A First-timer Experience at ALA Midwinter (by Jon Grass)

A First-timer Experience at ALA Midwinter (by Jon Grass)

This winter I attended my first national ALA event, the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Boston.  As a student, it seemed as though the Midwinter Meeting was perhaps not the best introduction to ALA; the Meeting was a time for committees to meet, not an event full of fun programming and dancing librarian with book carts.  I had my concerns, but I had been fortunate enough to become involved with the campaign of an ALA Presidential candidate —Molly Raphael —so I had a mission and a reason to be there.

In planning my conference activities, I focused primarily on helping with the custom college paper.  As the Volunteer Table Coordinator, I made an effort to arrange for everything to function smoothly with the campaign table and gave only my second or third thoughts to the rest of the weekend’s schedule.

When I did get around to planning my weekend, I found myself overwhelmed and confused by the Midwinter Meeting Web site.  In addition to being warned that there would be no programming at the meeting, I couldn’t find a calendar of all the events of the week.  I found the Sunrise Speaker series on one page and committee meetings on another.  I could’ve sworn I had read something somewhere about a happy hour for new members, but where?  Meanwhile, my email inbox filled up with emails from a hundred or two vendors who looked forward to seeing me in Boston.

When I got to Midwinter Meeting, I was very glad to be working on the campaign.  Not only was I supporting a candidate I believed in —Molly had been the Director of Libraries at Multnomah County Library for four years when I lived in Portland —but the campaign gave me a purpose for being at the conference.  The campaign table served as a home base for me throughout the week.   When I didn’t have any activities, I handed out flyers or talked with the campaign volunteers at the table.  It was an excellent way to meet established professionals in the field.

I was also very fortunate to have my advisor and former ALA President Loriene Roy eager to take me around to meet my colleagues; without Loriene’s help, I would have had no idea where to go and would not have met nearly as many people as I did during that week.  This is, in fact, the situation in which the few other students I encountered during the week seemed to find themselves.  Where should I go?  What should I do?  There were a few events geared toward new members, but I felt lucky for having even heard about them and I was ultimately unable to attend any of them.

My advice to students planning to attend the Midwinter Meeting in the future would be to:

  1. Get involved with something; create a purpose for yourself.  If not a campaign, contact the leaders of a few round tables or the planners of some events and see if you can help out.  Be clear about why you are there and what you hope to get out of it.
  2. If you have a professor, advisor, employer, or anyone else who is attending Midwinter Meeting and has attended before, ask for help planning your schedule and see if you can spend some time with them during the meeting.

The week was overwhelming as a newbie and people were there to get down to business.  So if you’re a student attendee, find yourself some business and someone one to join.  My hopes are that in the ALA will focus on increasing student attendance and involvement in the Midwinter Meeting in the future.  For students, the meeting is a great introduction to the field, a good way to meet colleagues, and an excellent opportunity to become engaged with ALA in a significant way.

Vote for Molly!

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It’s so interesting to read your perspective. It has given me some ideas about what I might do as ALA president to make it easier for students and very new members to the library profession to identify an opportunity to find their way at Midwinter (or Annual). We have lots of “seasoned” professionals and mentors out there who could help first time attendees find the pathways that will lead them to meaningful experiences. We just need to try a little harder and remember what it was like for us so many years ago when we went to our first conference. Thanks for all your work at Midwinter and for your insights into the experiences of a first time attendee.

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