The ECCA experience was amazing. At times it was surreal (you are locked in an SLA Annual Conference bubble, in a different country, and for four or five days you live, breathe and eat SLA – it starts to feel like an out-of-body experience!), at times it was exhausting (conference breakfasts are new to me, and staying up that late drinking had become a distant memory now I’m in my 30s), but it was always fascinating, and always exhilarating.
Some of the things which really stood out for me were these:
The conference was EPIC. Just huge. Around 3,500 librarians in a convention centre bigger than most airports; a huge stage that looked like something from the Oscars (including those awesome see-through auto-cue screens); and literally seven or eight sessions going on at any one time, meaning that more than ever you want to be able to clone yourself and attend two or three things at once.
The atmosphere was so, so friendly. Everyone was incredibly nice to us – we were told that the ‘first-timers’ ribbons we wore on our badges would ensure people were kind, but my own badge seemed determined to spend most of its time facing the wrong way so I guess people were just good-natured regardless…
My LMD mentor (Dee Magnoni) was incredibly welcoming and gave me loads of help and great information. Even though my sponsoring division was largely made up of people a lot more senior than I am (it was the Leadership & Management Division after all, so most of them RUN libraries rather than just work in them) they welcomed me as one of their own. Everyone was generous with their time, and lots of useful contacts were made. Plus, they were all FUN! Laughter was a big theme of the conference.
Interestingly, I felt that the vertical structure of SLA (as in the different divisions, chapters etc) meant there were loads of different sources of support for us newbies – but that the content of the conference was more horizontal, which suited me too. The issues being discussed at the sessions were often relevant to loads of information professionals across the board, be they legal people, leadership and management people, international people or whomever. So we attended sessions with everyone, but always had somewhere to turn for support and guidance: our sponsoring divisions, our mentors, the rest of the SLA-Europe crowd, the ECCA organisers, and of course, each other.
One of the most pleasing things about the whole experience was meeting and roaming around Philadelphia with my fellow ECCA winners. A nicer and more interesting group of people to hang around with you will not find – despite my best efforts to ruthlessly network with as many new people as possible, I found myself drawn back to their company time and time again…
The reason I wanted to join SLA-Europe (and the SLA in general) was because they seemed focused on the kind of issues I’m interested in, and were looking at them in a forward-thinking way. What I wasn’t expecting was for there to be so much academic-related stuff – one person I spoke to said that around 40% of SLA members worked in academic libraries (as I do). So I’d advise people to look into joining even if they don’t consider their primary area of work to be ‘special’ libraries.
I got to meet some amazing people, real superstar librarians – and they’re just like you or me! I think librarians are first and foremost quite open and interested in sharing (certainly the ones that go to conferences like these) so it was great to put names to famous twitter profiles and have some proper chats with people.
One of those was Stephen Abram – he said something in one of his talks which epitomised the spirit of the conference, for me: “We’re at a time in our history which is so, freaking, awesome.”
Time and time again, the message from the conference seemed to be: just be brave. There were countless examples of where bravery-based librarianship (as opposed to fear-based, or at least caution-based) has ended up with a great result. I know it’s hard to take a leap into the unknown, but it seems to work out well so often! As ECCA winners we are all new professionals – I hope that when we eventually reach senior positions and have real responsibility, we can follow through on our ideals and make brave decisions too.
All in all it was one of the most exciting things I’ve done since I entered librarianship. If you get the chance to enter this competition in future years, DO SO! And a word on the Leadership and Management division – you can enter this award even if you aren’t already a leader or a manager; these people will train you up and help you become one.
Huge thanks to SLA-Europe, to LMD, and to all involved at SLA2011. It was ace.
Ned has also made a short video documenting his experiences as SLA, which can be viewed on YouTube.