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.
REMOVE your conference name badge when leaving hotels and the convention center. The only reason to keep it on is if you are boarding an ALA shuttle. Please, for the love of all that is holy, remember to do this. If you walk around the city with it on you’re signaling that you’re a tourist and will be targeted accordingly.
Bring a bag you’re comfortable lugging around with lots of stuff in it (a backpack is nice). You may or may not be able to head back to your room to get things or drop things off. You don’t need a laptop or netbook unless you really want it (I haul my netbook because I type faster than I write), but make sure you have something to take notes on that’s firm.
Be sure to pack comfortable shoes. This is very important. It’s often quicker to walk from meeting to meeting rather than deal with the shuttles.
Dress is business casual, but with comfortable shoes. The only people you typically see in heels are vendors.
Think layers…hot outside, but the meeting rooms are often freezing (I always carry a sweater to throw on).
Bring a map of the city with you to help you navigate (the hotel map from ALA is never to scale). Don’t be afraid to use city public transit as needed.
Bring band-aids, because no matter how broken in your shoes are, you still might get blisters. Carry them with you (I have a mini first aid kit in a plastic baggie).
Bring snacks and a refillable water bottle. It’s not always convenient or easy to find food, so a bunch of granola bars, nuts, and/or dried fruit can keep you from falling over from hunger. Many/most of the meeting rooms have pitchers of water so you can refill your water bottle. Also don’t forget your travel mug for coffee/tea. Get your coffee/tea in your hotel or outside the convention center and bring it with you. The lines inside are long, and it’s often more expensive.
Carry a stack of business cards with you (if you don’t have any, buy a pack of those perforated sheet ones from an office supply place and make your own). When you get someone else’s card, once you’re done talking, write on the back of the card where you met them and a few notes to help you remember who they are and what you talked about. This will be helpful later when you return to work and are staring at the stack of cards on your desk, wondering who the heck these people are and why you should care.
Most importantly: HAVE FUN. Make sure you carve out some time for fun, even if it means not going to a meeting or two. Part of the conference is experiencing the city it’s in.