There’s been lots of advice floating around for people attending ALA Annual for the first time. Sometime ago (a few years back, I think), I created a document of all the things I wish people had told me back when I attended my first few ALAs. I’ve now been to more ALAs than I care to count.
So, in the interest of sharing, here’s my advice for ALA Annual newbies, divided into two posts: Scheduling and Other.
Use the ALA Event Planner. Unless a meeting is marked as “closed”, anyone is welcome to attend. This does include committee meetings. Non ALA groups can be found under UNO. You can then export your Event Planner calendar in iCal format for importing into whatever web-based calendar you use or for your smart phone, etc. Just be careful to adjust the times of your meetings for whatever time-zone ALA is in that year.
Check the daily Cognotes for last minute changes and meeting cancellations.
Follow the ALA hashtag on Twitter (Annual 2010: #ala10) as well as various ALA divisions, groups, etc. Often you’ll hear about updates to events, meetings, programs, etc. there first.
Membership in a group does not equal obligation to attend all of their meetings, not even for business meetings.
Not everything makes it into the planner, but you do have the option of adding personal meetings for those things that aren’t there that you know about, such as dinners, Tweet-ups, or vendor events. Most social events, happy hours, etc. will not be in the planner. Keep an eye out for invites, postings, etc. These are valuable networking opportunities.
Don’t try to go to everything; often meetings are not convenient and you don’t have enough time between them and naturally there are lots and lots of conflicts. Start with your required meetings, and figure out what else you can attend from there based on timing and location.
Attend a meeting/session/program that has nothing to do with your current job, but covers a topic you’re interested in personally.
Don’t be afraid to stand up and walk out of a meeting to either go to a different one or because it’s not what you expected. People wander in and out of sessions all the time. Conversely, don’t be afraid to show up late for a meeting you’re really interested in attending. Shuttles get delayed, meetings run long, etc.
Don’t be afraid to skip a session to go to coffee with someone you really want to talk to instead. Those one-on-one meetings with a potential long term mentor/contact/support can be priceless.
One meeting I do recommend for first timers is the NMRT Orientation on Saturday morning. It’s very helpful in getting the lay of the land and giving tips on getting around. Also good for a first time attendee are the “101” sessions put on by various ALA divisions.
Make some time to wander the exhibition hall and see the vendors. It’s actually best to try and break it up into a few smaller sessions here and there (there are a LOT of vendors).
Try to attend at least some of the social events, for both vendors and divisions/sections. This does mean your day will be very long, but it’s to your benefit to network at those evening socials.