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Friday, November 10, 2017

Guest Post by a First Time Library Conference Attendee

I have been a librarian for over 17 years, but I still remember being nervous at my very first library conference. Sometimes the nerves can be so great that they take away from your enjoyment and learning opportunities.

Now, as a conference veteran, I feel like one of my jobs as a library worker trainer is to share my advice for making the most of your conference experience. So, back in June, right before ALA I had this post with nontraditional conference advice and then just before my state conference, I had this series of posts where I wrote about my experience in order to inspire you to get more out of your own conference experience.

I have had wonderful feedback about these types of posts, receiving emails and tweets from others who greatly appreciated them, but recently, a new librarian from VA, Bridget, reached out to me to share exactly how she took my inspiration and ran with it. After a few email exchanges I realized her story was important for all of you to hear.

So today, here is Bridget, to explain how she kept a conference journal. I am so proud to have inspired Bridget to take her continuing education and her conference experience into her own hands. There is much all of us can learn from Bridget, those of you who are new to the profession and even us grizzled veterans.

Take it away Bridget

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Like many of you, I read Becky’s post in early October announcing her upcoming visit to the Illinois Library Association conference, and encouraging all of us to consider writing about and sharing with her (and her readers) our state library conference experience if we attend ours.  As it so happens, I was getting ready to travel to Norfolk the very next week to attend the Virginia Library Association conference as my first-ever library conference.  I had been thinking “I really should make some record of this conference beyond my notes with content from the sessions” since those kinds of thoughts don’t come easily to me and the ones that do never seem to stick around.  Becky’s post inspired me to make sure that record actually happened, so I sent her an e-mail to let her know she had inspired me.  She asked if I would consider writing about my writing process, so I’m here today to tell you that you, too, can write about your state conference experience in a meaningful way, and how I went about doing mine.
First, a brief introduction:  I got my MLS in 2015 having attended grad school immediately after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in IT.  I am currently working in a “non-traditional” role as a contractor within the Federal government, but my career goal is to work as a “front-line” librarian.  I would love to be in a public library (my reason for following RA for All), but would be okay with a “front-line” job in any library setting where I would focus on working with adults.  I have not been feeling like I am a librarian since I am not working in a traditional role, and I hoped that attending VLA would help me feel like the kind of librarian I want to be for a few days and give me the opportunity to get some job search advice. 
Now I will talk about how I went about writing my conference journal: Over that weekend after Becky’s post and before my conference, I thought about the kinds of things I thought I would want to know in the future about my experience at the conference, and planned the entries I would make into this journal.   Since I struggle with remembering how I felt while having an experience in any area of my life, I knew I wanted to record that information for posterity.   Since going to your first-ever library conference is a big deal (at least it was for me), I thought I might want to know in the future how I felt in the few days before the conference, and also my thoughts after having attended the whole thing.  
I also wrote about my goals and expectations for the conference.  An excerpt of that part of my pre-conference journal entry is below.  Keep in mind this was my first conference.  
“I have established some goals and expectations for the next few days.  My number one goal is to have fun immersing myself in the wider library world and being surrounded by hundreds of fellow librarians while feeling like I’m actually a librarian (I don’t in my current job)!  I have established two other goals.  One is to introduce myself to at least one person in each session and break.  Hopefully I can make some contacts that I can continue after we get home.  My other goal is a two-part one.  The first part is to take advantage of everything they have to offer to early career and job-hunting librarians so I can learn as much as possible about networking, job-hunting, and advancing my career.  The second part is to absorb as much information as I can about the latest trends in libraries so I can remain up-to-speed in that regard.  I know these are lofty goals, but I hope they are attainable.” 
I also knew I wanted to record details about each session.  I took copious notes on what the presenters said in the sessions I found relevant to my current state in life, and a few notes in the others.  For the journal, I took a journalist’s approach and used the 5 “Ws” to create a consistent guide for what I would record in the journal.  My four questions were: who was presenting, what did they talk about (i.e. general topic), what were my takeaways, and why did I choose this session.   Here is the paragraph I wrote about one of the sessions I attended (about academic library job searching): 
“This session option was presented by a librarian at Virginia Commonwealth University.  The topic was tips and tricks related to the academic library job search process.  I attended the session because I wanted to get her perspective on this process and hopefully learn something new about it.  I got her perspective, but she didn’t say anything about job searching in academic libraries that I didn’t already know.”
As I mentioned, I wanted to be sure to have a record of how I felt having experienced the entire conference.  Here is the beginning of that journal entry:
“By the conclusion of day one, I had several thoughts running through my head about things that surprised me.  I wasn’t expecting that no one would talk between sessions, so I didn’t do much talking and therefore didn’t accomplish my goal of talking to at least one person at each session.  I had thought that people would talk to those around them while waiting for sessions to begin. But it is kind of hard to do that when the room you’re in is set up to hold 100 people, no more than a dozen people attend the session, and everyone spreads out across the entire room.”
Now I will answer the one remaining question: what was my writing timeline.  A couple days before I left, I took some time to gather the thoughts I had been having in the time leading up to the conference about what I was expecting to experience and hoping to get out of the conference, and write a journal entry with them.  Each day of the conference, I took time between sessions to write my short answer to each of the four W questions I established about the session I had just attended while it was fresh in my brain.  Then, each night I made sure I hadn’t forgotten to answer any of the questions for any session and wrote down my overall thoughts about the day.  Then the afternoon after I got home after the conference, I wrote journal entries for each day of the conference using my notes for each session, and an entry with my thoughts after having attended the whole thing.  That way, the event was still fresh in my brain.  
I hope that I will be able to look back over this journal in the years to come and remember my experience in a better way than if I had just written notes during each session.  Having done it once (thereby proving to myself that I can indeed be introspective), I will now be sure to write a similar journal when I do conference-style professional development in the future.  It is my hope that by reading this entry of RA for All, you will realize that it really isn’t that scary to write a conference journal, and give you an idea of what to write about if you hadn’t the foggiest of one.  If someone for whom reflecting on one’s thoughts is difficult can write a reflection journal, you can too!

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