I’ve been to ALA enough times, in enough cities, that I think I finally have a handle on how best to get around, get to the things I want to do, etc. My way may not be the perfect way, but I thought I’d share it, in case you might find it helpful.
Some folks will give you the advice to skip sessions entirely, and while I understand their point, I disagree (and not just because I have to go to sessions to get even partially reimbursed by my employer). Instead, my advice is “Don’t ONLY go to sessions you think are relevant to your current job.” Like Patrick Sweeney says, you’ve already been reading those blogs, right? And he kind of hints at this in his other post about how to do conferences right, but going to sessions about far-flung topics gives you the opportunity to meet people you might not otherwise have met. I don’t even remember what session I was at, but it wasn’t your standard web librarian fare, and when it was over, I ended up going to a fantastic lunch with some ALCTS (cataloging :)) folks, whom I still follow on Twitter. Lunches (and brunches and dinners) with groups of fun librarians have been some of my best conference memories—better than the parties, even. Maybe that’s more about my socialization style than anything, though, so you should see what works for you.
Anyway, back to getting around. Now that the Scheduler can be accessed easily with a mobile device (woo!), I put everything into Scheduler—even the parties. I used to do the same thing with my Google or Exchange calendar (warning, if you plan to go that route: be careful about time zones; if you get to conference and find you’ve done it wrong on an iPhone/iPod/iPad, leave a comment here or tweet me and I can help). I’m pretty hopeful that Scheduler will do what I want, though. And if you want to go that route, too, directions for how to get it on your phone’s home screen are available on the article I linked above.
But that’s not really enough, because you also need to know how to get to things, right? So here’s my big, bright, shiny, golden tip: make (or borrow) a Google Map just for conference. Here’s mine, which I made public in case anyone else wants to use it. It looks like I’m a total goof-off, since it’s mostly parties, but remember: for the first time ever, ALA’s really trying hard to keep all of the official conference stuff in the Convention Center and adjacent hotel. So there aren’t that many sessions to map, really. (It also looks like I don’t have Sunday night plans. Which can’t be right. What am I missing?)
Some added tips on the Google maps thing: you want to make the icons different for different places, because of the way Google maps show up in your phone. Here’s why (and I put a red rectangle around the button you click to toggle views, since I didn’t think that was obvious, when I first started doing this):
Once the map is all set up, you can get it on your phone (this is for iPhone, though I bet Android’s nearly the same) by emailing the link to yourself; clicking the link from your email to open it in your phone’s browser; clicking the “send this somewhere” button (I put a picture of the iPhone version to the right); and choosing “Add to Home Screen.” Easy-peasy.
Now, go print out a backup copy of both your schedule and the map. You’ll thank me if you run out of batteries.
Also, this isn’t a tip for getting around, so much as getting there, but be sure to bring a change of clothes in your carry-on. Trust me.
My other ALA conference tips have been covered by others before me, for the most part: dress comfortably, try to get out of your shell and talk to new people (including finding people to eat lunch and dinner with, if at all possible), go to everything NMRT puts on if you’re new to conferences (or even if you’re not), and go to at least a couple of social events. But I’m really serious about that “dress comfortably” advice, especially as it relates to shoes. (I’m sorry, shoe-brarians. I like looking at your pretty shoes, and you probably hate most of mine, but I can’t in good conscience suggest that anyone follow your lead. Pretty shoes ruined a conference for me, a while back.) Unless I’m presenting, I wear nice jeans and a blouse. Even if I’m presenting, my skirts are probably closer to the casual side of things. I’m a systems librarian from the Pacific Northwest, after all, and conference days are too long and hard to worry about dressing up. (If I can swing the extra time, I might dress up for the Librarian Wardrobe party, since that seems to be about snazziness.) I dress neatly, but decidedly casually. (Also, I have purple hair. I’d look dumb in a suit.)
The one piece of advice I haven’t seen shared (though it probably has been): know yourself. Although I want to be, I’ve learned that I am not the type of person who does well in shared accommodations. I need a little bit of time to myself, to unwind and reflect. (Also, I’m a really light sleeper.) It’s worth the ridiculous extra cost, to me, to have a hotel room by myself, as much as I love people and socializing and everything else most of the time. A half hour of total peace a day makes me a better person, better able to be sociable and fun the rest of the time. If you, like me, need a little bit of time alone each day, know that about yourself, and plan accordingly.
Edit: After hitting “publish,” I thought of two more tips for safety and one for general happiness: 1) take off your badge when you leave an event. I like to wear my badge at the social things, because I’m bad with names, and I figure it’s polite to assume that everyone else is, too. But when walking between events outside the Conference Center, I keep my badge in my pocket. 2) Bring a bag that isn’t the conference tote bag, and carry that. I cringe when I see people who are easily identified as conference attendees, outside of the conference. It seems a little unsafe to me. Finally, 3) carry a water bottle, and hydrate constantly. Conference is a little hard on the body, more so if you’re going to all of the social events and having a drink (or more) at each. Drink as much water as you can.
So those are my tips. What are your tips for ALA conference success?