SLA conference first-timer tips: what I did, and what I wish I did

I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year since the Special Libraries Association conference. Next week, library and information professionals from around the world will be gathering to discuss, debate and network in sunny San Diego. I attended SLA Chicago last year, as a first-timer, and here are my tips for those first-timers attending this year – what I did that paid off, and what I wish I did.

What I did

  • ECCA's adding ribbons to their name badges
    ECCA’s adding ribbons to their name badges

    Tie a knot in your lanyard, or clip your name badge to your top, where people can see it.

  • Absolutely leave a session early if its not for you, or you have a few things you want to attend at the same time. North American conferences are a very different atmosphere to British ones; no one will mind if you leave, and it is honestly liberating!
  • Use your British accent as ice-breaker. I honestly had a Canadian librarian say to me; “You’re from England?! Say something!“.
  • Get business cards and a holder. Again, it’s not very British for junior/new professionals to have business cards, but they’re so useful for networking, and many competetitions will require one. I actually wish we did more business card swapping here, it’s just so much easier than trying to slyly find out someone’s name from sideways glances at their name badge. (if they have one!)
  • Conference award winners at the ITR Division party (Photo credit SLA 2012 Photographer)
    Conference award winners at the IT Division party
    (Credit SLA 2012 Photographer)

    Hang out with the other ECCAs. This was probably the most rewarding aspect of winning the Early Career Conference Award (ECCA) for me. We were all first-timers to the States, and a jet-lagged evening of queuing for the Willis Tower is a shared experience we will never forget.

  • Attend the IT Division party. In fact, attend as many open houses, networking events and parties as you can.

What I wish I did

  • This thing would not stay put
    Would not stay put

    I only saw this idea after the conference – Write on the back of your name badge your name, job/institution and Twitter handle. Those things love to spin around. Genius.

  • Take breaks. The first couple of jet-lagged conference days were amazing, but draining. I wanted to pack in as many sessions as possible, but remember to take time out to see the sights.
  • Attend sessions that are unrelated to what you do. Some of the sessions were about things which I already knew quite a bit about. I now wish I’d skipped those (left early!) and attended something completely new to me.

I hope this year’s ECCAs get as much out of this year’s conference as I did last year. Have fun!

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