I applied for the ECCA award having known a number of previous winners. Each and every one of them had been so enthusiastic about the conference and the experience that I decided to apply for the Legal Division award and was lucky enough to win it. Before I knew it I was on my way to Baltimore.
I was grateful to have a few days before the conference to settle in. On the first day I decided to take a trip to Washington DC and set off early for the Amtrak. I spent the day walking around the city, trying to fit in as much as possible- I managed to cover the Mall, the Hirshorn, the National Portrait Gallery, the Library of Congress, the Lincoln Memorial and the White House.
On getting back to Baltimore I met up with Ruth Mallalieu, previous Legal Division ECCA winner, and Victoria North, my mentor. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the conference and the Legal Division.
Sunday gave me a chance to explore Baltimore. I got up early and went on board two of the ships at the Baltimore Historical Shipyard and I ended up having a submarine all to myself. Details like the submarine’s jukebox (all of the available songs were ship related) were fascinating to see.
Sunday also marked the real start of my SLA experience. I went to register for the conference, and of course select the ribbons for my credential. I was impressed with myself for unintentionally matching my nail colour with my first timer ribbon:
With that it was time for the first timer’s orientation session. This was a great chance to meet fellow first timers, along with SLA veterans who provided invaluable advice about how to make the most of the SLA experience.
After this session there was some more time to explore Baltimore. I went to visit the Baltimore Museum of Art, which houses a wonderful collection including the world’s largest collection of Matisse. I had a wander around the Johns Hopkins campus and went to R.House, a food hall where I had some delicious tacos. My day wasn’t over yet- I managed to fit in a dinner with the lovely people of SLA Europe, before going on the Legal Division reception.
Monday marked the first real day of the conference and it started early with the Legal Division Breakfast, kindly sponsored by Bloomberg. I got to meet my fellow Legal Division members over bagels, and find out more about the division and their conference sessions. I also attended my first education session on reference requests and time management. It was interesting to discover that we all experience the same kind of issues, regardless of location or industry, and invaluable to learn from one another.
Following on from the session it was time for the Key Note address and the opening of the conference. I had been warned that the opening ceremony would be different to what we would expect in the UK, and it certainly delivered with music, lights and dancing on to the stage. We enjoyed an inspirational keynote session from Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress covering her path to librarianship – including being told that she did not have what it takes early on!
I got my first opportunity to walk through the Exhibition Hall and I attended a session in the afternoon on blockchain. This session offered a very good introduction to blockchain, as well as some discussion of practical applications of the technology. I also went to the Legal Division Knowledge cafe on Artificial Intelligence. This session was discussion based and it was good for me to hear about the new products available in the American Legal market that are making use of AI.
In the evening I managed to fit in the Fellows and First Timers reception, the SLA Europe reception and the legendary IT Dance Party. Writing this down I cannot believe how much I managed to fit into a day!
Tuesday brought with it more educational sessions and a keynote from Dr. Sayeed Choudhury of Johns Hopkins University. I also decided to follow some advice that we had received in the first timers orientation- to choose a session that was not particularly relevant. I chose to attend ‘Fewer Workers, Less Food: Immigration Policy Changes and Their Effects on Food Supply’ a topic that I knew absolutely nothing about. The session was fascinating, and it was certainly interesting to hear discussion about Brexit from an outsider’s perspective:
I have to say that by Tuesday afternoon I was flagging. All the rushing around in the previous days had caught up with me. Luckily I had received some good advice before the conference from Marie Cannon, who had warned me that this would happen and that I shouldn’t feel guilty about taking a break. I returned to the hotel for a much needed nap ahead of the Baseball.
Bethany and I were pretty excited about attending our first baseball game despite the sum total of our baseball knowledge being based on playing rounders at school. Thankfully there were some helpful SLA-ers nearby to explain what was going on.
Wednesday was the final day of the SLA conference. I attended some more sessions including a panel session on Competitive Intelligence, an area that I was keen to know more about. I went for a final walk around the Exhibit Hall and somehow ended up in an epic giant jenga battle with Ruth Mallalieu which was in many ways the perfect way to end my SLA conference experience.
Overall the SLA conference was a fantastic experience and I would urge any students or new professionals to apply. The sheer range of educational sessions is like no other conference I have attended and there were endless opportunities for networking at the many receptions. I managed to pack in a lot in my time in Baltimore, ate great food, and drunk way too many iced beverages (seriously, Americans are so much better at iced drinks than we are in Europe).
A huge thanks to SLA Europe and the Legal Division for giving me this opportunity. I also want to thank Bethany Sherwood, my fellow ECCA winner for being a fantastic conference buddy as well as Ruth Mallalieu, Victoria North and Niamh Tumelty for offering their support and guidance at the conference. I also want to thank Marie Cannon for giving me some excellent pre-conference advice and Laura Williams for sorting out all the practical arrangements.