A quick guide for attending ALA (or any other national conference)

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I’ve been lucky enough to attend a few major lit-related conferences across the country, including ALA Midwinter, ALA Annual, AASL and IRA.  My rookie conference, in my hometown of Atlanta when I was in library school, was a learning experience in more ways than expected.  I didn’t know what to expect, and I wasn’t prepared. This is what I learned – the hard way – about having a successful and enjoyable conference experience.

Before you go:

  1. Pack/wear comfortable shoes.  Save the flip-flops for another day, since you’ll be walking more than you anticipate (especially if you like to spend time on the exhibit floor, like I do).
  2. Bring band-aids…just in case.  And ibuprofen.  🙂
  3. Bring a comfortable bag/pack instead of a purse.  Backpacks and cross-body bags are great for carrying your freebies. No rolling bags are usually allowed.
  4. Pack the right office supplies: sticky notes (for tabbing your conference notebook), pencils/pens, highlighter, business cards (to enter drawings on the exhibit floor), address labels (to enter specific drawings/raffles listed in the conference notebook that require you to write down your info.  Address labels work just as well!)
  5. Bring cash.  Book sales usually accept cash/check, though paying in cash is just easier.
  6. Pack snacks and a water bottle.  Protein-filled bars and jerky are packable body food for the days that you don’t make it off the exhibit floor.  For me, lunches at conference are usually spent waiting to meet an author/illustrator that I love.
  7. Spend some time browsing the conference webpage.  Usually, you can create a virtual calendar of events and speakers to attend/see before arriving at the conference center.
  8. If you’re flying: have a plan on how to get your freebies back home, because you’ll have plenty.  Pack light, pack an extra bag, use the conference post office…

When you get to the conference center:

  1. Pick up your registration ASAP.
  2. Flip through the book and fill out every entry for raffles from vendors.  Use your address labels!  Tear these out and carry them with you, entering the raffles on the dates specified.  (Note: I’ve won a couple of amazing raffles this way, as have friends.  It’s worth your time!)
  3. If you’re from out-of-town, locate the post office.  Most lit-related conferences have one.  Shipping home books at book-rate will save you from lugging them around the exhibit floor.  Plus, your hands and back will thank you.

Once you’re on the exhibit floor:

  1. Be thoughtful in what free bags you pick up to carry your loot.  Those adorable bags with the rope handles will eat into your palms once they’re loaded down with books (and you will be loaded down).
  2. Galleys – pre-publication books – are everywhere.  They’re usually paperbacks and can be in large piles on tables or the floor.  They are free for the taking.  Keep in mind that different galleys are released throughout the conference.
  3. If you want to see a specific author/illustrator, get in line early.  Lines can get very long for the celebrities of the literature world.
  4. Don’t be afraid to talk to publishers and exhibitors!  They more you network, the more you will discover (like that the galley you really want is releasing tomorrow at 12p).
  5. Take pictures!  My phone is my BFF during conference: I take pictures of books, displays, authors…you name it.    Attending conference is such a big deal that you’ll want some pictures to remember it by!
  6. HAVE FUN!  Everyone is there to have a good time.  Don’t fret if you missed the session you really wanted or the author you wanted to see: have a back-up plan and make the best of an amazing resource!

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