From conferences to student groups, to happy hours and field trips, there are an overwhelming amount of opportunities available to enhance our grad school experience. We can leave grad school with as little or as much information and experiences as we’d like to pack into two short years. We have a choice about how we spend our time while we’re here. Why not make the most of it?

If you didn’t already know, librarians love conferences. This fall, I had the opportunity to attend two library conferences. Not only are these events extremely useful and educational, they provide an incredible opportunity to meet and socialize with like-minded professionals. I attended NYLA (The New York State Library Association Conference) in October, and AASL (The American Association of School Librarians) in November. Below, I’ve listed my main takeaways from these two spectacular events.

1. Being a student at a conference is awesome

iSchool LIS Program Manager Blythe Bennett with students Abbie Digel, Alexa Hirsch, Megan Marsh, and at AASL 2015

iSchool LIS Program Manager Blythe Bennett with my fellow students Alexa Hirsch, me (Abbie Digel), and Megan Marsh, at AASL.

The rates to register for conferences as a student are deeply discounted; you will save hundreds of dollars on registration, and there are usually scholarships available through the hosting organization, your school, or your student group. All it takes is some research, and sometimes a short essay as to why you’re interested in attending the conference.

As a working professional, you’ll never receive as cheap a rate as you would as a student. Additionally, if your fellow students are planning to attend, you can carpool and split hotel rooms to save on costs. Conference buddies are the best because you can swap notes and divvy up the sessions. And, if you’re shy, it can be scary to go to networking events by yourself. Having a friend there only boosts your chances to meet the right people and gather the best information possible.

2. You could meet your future employer

Facing the unknown is scary. I’ll even admit that I feel uneasy about my job prospects upon graduation. But attending conferences helps ease the job-search anxiety. You’ll meet hundreds of people that all went through the same process, and many would love to give you a job! So, walk in with your head held high, armed and ready with business cards and a smile.

Trust me: people want to meet you, and they especially want to talk about your library school experience. Tell people what your interests are, what type of job you’d like after graduation, and they will most likely be able to point you in the right direction. Even if you don’t meet your future employer, you will most likely meet a new mentor. How cool is that?

3. You’ll find your career spirit animal

I learned this term at NYLA from one of my fellow students. At whatever conference you choose to attend, you will be surrounded by your people, your tribe, and your career spirit animals. You may or may not have a lot in common with these people personally, but your professional interests with other attendees at your chosen library conference are on point.

I am studying School Media at the iSchool, and AASL was like a professional heaven for me. I was surrounded by hundreds of school librarians who have the same professional passions and goals as me. I stopped people in the exhibit hall, during sessions, and even the bathroom to ask them questions like: “How did you decide to pursue this path?” or, “What’s the most challenging part of your job?” You will get answers, because librarians are the most helpful people, and they will genuinely take an interest in helping you pursue your next dream job. It’s a great feeling to be surrounded by people who share your passion. Go enjoy it!

4. Buzzwords, buzzwords, buzzwords!

Advocacy. Digital literacy. Assessment. Data. These are all words that were generously thrown around at both conferences I attended. These concepts may not seem new or ingenious, especially to the iSchool community, but they’re important, real, and ready for us to utilize. As a student at the iSchool, we have the opportunity to not only dive deeply into learning about how we can change the world as librarians, but we also have classes available to us where we can learn skills like UX, data visualization, databases, and much more. I can’t think of anything more valuable to add to your resume.

5. Mental health and libraries

Two of the most enlightening sessions I sat in at both NYLA and AASL were about mental health. At AASL, a panel of published authors discussed the importance of knowing how to recommend books to teens with sensitive issues. For example, a teen who is suffering from anorexia might not want to read a book about another teen who suffers from the same disease. They might instead want to read something for an escape, and then slowly work up to a book about anorexia. The point of the session was this: There are hundreds of books written for young adults, but how can librarians utilize the collection as a form of bibliotherapy? A carefully curated collection should be a way to open up the dialogue on sensitive subjects and help kids through books and reading.

The NYLA session focused on how to address library patrons who suffer from mental health disorders. Two representatives from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) lead the session. They explained how 1 in 4 adults suffer from a mental disorder, 75% of which appear by the age of 24. It’s essential for librarians to understand the basics of mental health and how we can be on the forefront of eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health. LISSA, the iSchool’s Library and Information Science Student Assembly is currently working on bringing in a free mental health first aid class offered by NAMI. Stay tuned!

NYLA 2016 is November 2 – 5 in Saratoga Springs, NY (as of January 2016, registration rates are not yet live).  AASL occurs every two years, so the next conference won’t be until 2017, but if you’re already a member of AASL or happened to attend the conference, the organization has made a number of the sessions available through their eCollab platform.