I was fortunate enough to attend SLA Chicago due to winning the Early Career Conference Award (ECCA) co-sponsored by SLA Europe and the Legal Division. Visiting Chicago was my first time to America and to an official conference. As a very, very new professional it was also one of my first times participating in an event organised by a professional association. I had great expectations that the trip would be fantastic, but due to my inexperience I really had no idea what to expect.
It is often said that everything is bigger and better in America. Chicago is a beautiful city, with absolutely huge roads and pavements (or should I say sidewalks), clusters of tall glass skyscrapers that sparkled from afar, with the endless waters of Lake Michigan upon which the conference centre looked over often in sight. I’ve been told that nearly 3,500 information professionals attended the conference, and I can only compare the size of the conference centre too an airport! Even the world famous deep dish Chicago pizza that my fellow ECCAs and I indulged ourselves in was unbelievably colossal in size (not that I am complaining!). So indeed, everything about the conference was bigger, and sometimes better (particularly where pizza is concerned). The number and variety of sessions were impressively extensive, although I did find many of them to be US-centred and very broad in order to cater for the extremely varied professional audience the SLA has to appeal to, by its very nature of being the ‘Special Libraries Association’.
The theme of the conference was ‘agility in an open world economy’, and closely related topics such as the promotion and visibility of libraries and the profession as well as various ways of using technology to improve our services were very prominent in the sessions offered. I have a particular interest in how Web 2.0 and social media is transforming the information environment, and believe that the visibility of libraries and the information profession are irrevocably linked to these technologies. Consequently many of the sessions I attended were focused on how social media can be used to both effectively communicate information, and engage with users and to promote the library service itself. Already having the basics, what I particularly valued from the sessions were the experiences of others and their varying degrees of success in introducing social media at their organisations, often shared in the Q and A at the end of sessions.
Above and beyond the sessions of the conference, what I really enjoyed and benefitted from the most was meeting such a wide variety of individuals who inspired me professionally, and especially some of the acquaintances I made who I hope to call friends, despite only knowing them for a few days and most of whom I would never have had the opportunity to meet in person otherwise.
In particular, what really struck me was how much the SLA as an association appreciates its members. The number and variety of SLA awards available for library professionals at different stages in their careers were incredible, and demonstrated how much the association and individual divisions and chapters value their members. Watching the award winners, some of them friends, be recognised for their commitment was inspiring to me and I am sure to all of the others who attended. This inspiration to get further involved with the SLA, to contribute to the Association, and to challenge myself to volunteer for positions of responsibility would not have easily come without this travel award offered by SLA Europe to experience the conference and to meet fellow professionals from around the globe. The rewards of an association that values and inspires its members are numerous; its members gain new skills and confidence and in return the SLA receive committed and enthusiastic individuals to contribute to its success as an organisation. Therefore the value of the ECCA award is beyond measure; as can be demonstrated by those successful professionals who began their roles with the SLA by winning the ECCA award themselves, and are now Rising Stars and successful authors such as Sara Batts and Bethan Ruddock, and it is an honour to receive the same award knowing who has gone before and what they have achieved since.
I would like to thank SLA Europe and SLA Legal for providing this award and giving me the opportunity to attend SLA Chicago. In particularly I would like to thank Sam Wiggins, my UK mentor, my Europe Board mentor Liz Blankson-Hemans, and also Bethan Ruddock, Sara Batts, Neil Infield, Penny Leach, Geraldine Clement-Stoneham and Darren Chapman for looking after us while we were in Chicago.