Summertime is always the big time for extra plans. Over the summer some iSchool students completed satisfying internships, some students went on a library tour of the Great Libraries of Florence…and I went to conferences. I won’t lie–I was envious of those who went to Florence, but my work schedule wouldn’t permit this.
I spent a few days in Vancouver, British Columbia at the SLA annual meeting. The weather was stunningly beautiful, the company was excellent, and I took away a lot of thoughts about how librarians can help in a world increasingly full of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses). I also met a few of my professors (I’m a distance student, so opportunities to meet my professors face-to-face are valuable) and visited with colleagues I’d met at prior conferences.
Getting a Shout-Out
During the MOOC session, I got an unexpected shout-out from Dr. Michael Stephens of the SJSU iSchool–I had been a volunteer “Participatory Learning Guide” in his course–and that shout-out led to further interactions after the session. Folks stopped me in the exhibit hall to talk about how an engaged MOOC works.
Also, I attended a session led by Jill Hurst-Wahl that offered guidance and advice for difficult work situations … appropriate for me because my current workplace is in a transition phase at the moment.
Later, I attended a reception where I met many locals (to San Francisco, where I live) that I hadn’t yet met. I also learned something shocking: a local SLA chapter had *no applicants* for their student conference travel award. I’ll talk more about this in a bit.
ALA Annual: Larger, Different
ALA Annual in Las Vegas was much different. It’s a much larger meeting, with more opportunities…if you know how to find them. I had dinner with a group of Emerging Leaders, spent
some time at the iSchool booth meeting with alumni and prospective students, took in a bunch of poster sessions, met some more students and professors, and won $20 at nickel slots. Of course, I spent a bit of time on the exhibit floor, and I took in quite a few poster sessions.
At past conferences I’ve attended sessions that have led me to further interesting coursework, interesting volunteer opportunities within these groups, and led to introductions that have been already been helpful during my career as a library student and (hopefully, in the future) as an information professional. Sessions you attend at a conference won’t necessarily complete your library school education, but they will let you know where practice is trending and can help you choose coursework so you can be prepared for those trends.
Surmounting Attendance Obstacles
Conferences can seem overwhelming, and they may feel like they’re a costly extravagance. There’s travel expense, housing expense, meals, and the registration cost for the conference itself. As a student you have several ways around these obstacles:
- You can start by putting a little money aside regularly for professional development.
- Most conferences have a student rate that’s often half off the standard registration. This never happens when you’re a professional working in the field, so take advantage while you can.
- More local meetings like NYLA (5th-8th Nov. 2014, in Saratoga Springs) present opportunities for ridesharing and roomsharing with other iSchool students.
- For the past few years, the iSchool has participated in an opportunity to bring students to the “Computers in Libraries” meeting, and may do this again.
- For the past few years at ALA Annual, the iSchool has picked up the cost of registration for students who staff the iSchool booth on the exhibit floor.
- The ALA has a “Students-to-staff” program where one student from each accredited program has an opportunity to work alongside ALA staff to put on the conference. In exchange, the ALA pays for conference registration and a roomshare in one of the conference hotels. LISSA administers this opportunity at the iSchool, and this will be announced later in the year.
- The Graduate Student Organization (GSO) has a conference award program which offers $200-300 awards under specific conditions. More information on these awards, along with the rubric used to decide awards, can be found on the GSO’s Student Travel award page. While I received one of these as a part-time distance student, these seem to be intended for on-campus students.
And then there are conference travel awards and scholarship opportunities. I identified one opportunity above where a student travel award went unclaimed, and the anecdotal evidence I gathered during both meetings suggests that many more of these awards go unused because folks don’t apply for them. Students may not apply because they think there would be many other students applying for the same award.
Both conferences I attended this summer were supported by student conference travel awards (one through the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the SLA, and one supported by a donor to the iSchool), and both awards were opportunities that I applied for thinking “If I don’t ask, I won’t get.” I had plans for both meetings (not just “I want to see session A, and session B” but also “I’ve volunteered for this committee and they’re meeting during the conference” and “I’m on the advisory board of this division and we’re presenting some findings … “) and this sort of information (in a travel grant application) helps the award committee consider your application favorably.
You’ll find some conference travel award opportunities on the LIS LISTSERV, and others through the professional societies that you belong to. You have joined one, right? If not, now’s the time–these are also available to students at dramatically reduced membership cost.
Next year’s ALA Annual will be in San Francisco…SLA will meet in Boston …NYLA will meet in November. Plan now to attend in the future. I hope to see some of you in San Francisco next summer!