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Advice for first-time ALA conference attendees

Note: As we gear up for ALA’s 2018 Annual Conference next month, Libraries Ready to Code cohort members Sarah Creech from Belgrade (MT) Community Library and Alex Johnatakis of Meridian (ID) Library District take a look back at the highlights of their first ALA conference – the 2018 Midwinter Meeting. Next Tuesday, June 5, we’ll begin featuring information about the 2018 Annual Conference (June 21-26) lineup of Libraries Ready to Code sessions. 

31 members of the Libraries Ready to Code cohort gather for a group photo
Members of the Libraries Ready to Code cohort meet at ALA’s 2018 Midwinter Meeting in Denver, Colo.

What was your favorite part of Midwinter?

Sarah: I loved that Midwinter felt a lot like a summer camp, especially with the Libraries Ready to Code (RtC) cohort. We’d all been chatting and emailing for a few months beforehand, and finally getting to meet in person to put our heads together and think through some of the logistics of creating the toolkit was a great experience. The other half of this favorite part was meeting you, Alex! I remember Marijke and Linda (from the RtC Project Team) asking if we were friends before the RtC cohort. We are the only representatives from Montana and Idaho, so represent!

Alex: This is a toss up for me between the opening of the Exhibit Hall, and actually meeting all of the RtC cohort. The first day of the Exhibit Hall was so many of my favorite things in one place – free books! Free tote bags! Sparkly cupcakes! Sliders! Champagne! It was overwhelming in the best possible way.

Sarah: Of course during the opening of the Exhibit Hall we got a chance to laugh and get to know each other more. I remember looking at you and both of us being overwhelmed and overjoyed at the amount of free books and champagne there was available. For free! What is this magical place!

Alex: Then, meeting the rest of the RtC cohort was my other favorite part. It’s such a unique experience to see and hear people online and in email for months, and then to finally meet in person. Everyone has been doing such amazing things, and at first, I was a little intimidated by the creativity within the group, but then I was just so impressed by how open everyone was. It was amazing to be able to talk in person about our individual programs, and things we’ve learned, and share resources, and finally put names to faces. I know this is cheesy, but it’s such an honor to be part of this group, and I feel like I just made 28+ new friends.

What session was most valuable to you?

Alex: The most valuable session for me was the second day with the RtC cohort, when we all discussed what we’d learned and how we were implementing CT concepts.

Sarah: I agree with Alex, spending time with the cohort, sharing ideas and laughs was invaluable.

What ideas were sparked that you couldn’t wait to get home and try out?

Alex: I went to one session that mentioned the Code for America project, that connects coders with community projects. I’ve been wanting to find ways to connect the learners with a larger community impact. My local chapter is currently defunct, but it inspired me to start researching other similar opportunities.

Sarah: Aside from the great ideas the RtC cohort and associated sessions sparked, I couldn’t wait to get home and start researching how we can use StoryCorps in our library. We’re about to launch a capital campaign to expand our library and think this would be a great addition to the launch and subsequent fundraising.

comic with two smiling women and confetti
Libraries Ready to Code cohort buddies Sarah and Alex bitmoji selfie

What surprised you the most?

Alex : Honestly, the sheer amount of free books

Sarah: Seriously, so many free books. My arms hurt by the end of the conference.

Do you have any tips for first time attendees of an ALA conference?

Alex: The best advice I got was the “rule of two feet.” Basically, if you find yourself in a session that you aren’t gaining anything from, don’t be afraid to get up and find another one.

Alex: Also, be ready to ship books back.

Sarah: Or control yourself on the exhibit floor and only take what you’re truly interested in, or what your library can use.

Alex: Preplan your schedule, and have several back-ups for every time slot

Sarah: But also be prepared to need some rest. Take some time to revisit your notes from the sessions and write some follow up tasks.

Alex: Attend the networking events.

Sarah: And don’t be shy about talking with people. These are your people!

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Marijke Visser

Marijke Visser is the associate director and senior policy advocate at the American Library Association’s Washington Office. She is involved in all stages of Libraries Ready to Code, E-rate, and Connect Home projects. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Peace and Global Studies/Sociology and Anthropology from Earlham College in Indiana. Before joining the ALA in 2009, Marijke earned her master’s in Library and Information Science from Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis.

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