So far in my professional life, I have attended a grand total of 1 conference. It was the annual CILIP1 New Professionals conference. This was a couple of years ago (October 2013), just after I finished my Masters degree (in fact, 2 days after I had submitted my thesis!). I was working as a Saturday assistant in a public library at the time, so was unable to get funding from work to attend. Fortunately, as a CILIP member, the conference was free. And because it took place on a Friday, I didn't need to book any time off work.
I was due to meet a friend from my course but she was running late, so I found myself alone in a room full of strangers. The hardest part of meeting new people is the moment just before you start talking to them - it gets much easier after that. My tactics for dealing with situations like these is to attempt to not think about it - don't dwell on the anxiety, just go and talk to someone before your brain realises what you're doing. The longer you leave it, the harder it gets. This is easier said than done, and I know how hard it can be for some people, but it works - just about - for me. The great thing about this particular conference is that most people are in a similar situation to you - it's a conference for new2 professionals! That takes a lot of the pressure off, and is great practice for future (more intimidating!) conferences. I chatted briefly to a number of people, and more in depth with others. When my friend arrived, I found myself not talking to as many other people - the downside of going with someone you know is that it makes you (well, me) less adventurous. My friend left early, so I was forced to socialise again in the afternoon sessions. By the end of the day, I had numerous new contacts (mainly on Twitter) and a clearer idea of the kind of librarianship that appealed to me (and, importantly, the kind that didn't).
I was somewhat haphazard with my note taking and record keeping during this conference. I didn't have a notebook with me - I can't remember if I even brought my own pen. I did make notes on the back of a piece of paper (the conference programme, if memory serves) which I have referred back to a number of times since then, but the medium is not ideal3. As a further memory aide, a number of the speakers made their presentations available online. Also, the conference pack we were given at the start of the day contained a list of all the attendees, which I used to jot down contact details of people I chatted to (it saved lots of awkward "How do I spell that?" conversations).
Conferences are great places to meet people, share ideas and practices and expand your professional horizons4. But the most valuable thing I got out of this conference was the energy. I was listening to a recent S.S. Librarianship podcast where they were discussing the ALA conference. One of them said something that resonated with me about my (admittedly limited) conference experiences. It was along the lines of "the type of people that go to conferences are the people that really care about their profession - and that enthusiasm and passion is infectious". I came away from the conference full of ideas and excitement about my future! Now, two years later, I am ready for a passion booster5, so I intend to attend this years conference. Want to join me?
- Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals
- The conference is aimed at people in the first 5 years of their careers
- I am not sure whether I would have made better notes using my laptop (it is quite large, heavy, noisy and temperamental these days), but I am definitely going to invest in a conference notebook.
- and to eat delicious and huge vegetarian burritos
- that is not a phrase I ever thought I would write on my library blog