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!

Apply now for SLA Europe Early Career Conference Awards 2013

Applications are now open for the SLA Europe Early Career Conference Awards (ECCA). Go apply now!

The awards, co-sponsored by four Special Libraries Association divisions (Business & Finance, Leadership & Management, Legal, and Pharmaceutical & Health Technology) offer new professionals an amazing opportunity to attend the SLA annual conference and INFO-EXPO in San Diego, and covers conference fees, flights, expenses and accommodation.

I was extremely fortunate to win an ECCA this year to attend SLA 2012 in Chicago, co-sponsored by the Business & Finance Division. It was an unbelievable experience and an incredible opportunity as a new professional. I met LIS professionals from around the world, experienced a country I always dreamed of visiting, and joined a welcoming and enthusiastic community.

More information about the awards, including how to apply, is at the SLA Europe website. I urge you to apply. You have nothing to lose, and you could end up in San Diego!

#cpd23 Thing 11 – Mentoring

I wanted to leave this post until after I had returned from SLA Chicago, as I would come back with some experience of having a formal mentor, giving me something on which to reflect for this.

As part of my Early Career Conference Award (ECCA), I was assigned a SLA Europe mentor, who could give tips and advice about preparing for the conference. My mentor was great in the run up to the conference. She very kindly arranged for me to snoop around visit her workplace and learn a little about what she does, and visit some other SLA Europe members, which was a great glimpse into special libraries.

I found having a mentor was a really nice touch to the ECCA. It was comforting to know there was someone just an email away if I was having a panic about what sessions to attend, or what I should bring.

Luke was lucky to have two mentors – Yoda and Obi Wan – in his career development as a Jedi Knight

In terms of other mentors, formal or informal, I’ve not had much experience. I’ve had managers who have been really supportive of my professional development, but I haven’t really experienced that specific relationship a mentor and mentee has.

It is something I plan on exploring in the future, however. Not least because it is required for Chartership, but also to support my own professional development.

Just reaching out to people in the profession and getting their advice can count as mentoring, and this is something I think we can all see ourselves doing, whether we think of it as mentoring/being mentored or not.

Marketing for the Rest of Us – SLA 2012 session write up

The session Marketing for the Rest of Us: a guide for introverts, with speaker Mary Ellen Bates, was standing room only, so I hope that writing up my notes from it will be useful for those who couldn’t attend. The slides for this presentation can be found here.

Marketing, both our services and ourselves, was a theme that cropped up in a few sessions. This presentation focused marketing techniques and advice for the introvert personality type, which I am sure is very common among librarians (I know I’m one!).

I wanted to write up my impressions from this session, as it was inspiring and really got me reflecting on my own marketing/branding etc. Here are some of the ideas and tips that I found most useful and interesting.

‘So, what do you do?’

Mary Ellen started the presentation with some interesting examples of how simple it is to transform an answer to “what do you do?”. Think about what it is you do that’s unique, that’s what your organisation needs. It’s also important that you’re not making the other person do all the work; in other words, it’s my responsibility to make sure I’m communicating the value of what I do. This reminded me very much of elevator pitches, which I later discovered Mary Ellen ran a workshop on at SLA last year!

She also pointed out the importance of talking about benefits, not features. This is something that Ned Potter also spoke about, a few months ago, and is something I am wholeheartedly behind. As soon as it was pointed out to me, I now see people talking about features everywhere, and have vowed not to do myself!

Promote, don’t defend

By taking on a defensive approach, it’s an uphill battle, since you’ll probably be going against your user’s prior experience. Saying Google isn’t reliable, for example, contradicts, for the user, all those times they used Google and found what they wanted.

I think this has some interesting implications for teaching information literacy, and engaging people in wanting to gain these skills; if you can show them how to make the most of Google, rather than saying DON’T USE IT DON’T YOU DARE, they’re more likely to get the most of the instruction because they feel it’s relevant and useful to them.

Build up your brand

Social media is a great way to develop your personal brand, but you can also add value to your profile by doing things such as live-tweeting a conference, blogging, or sharing your slides from a presentation. I’ve been trying to keep my personal brand in mind after reflecting on it for CPD23, but the idea of adding value hadn’t occurred to me. It makes a lot of sense though; I’d rather be contributing than lurking.

I was also tweeting (adding value!) during the session, and I created a storify of my tweets, which should hopefully build you a broader picture of my impressions. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to embed in wordpress, but please visit the link below:

[View the story “Marketing for the Rest of Us, with Mary Ellen Bates” on Storify]

Were you at the session? What were your take-home messages from it? And if you weren’t, what tips do you find helpful for marketing as an introvert?

SLA Chicago: A surreal and wonderful experience

So it’s been about two weeks since the SLA Conference in Chicago ended, and I still don’t think I’m quite over it. What a completely wonderful, overwhelming, indescribable experience it was. But I will try to describe it.

However, the experience was just too huge to put down in only one blog post, so I will be writing a few posts with different focuses. This post will be an general overview of what I got up to across the pond, and my impressions of the conference, and I’ll blog in more detail at a later point. Also check out Simon’s excellent post on the run up to SLA 2012.

I was lucky enough to win an Early Career Conference Award to attend this conference, co-sponsored by SLA Europe and the Business & Finance Division, and I’ll be writing about my experience over on the SLA Europe blog soon.

The Journey

This was to be my first solo flight, a prospect which did make me anxious, as I sometimes get nervous during take off (my first flight was only four years ago, so I’m inexperienced!). However, those of us flying from Heathrow had arranged to meet up, which settled some nerves!

The view over Downtown and Lake Michigan

The evening of our first day involved a tour of the highlights of Chicago, which I attended with the other ECCA’s.

Despite a very long queue, made all the longer by our creeping jet lag, we ascended to the Skydeck of the Willis Tower. The view… Wow, what an introduction to Chicago!

The Conference

First impressions of the conference centre? ‘It’s so big! They said it’d be big, but it’s so big!’

My many ribbons – quite a talking point!

The most enduring memory of the conference is just how friendly everyone was, and how much fun I had. I would put this down to it being my first conference, but honestly even seasoned SLA conference-goers were excited to be there, and excited to meet first timers.

We first timers were, incidentally, easily recognisable, by both our deer-in-headlights expressions and our handy ribbons.

I was impressed with how ‘connected’ the conference was. Sessions often had their own hashtags, and there was a Social Media Lounge where laptops were provided. I used this quite a lot, since I’ve had my smartphone for two years and still don’t really know how it works.


Like I said at the start of this post, I’ll be writing in more detail about the conference later, but here are just a few highlights of my time in Chicago.

  • Receiving my award at the Business & Finance annual business meeting breakfast. Standing in front of a crowd whilst details of your career thus far are read out is a strange experience, but it was very nice to be made a fuss of!

My beautifully framed certificate survived its transatlantic journey

  • Getting to know my fellow award-winners and SLA Europe members. Although we all did try to make the most of the networking opportunities, it was nice to socialise and do some touristy things together too, like eating pizza and experiencing Macy’s.

    The ECCA’s, L-R: Giles, Sarah, Marie, Simon, and me.

  • The Open Houses, Receptions and Dance Party. The conference wasn’t just limited to the day time. There was always something going on in the evenings. These were great networking opportunities, but also great fun, as the atmosphere was more informal. I haven’t included a photo for this one, as the only relevant ones I have are of us all in 1920’s fancy dress, and I’m not sure how pleased the subjects will be if I post them for all to see!

So that’s a very brief overview of the craziness that was SLA 2012 and my ECCA experience. It was a surreal, wonderful whirlwind. I will definitely be posting more in future, hopefully with a bit more focus than OMG IT WAS AMAZE 🙂

SLA 2012 preparations

It is only 10 days now until I fly to Chicago for the Special Libraries Association annual conference, courtesy of SLA Europe and the Business & Finance Division.

“If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been”.

This is going to be my first:

  • conference
  • time in America
  • solo flight (though the other ECCAs are on the same flight).

So you can probably imagine I’m a teensy bit nervous, but also incredibly excited!

My preparations so far have been scheduling my time at the conference itself, which quite handily can be done online. You set up a sort of ‘profile’, to which I just add the sessions I’m interested it. This doesn’t count as signing up to the sessions, but its a useful way of building up your days, and seeing what your friends are going to!

Currently, I’ve added everything that I’m even vaguely interested in (there’s so much!), and I’ll narrow it down closer to the time. Though, it apparently doesn’t hurt to have back up choices, as it’s ok to walk out of sessions at American conferences if they’re not for you (not sure whether I’ll actually do this, I’d feel too mean!).

Something else I was sure to do was getting business cards. Having not worked as a professional, this had never even crossed my mind. But now I have them, I quite like it! Vistaprint had an offer for 250 cards for just the P&P, so I have loads! I wasn’t really sure what to include on them, but I settled on my email address, blog and Twitter, as well as a short ‘tagline’ under my name.

My business cards, and a little holder for them

I’m sure I’m not the only one to also worry about what to wear. I was actually in need of a wardrobe revamp, as I wanted some smart-casual clothes for when I finish library school. I’ve heard from many sources that American conference centres turn up the air conditioning to combat the high temperatures outside, so I’ve tried to layer!

I just need to get a significant chunk of my dissertation done before I go. I’d rather not be working on it while I’m out there, but I do have a couple of long flights, which might be the perfect opportunity…

So with only 10 days to go, I am definitely counting down now! Expect lots of blog posts when I get back (and a few more before I go, as I try desperately, and futilely, to catch up with CPD23)