From an event organisation point of view, there were some really great ideas I can take from the ALA Annual 2011 conference. Some may not work in the UK, but I’m willing to give it a try!
You know what it’s like - you were torn between two different sessions (look how much there is to choose from!), and 5 minutes in to the one you chose you realise you’ve made the wrong choice. If you’re at a UK conference, the chances are you’ll stick with it in the hope that it might get better. But at US conferences, as long as it’s not rude to do so, you can just change sessions. There are so many overlapping sessions anyway, but whilst UK library conferences don’t tend to have over 2000 sessions (yes, there were that many at ALA Annual 2011!) there are still clashes and if something is not what you were expecting, I don’t see anything wrong with people changing sessions as long as it doesn’t disrupt either session. I’m not sure how speakers would react but I know when I’m presenting I’d far rather have a smaller group of interested people than a larger group of people falling asleep (though I guess having everyone leave would be difficult to deal with). What do you think - could we adopt this model in UK conferences?
Exhibit A: Awesome!
Aaron Dobbs with his many ribbons (and yes, that is me in the background!)
OK, so Aaron may have taken it to the extreme, but these ribbons are really useful. You can see at an instant what groups people are a member of or what their interests might be. Interested in knowing more about ALA as an organisation? Look for someone with an ALA Councillor ribbon! Want to find out about a particular group? Look for someone wearing one of their ribbons. I found the ribbons a great conversation starter and they helped me find people I was looking out for too. At CILIP West Midlands events I have used different coloured dots on badges for speakers and committee members, but ribbons are a lot easier to spot (also the comical ribbons are a bit of fun too - I added the Tired Feet ribbon to my badge on my last day!).
The previous photo was taken at Battledecks, where I was honoured to be a judge (thanks to Jenny Levine for volunteering me to stand in for her!). Battledecks is a competition for brave participants who present based on a slidedeck they haven’t previously seen. The slides often comprise of silly images which may well have very little to do with the focus given for the presentation and the challenge is to make a relatively comprehensive story from them whilst also keeping it entertaining for the audience. In ALA’s Battledecks there were 10 slides which the presenters had to get through in a maximum of 5 minutes - if they didn’t use all the slides they were penalised, and also if they came in well under time. This year, Andy Woodworth created the slide decks, and they were hilarious! All you need to run Battledecks is someone to create the slides, a chair to introduce each speaker, a timekeeper, some judges, an audience, and the brave contestants.
At ALA the Battledecks is a lot of fun, it was definitely one of the highlights for me (and I think still would have been even if I hadn’t been a judge). Here’s a photo of everyone involved:
Unfortunately I didn’t find out about this space until right at the end of the conference, but the uncommons is basically a place to chill out for a while and get away from the madness that is the conference. People arrange to meet up here and sometimes people arrange social gatherings during the day here (as well as lunch meetups which are common too). A few of us had hoped to get a CraftCon set up, but we didn’t manage to this time - I think it would be good to have somewhere to wind down though at all large conferences.
OK, so this is an interesting one. Most (if not all actually) of the events I have been to in UK are during the week, and usually between 9am and 5pm. Due to problems experienced getting time out of work, evening events have become more popular (I’ve organised two evening events for CILIP West Midlands), but not weekends. I’ve mentioned it as a suggestion in committee meeting and people have looked at me like I am crazy. However, at ALA, they had around 20,000 delegates all of whom were happy to spend their weekend at the conference (the conference was Fri-Tues but the main days were Saturday and Sunday).
And whilst I was drafting this post, I’m really pleased that some people much braver than myself have taken the plunge in the UK and organised a weekend event - and the response has been amazing! Library Camp UK 2011 will be in Birmingham on Saturday 8th October, and 175 people signed up in less than 24 hours. Not all librarians want to give up their weekends, but there are some that are willing to do so. I’ll definitely be taking this into consideration for future events - we need events at different times to suit different audiences.
…or go to a library conference!
I’ve been back from my trip to ALA Annual 2011 conference and Louisiana State University libraries visit for a couple of weeks now, and have had chance to reflect on my experiences. I have to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of New Orleans the city, but the bustling ALA Annual conference (with over 20,000 attendees!), the contrasting relaxed atmosphere at Louisiana State University, and the incredible people I met at both made it such an amazing experience. Some of the things which stood out for me include:
I totally agree with others who have recently attended their first international conference (such as Ned Potter and Sam Wiggins) - the value of these conferences is the people you meet and the connections you make. I think I gradually got a little better at describing what I do and what my interests are, and I exchanged so many business cards (which I don’t tend to do so much at UK events). I had so many interesting conversations, both during the conference and over lunch/dinner. I don’t know how some people manage to stay up until the early hours and still make the 8am sessions though - I retreated back to my hotel room before midnight most nights! I hope the connections I made will lead onto interesting projects in future - formal and informal. I left feeling totally re-energised with ideas (though mentally and physically exhausted!).
It was an absolutely amazing experience and I am incredibly thankful to the CILIP John Campbell Trust and to my employer for supporting my attendance. I really hope it’s not my last ALA conference, I’d really recommend anyone to go if they can. I have to say though, I was disappointed not to experience any knitting librarians at the sessions I attended!
For those interested, there are some photos (many of them very poor I’m afraid!) in my ALA Annual Conference collection on Flickr.
Conferences are always exhausting, but when its the scale of ALA Annual (22,000 people I have heard and over 2000 sessions!) and you combine it with the humidity of New Orleans in June and a convention centre which is over a mile in length, that makes for a particularly tiring experience. I have completely lot all concept of date or time, but it is so worth it.
I have met some incredible people, had some really interesting and exciting conversations, learnt so much about the US information profession and particularly ALA, ate some great food and drank some really good cocktails!
I am so thankful to the John Campbell Trust and to my employer who have both supported my application to come over for the conference and study visit (I’m going to LSU in Baton Rouge after the conference).
I’ll be writing up some thoughts on different themes at some point - though it might not be until the flight home next weekend when I’ve had time for it to sink in. I’ve taken a different approach this conference and just tried to listen and absorb information rather than take comprehensive notes at every single session. I think I’m getting more from it and I like the fact that because many presentations are now online and I can tweet main points, I don’t feel pressure to explain every single point of every single session to share with others through a blog.
For now though, one word to sum up my ALA Annual experience - awesome! I’m going out for dinner tonight with the librarian who first encouraged me to come to ALA Annual so I will be sure to thank her for something that has really enhanced my professional development.
Today has been such an exciting day, and I can’t wait for more of it tomorrow. I met some of my library heroes, and even plucked up the courage to speak to some of them! So amazing to meet people I’ve been following and chatting to online in real life.
I also saw a few people that I think might be people I “know” online but I didn’t have the guts to say hello in case I was wrong (was outside convention center so they didn’t have badges on). Having such prominent badges and ribbons is incredibly useful for networking, I just happened to be glancing at some nearby name badges when I spotted someone I had hoped to meet up with.
Today’s ASCLA pre-conference on assembling a consultancy toolkit was really interesting. I’ll write a more detailed post at some point but I have an early start tomorrow (8am session, unheard of in UK!) so I’d better get some sleep!
Things I have learnt or been reminded of so far during my trip to New Orleans:
- ALWAYS take a credit card with you when travelling
- Check confirmation of bookings (and relevant payment) before leaving for your trip
- If you’re using a card whilst away (I use FairFX) take some cash too in case there are problems with the card
- Allow time for immigration - it can take a lot longer than you think
- If you have a long flight, paying for the extra leg room is worth it (unless it’s a crazy additional price)
- The US driving style is very different to UK driving style
- Americans offer exceptional customer service
- Americans sure do know how to cook a good steak
- Cocktails are awesome!
Looking forward to the rest of trip and hoping I learn lots more :)
Useful tips, particularly about clothing - good to know business casual is OK.
Hoping to join in the photo scavenger hunt if I get chance.
More useful ALA tips.
More great tips for ALA Annual 2011.
Useful tips. Like the term “profersonal” in terms of your brand.