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ALA: It’s Not Just an Adventure, It’s a Job

Getting down on the exhibit floor, ALA 2007

Getting down on the exhibit floor, ALA 2007

Bobbyi “Librarian By Day” Newman has a new post about surviving ALA conferences that links back to my own ALA survival post from last year as well as a few other useful conference posts. It’s worth re-reading those those posts, but  I’m adding a few tips below.

First tip (specific to NOLA): don’t waste your time getting there. A cab is $33 for up to 2 passengers, $14 each for 3 or more. The shuttle, which will make many stops, is $20 per person. The city bus airport-express is $2. The first time I went to ALA in NOLA I took a shuttle, and it took so long I swore I’d never do that again (and I haven’t). I can see spending $2 to take a bus (though I probably won’t do that), but a shared cab appears to be your best bet–faster and cheaper than the airport shuttle.

If you’re arriving at MSY (that is, the New Orleans airport) around 5 p.m.-ish Friday 6/24, and would like to split a cab, give a holler. (I’m coming in on Southwest 905.)

Plan in advance. This sounds so obvious, 36 conferences later, and yet to newcomers it may not seem important to have a game plan of what you’re doing before you get to the actual conference. But ALA happens quickly, it’s spread across dozens of hotels, events are happening concurrently, and transportation can create interesting logistical issues — you may not actually be able to get to point B from point A in the time allotted without setting aside cab fare.

I now use the ALA planner for my preliminary planning. The ALA planner is a work-in-progress that over a decade has gone from egregiously unusable to quite useful and powerful. Now, I say I use the ALA planner, but I also use divisional websites such as LITA, ACRL, and GLBTRT and the ALA conference page itself to quickly target meetings and events. Use it to line up both your “A” plan and your backup sessions/programs/activities.

At MPOW I adopted a practice from a previous job and held a meeting where those of us attending this conference “compared and contrasted.” I picked up tips about a few sessions and also was able to clarify how we’re coordinating receipt submission (details, details!).

Another preparation from MPOW is to start following the Annual Conference hashtag (#ala11) as early as possible. And don’t be shy about using that hashtag to tweet for assistance if you get lost.

Carry a printed map. Yes, even if you have a cotillion of location-aware hardware. The printed schedule has good maps in it. Tear them out and bring them with you, along with the exhibit-floor directory. The rest you can ditch or keep in your hotel room (because you planned in advance…). I also use a small foldout map.

Get expert help. If you are super-new to ALA Annual, one piece of advice from a sage at MPOW is to attend one of the “101” sessions for newcomers, such as the orientations by the New Member Roundtable or a divisional session, such as the 101 sessions held by ACRL (Saturday morning) or LITA (Friday afternoon).

On the exhibit floor,  stop by the Membership Pavilion to see what’s new and interesting.

Rotate your shoes. No, not under your bed. Don’t wear the same shoes two days running. Your feet will thank you. (And of course, don’t wear new shoes to ALA!)

Pack a little first-aid. I thought I was prepared for ALA Annual 2010, but in that daunting heat I developed wicked foot blisters–yes, even with my homely-but-comfortable,worn- every-other-day shoes–and found myself hobbling in pain to a drugstore very early one morning. Now I have a small emergency stash of bandaids in addition to my analgesics.

Give back to your institution. This is another “obvious” piece of advice that may not always be so obvious. If you’re funded, even partially, to attend a professional conference, then for heaven’s sake, attend some sessions (or other activities, such as vendor visits) that will address the needs of your current position — areas you need to grow in, new skills you need to learn. In the end, ALA is a business trip.

Consider a visual trip report. You know my advice to write the trip report on the flight home. If it makes sense to do so, consider using your photographs to create a visual essay that accomplishes the same. It might not (ALA Council by Pictures?), but I’ve written trip reports that couldn’t have been done any other way. At the very least, a few pix are nice.


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