ALAO 2019 Conference Experience

My first conference to kick-off this series of blog posts was the Academic Library Association of Ohio conference hosted in Columbus, Ohio. The conference’s broad theme was “Libraries Speak Up! Advocate. Collaborate. Educate.” I was really excited to attend this conference for a number of reasons:

  1. It was local.
  2. It would be my second conference ever.
  3. I love learning about how libraries can be agents for change in society.
  4. I would get to network with other Ohio Librarians.

But lets get into the criteria that I have laid out for conference posts:

Organization: Overall, I think this conference was organized really well. There were a couple of hiccups throughout the day, but none of which were detrimental to my experience. For example, registration was a fairly smooth process, but the registration table was in a place where if the line got long enough, it was out the door and in the cold. Another issue I ran into was the lack of clarity when it came to the conference session locations. As we all exited the ballroom for the first sessions, I must have looked extremely confused because a kind woman asked me if I needed help finding where I needed to go. She ended up walking me to my first session. Admittedly, this is partially user error. Looking back on the conference website, I found the document that had the sessions and their corresponding rooms, but I swear that I couldn’t locate the digital document during the conference to save my life. Later on, I found a physical document telling me where each session was held and it was smooth sailing from there. Parking/drop-off options were clear, and the sessions I attended were considerate of time.

Impact: I attended the key note and 3 out of the 4 session time slots, opting to take a break during the session 3 time slot. I found our keynote to be really great. They were very frank and honest while also being inspiring and hopeful. Some of the initiatives that they undertook on their campus were really cool and I hope that the other librarians found their speech to be as important as I did.

The first session I attended was “Speaking Up with Special Collections: Connecting Campus History with Current Challenges” and I left this session inspired to advocate for student groups to donate their stuff to University Archives, especially student groups that are doing important social justice work on campus. I also thought it was awesome that one of the presenters was an undergraduate student.

The second session I attended was “Doing Democracy with Libraries as Leaders: Collaboration and Development of Integrated Plans for Civic Engagement on College Campuses”. I’m not sure I left this session inspired per se, but I did find it interesting to learn about how other libraries approach potentially politically charged topics in a non-partisan way. I was also happy to hear the ways in which this librarian discussed engagement with communities that may not be able to participate in our democratic system (like undocumented students, permanent residents, and their families).

The third session I attended was “Great Minds Think Alike: Expanding Outreach through Community Partnerships”. This presentation was awesome! I thought the slides looked amazing (I am a sucker for good visuals!), and the content was relevant and helpful. I also appreciated that this librarian used interactive elements in her presentation. I have an interest in how Academic Libraries can work with community partners and public libraries to do some great stuff, and this presentation really hit the nail on the head when it came to demonstrating examples of these partnerships. I was super inspired to think about ways in which my library could collaborate with public libraries (something that my supervisor and I are now working on!)

I also made some great connections with previous residents, other librarians from Ohio State, and librarians interested in residency programs.

Accessibility: From what I saw, the conference center and conference organization were very amenable to accommodations for differently-abled persons as well as being conscious of non-binary identities. Everything was on one floor making it more easily accessible to those in wheel chairs and walkers. I will say that I found some seating arrangements to be pretty tight and not sure how someone with a wheel chair would fare during certain sessions. The conference center did have gender-neutral bathrooms, but they were a bit of a walk away compared to the other bathrooms. There was also an opportunity to note what your preferred pronouns were. I can’t speak well to how parent friendly the conference was. There was no day care that I know of and did not pay attention to whether or not their were lactation rooms.

Visible Diversity: The visible diversity was about what you would expect from a library conference in Ohio. It was not great. If I had to give an estimate, I would say that about 1 in 9 persons there were visible diverse. Again, I would take this with a grain of salt for all the reasons listed in the introduction post.

Food: We were provided breakfast (which I did not have), lunch with desserts, and snacks. The food was buffet style where you would go down a line and grab what you wanted which I thought had its pros and cons. My second session finished earlier than some of the others and allowed us to be toward the beginning of what then became a very long line. I think I would have preferred lunch to be served to us to avoid that issue but it wasn’t all that bad. There were vegan and vegetarian options and I think it accommodated many different food preferences well. I actually really enjoyed the lunch options and the plates that they provided were huge! This helped you fit everything you wanted onto the plate without having to wait in the long line for a second time. Snacks, drinks and coffee were self-serve and available at anytime which I thought was really great.

Overall experience: I had a great and productive time at the ALAO 2019 conference. I was able to network with many different librarians and hear about some really awesome projects and ideas. The overall environment was inviting and supportive and I look forward to attending the conference again!

Introduction to Conference Blog Posts

As an Early Career Professional, Diversity Resident, and Academic Librarian, conferences are, and will continue to be a big part of my professional development and service duties. I am grateful to be given the opportunity to attend conferences and network with my library and non-library colleagues. With that said, I want to be transparent in what these experiences are like for anyone who might want to know more about specific conferences or what to expect from a conference experience. To the more seasoned professionals (and very proactive grad students), this may seem a bit unnecessary to go into detail about conferences, but I want to reach those who (like me) have not been to a conference before and are unsure about what to expect. I also hope that even “seasoned professionals” might find my experiences helpful and take them back to the conference committees they might be working on. My disclaimer on these posts is that I do not intend for them to unnecessarily harsh or judgmental. I just want to give a holistic picture of my experiences. It is also important to remember that my many identities and previous experiences act as lenses through which I see the world so my second disclaimer is that my experience could be different from someone else who attended the same conference.

Any conference blog post will discuss my experience at a specific conference using the following criteria:

Organization: Did the conference run smoothly? Were speakers where they were supposed to be? Did speakers keep to time? Did everything seem to flow correctly? Were the conference center and the sessions easy to navigate? Conference organization can make or break your experience, especially if you are presenting.

Impact: How inspired did I feel after listening to presenters and talking to colleagues? Was the content of the conference helpful to me and my career interest, goals, and aspirations? Conferences are supposed to be for professional development, and if I leave without any new skills, ideas, or inspiration, then that’s a problem.

Visible Diversity: How many visibly non-white persons were in attendance? (Am I the only one that does this?) Librarianship is a predominantly white field and while this is not the best metric, it tells me GENERALLY enough about how diverse the conference is. I acknowledge that looking for “visible” designations of diversity is problematic in itself, but its all I can really use in those moments when I am doing a quick scan of a room. I also want to point out the irony of the situation by acknowledging the fact that I am what some would call “white-passing” (depending on my hairstyle) and would probably not pass the “visibly ethnic/racially diverse” scan. Since this number is not used for anything beyond my own personal records, I think it is okay.

Accessibility: How helpful is the conference in addressing the issues of differently-abled persons? Is there a push for using correct pronouns for individuals? Are the conferences parent-friendly? Are there gender-inclusive bathrooms? This information is important for anyone reading this blog who may be curious if a specif association or conference will be accommodating to their needs.

Food: What were the food options? Were there different foods for those with dietary restrictions? Was the food good? This was mostly just a fun little metric to reflect on. Everyone loves food and it’s really convenient to have it provided right at the conference.

Overall Experience: This is pretty self explanatory and will aggregate all my thoughts and feelings from the previous sections into an overall opinion.

Once I go through each of the criteria, I may or may not elaborate on the highlights and low-lights of my experience. This is mostly for my personal records, but others may find this information useful as well.