Ninjas, ALA is coming.
You may be a first timer, hoping you can do enough networking to make the expense worth it. Or, you may have been to many conferences but feel like you always miss out on the cool shit everyone is talking about on Twitter the next morning.
We reached out to two geniuses of DOING ALA RIGHT, and they gave us their secrets to killing ALA.
Angie Manfredi (@misskubelik) is a woman who leaves ALA every year with no regrets. She knows EVERYONE at EVERY publisher. She has in depth MOMENTS with amazing authors. She goes home and is a ROCK STAR to the kids at her library. How does she do it?
HOW TO DO ALA BY DAY, by Angie Manfredi:
During one ALA Annual conference I spent just about two and a half hours waiting in line to get Rick Riordan’s autograph. (When I actually got up to meet him, I almost wept with excitement but that’s a story for a whole other day.) Now, I am sure I could have spent that time in a meeting or a roundtable discussion or a workshop. In fact, to many people the idea of spending that long just waiting in a line while so many other professional development activities are happening might seem nothing short of wasted time.
Yet these two and a half hours were invaluable to my library. I came back with a signed Rick Riordan book to use as an end-of-summer prize and the sheer excitement of this HUGE incentive kicked up our summer reading participation for the entire month of July, with our patrons reading more than ever in an effort to win the book.
I often tell this story when people ask me for tips on how to get the most out of their ALA experience or how to “do ALA right.” Why? Mostly because it shows there is no one right way to “do” ALA. But also because how it illustrates some of the biggest benefits I’ve ever reaped from ALA have come from walking the exhibit floor, an activity you might hear dismissed or disparaged.
I’ve served on committees and spent my days in meetings. I’ve attended program after program. These are experiences I cherish and experiences that make ALA unique. But I list along with those experiences my exhibit floor experiences, which have helped connect me to publisher and vendors in a way I truly believe makes me better at my job. I think this is the kind of networking and growing as a professional that I can’t do anywhere else.
How can YOU gain these benefits too? Here’s a few tips that have helped me over the years.
1. Talk, talk, talk!
The people in the booths want to talk to you. They want to tell you about their books and their programs. In fact, they are there to talk to you. Please do not think of the booths as a place you go to load up on free stuff. If you do that, you might walk away with free stuff but you will never make connections. And the free stuff pales in comparison to learning people’s names, finding out what they read, and having them see YOU as a person. Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had at ALA are with the people working in the booths. They’ve read a lot of the same books you have and they relish discussing them in depth. Oh, the pleasures of just talking about books! Take advantage of this chance, it’s way more valuable than free stuff. (even if free stuff is books.)
2.Share what you do!
The reps working in booths also want to hear what their books actually do and mean to people. Have you made a cool flannelboard based on one of their books? Tell them about it, show pictures. This is what THEY come to conference for and THIS is how you meet and connect with people. Did they publish a book that makes your story time rock? Share that with them. Do you have a teen who gushed and loved a book? Explain how and why. You never know who you’re talking to – it could be someone who worked directly on the book or someone who is looking for exactly this kind of feedback as they work on other books. This is how they connect with you as a person and a practicing librarian. This is how they come to know you and this is how they’ll remember you. (and yes, you should have cards with your info to hand out.
Once I spent fifteen minutes rhapsodizing to a booth rep how much I loved the book Essex County by Jeff Lemire. At the end of my reverie, he pointed to the guy next to him. “This is Jeff Lemire,” he said calmly. I gaped. “Hey. that was cool,” said Jeff Lemire.
One year when Jon Klassen was signing, I carefully cut a small piece of red paper to look like a hat. This was a simple take-home craft I’d done for my story hour kids when we read I Want My Hat Back I brought this one all the way to ALA. When I pulled it out and posed with it to show him just how much I loved his book, how much my kids loved it, how I made it real for them – he laughed with sheer delight.
And what did Jon Klassen do next, you ask?
Authors, illustrators, editors, publishers – THIS is what they want to know their books do. WE are the ones who do it and we should share it not just with our peers, but with them too.
3. Do things on your terms
Sometimes the best times to talk with people, to browse slowly, to go to the Demco booth and have them demo things for you is during sessions. But I’m not telling you to skip sessions to go to the exhibits or to a signing. UNLESS that’s what works for you. UNLESS that’s a decision you make for a certain time or a certain reason because you think you’ll get the most benefit out of it. You’ll get the most out of ANY aspect of ALA, exhibits included, if you do it on the terms that work for you and your objectives.
4. The buddy system works
Do you have a friend or colleague who has been to ALA before? Do you have an online network you’ve never met in person? ALA is your chance to make all that gel in real life. I’ve had some of my best experiences wandering the exhibit floor with colleagues – it makes everything less intimidating and more fun. Are you on social media? Ask to meet your social network in real life! Ask someone you know who has been before if they want to take a walk around with you. Ask if they know booth reps and can introduce you or have tips about what works for them. Or take another ALA newbie with you and just start walking and talking. I’ve even been helped by friends who aren’t present: “My friend Kelly says this book is just amazing. She reviewed it on her blog and was tweeting about it and I can’t wait to read it. Do you have any advance copies?” Not only was this a true statement but it, again, made me into a real person who has real colleagues active in these conversations. It makes me more than just another pushing face shoving books into a bag – it makes a connection they’ll remember.
All of my conference experience begins and ends with the same advice: just try to be a person. Better still: try to be the person you really are, the person you are when you love your job and you love librarianship more than anything. That shines through. That makes people remember you. And that’s when the fun really starts happening.
Even if you find yourself standing in front of Rick Riordan unable to form complete sentences… (ah, story for another time, as I said.) Please feel free to ask me any ALA related questions (I’ve been attending Annual since 2006 and have only missed one annual conference in that time) I didn’t answer here or about any other thing! I hope to meet up with many of you face to face at our Guerilla Storytime sessions as we shake, shake, shake our sillies out.