have complications and crossed wires that a cell phone can help resolve. I always carry a short printout with my schedule and key cell phone numbers.

* I usually rip up the bulky paper conference planner we’re issued and retain just the pages I need. Anything to keep the weight off my back. But I also take the planner pages home so I can refer to them when I’m writing a conference report.

* Find at least one major speaker’s event to attend–e.g. Cokie Roberts, Anderson Cooper, Laura Bush. It’s not so much that you’ll hear a great speech–it’s hit or miss, and I like to watch the library press reporters go into MEGO mode when a speaker talks about his or her Positive Childhood Library Experience–but that you’ll be in a huge surging mass of librarians all grooving on librarianship, and that’s pretty cool.

* Double-book your program slots. Sometimes programs are a snooze, and sometimes your feet are killing you, or it’s raining, or you realize after you get there that the shuttle won’t get you to the next, REALLY important event on time. So for every timeslot–particularly if it requires a shuttle ride or walking–pick another program or activity as backup.

* Go see the exhibits. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have buying power where you work. Exhibits are fun, and exhibitors fuel the conference, and learning to interact with vendors is important. Plus you’ll learn stuff and see interesting things. But only snarf up the SWAG you really want. I enter every raffle, but only because (sniff) I never, ever win. If you time things right, you might get to the Exhibits when snacks are plentiful, too.

* Regarding comfortable shoes… here’s a very good tip I learned years ago from an exhibitor: don’t wear the same pair two days in a row. If you bring at least two pairs, you can rotate what you wear every day.

* Don’t wear NEW shoes, either, no matter how comfortable they look. If you bought new shoes for this trip, start wearing them NOW so they’re broken in.

* I made this mistake for years: don’t wear new clothes. I have had various wardrobe malfunctions, from dresses that stuck to my legs to blouses that hiked up while I walked, and always because I was wearing something new I bought just for the trip and hadn’t tested out.

* Regarding professional wear… some ALA attendees dress as if it’s 1993 and they are Wall Street stockbrokers. Don’t be a shlub, but “business casual” will work for most situations, unless your boss is there and she is stuck in the past. I wear cotton dresses when it’s hot because I feel most comfortable in a loose garment, but they ain’t fancy frocks. The exception to this guideline would be a fancy-dress event such as an inaugural, or dinner at a very nice restaurant.

* The badge thing: as I wrote on LITA-L, it’s pretty obvious you’re a conference attendee–who else would be in New Orleans in June? Take off your badge if you like–though really, while crossing the street?–but don’t fool yourself that nobody knows you’re a tourist. I’m almost tempted to wear my badge everywhere and see if it’s good for a few smiles. In any event, badge or no badge, assume you have TOURIST stencilled across your forehead and act accordingly: friendly, polite, a good ambassador to LibraryLand, but also aware of your surroundings.

* Speaking of awareness, at least at night or on lightly-trafficked streets, practice the buddy system: try not to go alone. New Orleans is safer than many cities, but it’s still a city and you’re still a tourist. Oh, and snagging a temporary conference friend is a great way to make a cab ride affordable.

* Blogging is a good way to focus on a program you’re interested in while sharing your observations with others. Blog for LITA, blog for yourself, blog for another division, or for a publication; so many choices! I’ll be blogging for LITA and a Techsource.

* Write your conference report on the plane home. You heard me. Don’t wait until you get swept up into a crush of all that stuff you didn’t get done while you were off chowing down on muffalettas and beignets. I have seen some otherwise conscientious people get sidetracked… then lose momentum… and three months later, those notes are stale. Get it done so you can go home and rest with a clear conscience.

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