April 2024: Take Me To Your Leader

Column Description: This column is an eclectic exploration of leadership. It acknowledges that leaders and the lessons we can learn from them can be found in the most unlikely places.

Congratulations – you’ve been approved to attend a conference! Whether it’s PLA, ALA, NYLA, or any other conference, have I got some tips for you. Consider this a gift purchased by me with many years of mistakes.

Register early

Aside from the monetary difference, some conferences don’t allow you to pick a hotel until you have registered. Rooms, especially in the hotels closest to the conference center, book up quickly. You don’t want to walk two miles in the heat of D.C. or New Orleans (ask me how I know). Flights, too, should ideally be purchased as soon as possible, especially if the conference city is on a less popular route from where you live.

Wear comfortable shoes

I know people say this all the time, but they say it because it’s true. Leave the new clogs you just bought at home. You are going to walk forever each day; you deserve not to hobble around in pain by the second day. A pack of blister bandages is also an excellent idea.

Consider your outfit choices carefully

This is different for everyone. I am jealous of the people I see in adorable, colorful ensembles, but I also know that doesn’t work for me. I do far better with a couple pairs of hiking pants and the same type of shirts in a technical material, with a cardigan or two and maybe one travel dress just in case. Everything is black, maybe with one pop of color in a layering piece. Everything can be washed in the sink. Inevitably, I don’t wear at least one item. I have a theory that you could wear the same outfit every day at a conference and no one would notice, though I have yet to test this.

Look at the schedule before the conference

Develop your schedule before you arrive because once you hit the ground, it’s a whirlwind. Is there a conference app? Use it. Be sure to have one or two alternate possibilities for each program slot, as rooms can and do fill up.

Attend at least one session that has nothing to do with your job

Are you an IT person? Go to a program about Children’s Services. Are you sure you’ll never want to work in Administration? Go to that panel presentation by library directors sharing what they’ve learned over the years. Yes, the conference is a time to delve deeper into your specialty, but it’s also a great place to break out of your comfort zone and learn about aspects of librarianship that are completely new to you.

Bring snacks

It is possible you will not have time for a regular lunch when you are running from session to session.  Protein bars may become your new best friend. Whatever your favorite, travel-friendly snacks are, bring them.

On the other hand, make sure to make time for meals

Sure, I just contradicted myself, but why not? I highly recommend enjoying at least one decent meal per day if you don’t have time for more. If you get to eat with your new friends (see below), so much the better.

Find out where the post office is located

This is one of the first things I do when I get to the convention center. Is there a conference post office right on the exhibits floor or somewhere else in the conference center? Ask at the registration or information desk. You are going to pick up a lot of swag, even if you promise yourself you won’t. Sending this home from the nearest post facility is highly preferable to dragging your wares several blocks or trying to cram them into (and weighing down) your suitcase.

Meet new people

It is my opinion that it is better not to spend much time with the people from your library or even your area. At a national conference, especially, you have the opportunity to meet people from all over the country and maybe even from other countries. They may have very different experiences and values than you. This is a good thing.

Nearly 20 years ago, after a long, tiring day, I hauled myself onto a shuttle bus. The woman sitting next to me must have had every conference ribbon attached to the badge that indicated that she lived in a different state than I did. “I’m a new librarian and this is my first conference!” she gushed. Guess what? We’re still friends.

Elizabeth Olesh has served as Director of the Baldwin Public Library since 2014. She holds a B.A. in English from Columbia and a second B.A. in Fine Arts / Photography from Empire State College, as well as an MLS from Queens College, CUNY and an Executive MPA from Baruch College. When she isn’t getting degrees or working, Elizabeth enjoys staring deeply into her dog’s eyes, working out, drinking coffee, watching movies, and reading - often all at the same time. She is a fan of Disney trips, napping, and the Oxford comma.
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