A Bridge to Professional Friendships: Sharing my Home as a First Timer at the Annual NYLA Conference
By Christine Cerezo
Wednesday night of the NYLA conference, even before the full conference begins, I go out to dinner and enjoy local music at an Irish pub with two fellow librarians, Brigid Cahalan, a recently retired librarian from Jersey City, and Alexandra Kelly, the Outreach Services and Adult Programming Coordinator at the New York Public Library. And yet a few hours ago I had barely known anyone attending the conference; I surely hadn’t known anyone enough for a night out on the town. But here I was; I had a free ticket to the social experience of NYLA even though I had just moved to New York State and just recently started my career as a librarian. I met these lovely ladies all because I took a chance and opened my home here in Saratoga Springs to other conference attendees.
I have always found professional association conferences, like the Special Libraries Association Annual Conference, the American Library Association Annual Conference, or local chapter or division conferences to be very valuable by providing fresh perspectives, new tools, and especially networking opportunities. This proved to be true also for the New York Library Association Annual Conference. However, although we all want to support and encourage the professional development of other library professionals, blind networking can be exhausting and isn’t always welcome. Some activities put on by the conference like the New Member’s Meet and Greet are designed to bring together people who are willing to have conversations with a person they don’t know. These events are great; however, they don’t always create a social network that spills over into the conference for newcomers or there is a time conflict that can prevent a newcomer, like myself, from attending these events. I was not able to attend this particular meet and greet because I had paid to attend YSS Telling Tales with Aunt Helen’s Closet, but I was very grateful to have familiar faces with whom I could connect and have sort of a social home base.
This experience was valuable to all involved. First, I did not charge a fee for using the guest rooms in my house because my motivation for opening up my home was aimed toward meeting new people, forming friendships and supporting fellow librarians, many of which often do not have a lot of extra money to spend on housing, I hoped I could enable those who may not otherwise have been able to attend the conference due to financial reasons. This was the first year of Brigid’s retirement so she did not have the financial support of her library. Second, it provided a relaxed environment for us to meet each other, librarians that we may not have otherwise met. Brigid Cahalan has been attending this conference for 20 years and says she doesn’t meet that many people that are new to the profession. “I hang out a lot with people I’ve known for years or decades that I’ve been seeing each year, which is always a pleasure, but [this time it was]… really exciting. And I probably wouldn’t have met somebody who is in a different area ... So it was a different spin on the conference. It made it more memorable; others tend to blur into one another.” While, in contrast, this was Alexandra’s first library conference but she also commented on the home-like feel or relaxed environment and the value of a host’s perspective: “It was wonderful to feel at home in a new place and also get a local perspective on the area. Christine gave so much valuable, local insight into what it's like to work in children's programming in Saratoga Springs too!” The guest and host relationship opened the door to this type of interaction which, very likely, would not have happened otherwise.
As a first time attendee, opening my home provided me with a more socially connected experience to this conference, possibly opened up networking opportunities but more importantly the value in this experience was mutual. As Brigid worded it, “It’s also a way to form a friendship that can go both ways.”