Before I outline of my impressions of SLA 2011, I’d like to explain the difficulties I have had writing about it. I’m normally pretty good with words, and when I have an idea I am usually able to run with it for some length. Upon returning from SLA, kindly sponsored by SLA Europe and SLA Legal Division as an Early Career Conference Award (ECCA) winner, I was full of ideas. I filled an entire notebook with them. I sat down to write, and then became stumped. The conference filled me with ideas, passion and excitement for the library and information profession beyond belief (I was already pretty passionate about it to say the least), but it also provided me with so many things I want to say that becomes difficult to know where to begin.
SLA 2011 was not only my first time in the USA, but also my first conference, and consequently my expectations were of BIG things. It certainly delivered; big names delivering big talks with big ideas. I had numerous fears and trepidations before heading out to Philadelphia, some exacerbated, and some calmed, by the vast quantities of information I received regarding conference proceedings, etiquette and preparation advice. As someone due to become a fully fledged information professional when I finish my MA in September, it is with some shame that I admit to suffering from information overload prior to the conference. This soon subsided with some encouraging words from my mentors, Sara Batts and Liz Polly, as well as discussing the events programme with the other wonderful ECCA winners.
My principle concern leading up to the conference was how I would apply theory from my MA to practical examples provided by SLA 2011. Whilst I have library experience from various sectors, but am still very much a ‘new’ new professional. Thankfully SLA provided me with a melting pot of librarians with a diverse set of practical examples to problems I had contemplated.
Networking is something I have been interested in throughout my MA year, learning about theories such as ‘open twos’ and ‘closed threes’ and I was keen to try and implement all that I had mused upon. The First Timers and Fellows Reception provided the perfect opportunity for this. It was designed so that we first timers could gain some last minute conference tips, and enable the fellows to see that we are an enthusiastic library related bunch with much to give to the profession. Whilst the reception was excellent, it left a large dent in the networking theory I had researched. I quickly realised that determining how to enter a conversation and who to enter it with was quite simple, no theory needed. Instead, it was far simpler to just be natural, and talk to people! This may seem overly simplified, but I think a bit of simplification is exactly what the theory is missing. I had been placing a lot of focus on situations from a very objective position, without considering that others in the room will be in the same position as myself, also looking for a conversation.
This isn’t to say that the theory didn’t have its benefits. It was indispensable when attending some sessions; I realised that my MA has given me a strong grasp of many library related concepts that I had not come across whilst working, and if I had, I might have passed them by with little consideration. Even networking theory found its use for helping me to move on from conversations. The other SLA attendees provided me access to a whole host of information roles that I had never dreamt possible, making it easy to fall into the trap of spending a great deal of time speaking to one person, and without sounding too objective, limiting the networking connections that could be made. I tried to remain aware that it was important to make the most of the diverse set of librarians that were present at SLA; unfortunately this meant limiting the time I spent in some conversations. It was here that a little bit of practical theory became handy. Making use of business cards to exchange contact details and exit a conversation politely meant conversations could be continued at a later date where time was less pressured.
I was also keen to learn about practical solutions to enhance the visibility of the library service, and was able to do from a range of perspectives. Firstly through the sessions organised by my co-sponsor, SLA Legal. I was very impressed by the variety of sessions organised, ranging from networking opportunities such as the BNA breakfast and an open house (a great way to discuss libraries with people who have similar interests, and a fantastic leveller – I was able to talk to some fantastic professionals whom I never would normally be able to talk to), panel sessions, and an un-conference. Secondly through attending sessions by other divisions such as those by Mike Linksvayer, Mary Ellen Bates and Gayle Gossen enabled me to think about visibility from a personal perspective. Marketing the individual, in addition to the library itself is an idea I’m keen to take with me into future employment. The sessions have really got me thinking about how library professionals are perceived, and the differences the various cultures create for them. I hope blend the theoretical aspects with the diverse range of sectors and practical ideas SLA provided me with to ‘future proof’ my upcoming role as a law librarian, and ensure both the library service and its information professionals receive the visibility they deserve.