ALA Chicago 2013 Recap

The intention of this blog was to track my development as a librarian, and it wouldn’t be complete without a recap of my first American Library Association Annual Conference! I arrived in Chicago on Friday afternoon and got off the train in the Loop amidst hordes of Chicago Blackhawks fans. It was a fun way to arrive in Chicago, even if it made navigating my suitcase through the streets a bit more challenging! I stayed at the University Center, a dorm that rents out empty rooms in the summer to travelers and conference attendees. Beth Filar-Williams, a librarian I knew from NC, asked me to share a suite with her and two other librarians. It was cheap, in a good location, and staying with 3 other librarians was an excellent way to get immersed in the world of ALA.

I didn’t go to McCormick on Friday because I knew I had a social near my hotel in the early evening, and I wasn’t sure about the shuttle schedule with the Blackhawks parade. The first ALA event I attended was the excellent ACRL Instruction Section Soiree at the Columbia College Chicago Library. I met some phenomenal librarians, and a picture of some of us made it into American Libraries! It was a good introduction to the whole experience. I got to get my feet wet networking with librarians of very similar interests, see old friends, and hopefully make connections that will be enduring. A few months ago I wrote a post on my 5 library blog heroes, and one of them (Char Booth) was there, so I dorkily introduced myself. I had a nice conversation with her and was glad that I put myself out there.

Saturday I woke up early (time change + excitement) and got on the first shuttle to McCormick at 7AM. I happened to get on and spot an empty seat next to my boss and we had a nice chat on our way over to the convention center. When I got there it was too early to get my badge so I had breakfast and got myself ready for the day. I registered and picked up my 5K packet and then went to see Jaron Lanier speak. His talk was about the effect of network technologies on our lives, and followed an almost stream of consciousness style thread through different topics. One of his messages was that globalization doesn’t mean a loss of individualization and that there doesn’t have to be one way of doing things. Our networked society has flattened the world, but we should work to make sure that people still have access to multiple sources and forms information.

My first trip to the exhibits area was kind of overwhelming. I stumbled directly into the author signing area which was completely mobbed. The biggest reason why I came to ALA this year was because I helped plan a program with ACRL’s Distance Learning Section, and that program was held on Saturday at 10:30AM. Our session was a panel discussion with three librarians doing work in online instruction titled “Is it worth it?: Assessing online instruction”. Two of the panelists are now my co-workers at UCF, but I had no affiliation with them when we started planning the session. I arrived early to help hand out cards and flyers with a link to more information for the audience. The seats were already half full when I arrived and by the time we started we had a full room. We counted 310 people in attendance! The session went well and I thought our format was unique in that the panelists took turns answering questions rather than each presenting their own slides one at a time. I was furiously taking notes for my conference report for C&RL News (which I just finished editing!). After the session several people stayed to ask questions, so I deem it a success. Five of us from the conference planning committee went to lunch after to celebrate a job well done, and it was good to catch up and to meet some of them face to face for the first time.

I definitely spent a lot of time stalking name badges to look for people I knew only online beforehand. It’s nice to make the face to face connection. Saturday afternoon I attended a session on mobile websites that was interesting but not inspiring. After that session I made my way back to the Loop area to get ready for the ULS/CLS social at the Plymouth Grill. I had a good time at this social, and it was also really nicely put together. I got to meet several librarians I knew online or from papers/presentations and also to meet some other DLS section members. A few of us went to Native Foods Café after – I highly recommend this place to any vegans/vegetarians/veggie lovers!

Sunday morning was the most anxiety provoking part of my whole experience, I had to get up at 5:30AM to get ready for the Think Fit 5k Fun Run & Walk. I caught the first shuttle at 6AM and commiserated in misery with the other brave souls who made the decision to run so early! The race started right by McCormick and ran along Lake Michigan. It was my first 5K and I wish I had been better rested, but I still smashed my goal of under 30 minutes and finished in 27:39. I came in 28th overall and was really happy with my performance. Looking back on the trip, I think this was one of the most special parts of my whole ALA experience and I’m incredibly glad that I did it.

I managed to go back to the dorm, shower, change and get back to McCormick around 9:15. There seemed to be a lot of good sessions/breakfasts on Sunday morning and I wish I could have participated in them. I spent more time at the exhibits and did my only swag run. I got some good books (like the new Laura Lippman!!!) and mailed them back to myself. I think it’s so great that they have a post office set up in the hall. I had a meeting at 10 with the members of the committee I’m co-chairing for DLS to plan a session for the 2014 Annual conference. The meeting was short but productive.

After that I checked out the first half of Giada De Laurentiis. She was phenomenal! She was warm, open, funny and engaging. I tweeted her a thank you during the session and got a response back later in the day. I know that I could have done something more library related but I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to see some of the celebrities that made time for ALA. After that I attended part of an Ignite Session. I wish they would have done a better job planning space for the programs/sessions. Almost all the sessions I attended were standing room only and it made it hard to fully engage with the material. I attended that session to hear the presentation on Fair Use  and it was very interesting. I think it’s so important to incorporate academic integrity and discussions of how information is used outside of academia into our instruction and conversations with students and faculty.

In the afternoon I went to the RUSA MARS session titled “Usability, the User Experience & Interface Design: The Role of Reference”. I think usability testing is incredibly important and useful, and I was glad to see a session on it that focused more on the role of public services rather than just on website/interface design. The speakers did a good job of discussing how the results of their research could inform instruction/design/reference work. The University of Chicago talked about how they’re putting altmetrics information directly in the catalog results to help students identify valuable resources. This session definitely gave me some ideas and inspiration for how to teach students about identifying resources and doing discipline specific research.

After that I attended another good session called 40 Great Apps for Mobile Reference & Outreach from the San Francisco Public Library. It was fun to attend a session not geared toward academic librarians, and the session was very well presented and designed.

In the late afternoon I attended the Executive Committee meeting for DLS. It was my first introduction into the behind the scenes work that happens at conferences and I learned a lot by attending. I also had to give an overview of what my committee is doing, and although I wasn’t aware of that before I walked in the room, I think I did a good job. I enjoy doing committee work and being involved in leadership, and I hope to become more involved in the future.

After that meeting I walked over to Fado with Beth for the LITA Happy Hour. I am not a LITA member but after seeing who attended, I think it might be worth joining! I read a lot of library blogs and saw so many big time bloggers and “rockstar” librarians there. I got to meet another one of my heroes, Lauren Pressley ! She was so nice and welcoming. I had a great time there and also afterward hanging out in the dorm with my roomies.

Monday morning I started out at an interest meeting for the new Sustainability Round Table (SustainRT) that was recently approved by ALA. I am beyond excited to start working with this group! Taken directly from the program description, “SustainRT invites the exchange of ideas and opportunities regarding sustainability in order to move toward a more equitable, healthy and economically viable society. The mission of the organization is to provide resources for the library community to support sustainability through curriculum development; collections; exhibits; events; advocacy, communication, library buildings and space design.”

The majority of people in attendance wanted to focus on the environmental aspects of the mission, however, I think I can make a huge impact by helping out with the health aspect. I have so many ideas for how to incorporate healthfulness into the conference experience and I think this will be a way for me to bridge my passion for health/wellness with my passion for libraries. I volunteered to be the webmaster for the organization since I don’t get to do much web stuff in my new role at UCF.

After that session I saw some of Oliver Stone but got discouraged by the discussion because it seemed to focus mostly on what’s broken and less on how it can be fixed. I am still looking forward to watching his new documentary because I feel like my grasp on American history is limited and could use some improvement. I left early so I could check out my friend Katy Kavanagh’s poster session on universal design in STEM tutorials. It was excellent and I’m so glad to know someone who is doing great work. I checked out the other posters there (it was hosted by the ACRL Science & Technology Section) and tried to take what I could from them since I don’t currently work with STEM programs but will in the future.

I ended my official ALA experience with a lunch hosted by the American Psychological Association. I was worried it would be a sales pitch, but the presentation was very informative and taught me some things about the APA databases that I didn’t know. Also, they have something called ADEPT (APA Databases & Electronic Products Training Institute) that has CC licensed training materials that librarians can use online or in presentations.

One of the tips I read in multiple ALA prep guides was to spend some time enjoying the city in which the conference is hosted. In that spirit, I took a long walk through the streets of Chicago on Monday afternoon. I started from my hotel and walked over to Lake Michigan. As I made my way across the Chicago River I encountered the Bean and the Picasso sculpture. I stopped for a drink by the river and then took the train to the Little Goat Diner. I’m a huge Top Chef fan and wanted to go to one of Stephanie Izard’s restaurants while I was in town. The restaurant was adorable, played awesome music, had a vegan menu and the fried pickle sandwich I had was incredible. After that I walked to the Chicago French Market mostly to browse and then took the train back to my hotel to pack and process.

I used a pedometer for the time I was there, and I walked/ran a total of 31 miles in the 5 days of my ALA experience. It was an amazing trip and I’m looking forward to more in the future!

Sights New Friends Eats Conference


7 thoughts on “ALA Chicago 2013 Recap

  1. Wow Carrie! Nice recap.
    That run sounds great—don’t know if I’d be able to get up and run that early, but it sounds amazing!
    Glad you are doing so well!

    Melanie Wood
    Library Manager- Harris Campus
    Central Piedmont Community College
    3210 CPCC West Campus Drive
    Charlotte, NC 28208
    704.330.4618 (on campus x7695)


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  2. Hi Carrie! I really enjoy your blog. Great recap, it sounds like you had a great time and got a lot out of the experience. I haven’t been to ALA yet, maybe next year. Also – congrats and great time on your first 5k!

  3. Pingback: The Start of a New Year | Digital Carrie

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