SLA Conference highlights – #SLA2014

I spent a solid portion of June on the other side of the world, on the West coast of North America. Visiting Vancouver for the annual SLA Conference was incredible – what a setting.

The view of Vancouver harbour

The view of Vancouver harbour

I can confirm the stereotype of friendly Canadian is true. I felt incredibly welcomed to Vancouver. This extended to the conference too. A representative from the First Nations, from just across the harbour, was a special guest at the Opening Session. He chanted over us, and very favourably compared information professionals to medicine men plucking information to guide people to where they need to go. What a fantastic way to start the three days of the conference in a city with so much cultural and ethnic diversity.

A welcome at Vancouver airport!

A welcome at Vancouver airport!

The conference theme was Beyond Borders, and it lived up to that. Kate Arnold, SLA President, opened the conference, crossing borders herself as SLA’s first non-North American president. Several SLA Europe members received awards in the Opening Session, and the beyond borders theme was present in many of the sessions – working across cultures and time-zones, and moving careers between sectors, for example.

Attending SLA this time round was quite a different experience. I attended the conference two years ago in Chicago as an SLA Europe Early Career Conference Award (ECCA) winner, and it was a whirlwind. This year was a little bit calmer (…but only a little bit).

I knew/knew of/got to know quite a lot of people, especially the SLA Europe lot. It was very comforting to see familiar faces some eight time-zones from home, and especially in a crowded conference centre.

I attended fewer sessions than in 2012, but this was because I prioritised quality over quantity. Avoiding getting wiped out was key – I may miss out on a session to load up on caffeine and doughnuts instead, but it means I’ll take in more at the next.

Some of the stand-out sessions included:

  • The SLA Fellows and Rising Stars round-table was a new format to me, and had a lot of food for thought.
  • “I am not a brand!”: Building your personal and professional profile. Mary Ellen Bates’ sessions are always popular. She is an engaging speaker and I enjoyed this presentation on ‘owning your brand’.
  • Due to some session-hopping, I ended up in the Tuesday’s Contributed Papers. I walked in to a discussion about what national library associations do, don’t and should offer, followed by more fascinating presentations. It was an unexpected highlight of the conference!

I have written up my impressions from a couple of the sessions in more depth.

Session hopping is liberating, I wish it was acceptable at British conferences. The same goes for swapping business cards (rather than the awkwardness when you’ve been chatting with someone for half an hour and forgot to ask their name).

The final day of the conference coincided with my birthday. It was an odd experience celebrating my birthday on another continent, and especially so being several time-zones away from my twin. But a Canadian breakfast, and a cheeky couple of local craft beers in the evening, just couldn’t be beaten. And the ‘It’s My Birthday!’ badge on my conference lanyard was a conversation starter.

IMG_1032I was fortunate to be awarded a travel grant from the John Campbell Trust which allowed me to attend this fantastic conference so far from home. My final word, similar to Rosie’s, one of this year’s ECCAs, in her SLA Europe blog post, is if you see opportunities for bursaries or awards, just go for it! Many of SLA Europe were able to get to Vancouver thanks to various awards and funding, so it goes to show it’s worth applying.

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