#ALA10 advice for ALA conference 2010 (or, take it from me, DC is HUMID)

Another advice post? From a librarian who isn’t even attending this year’s conference? What does she think she is, a diva?

Well, no.  I had a once in a lifetime chance to see Carole King/James Taylor as the last concert at the Mellon Arena (fondly called the Igloo) here in Pittsburgh, and I’m recovering from a bout of Shingles. But I’ve attended at least 3 ALA conferences (Toronto, Chicago, Chicago) and 2 PLA conferences  (Boston, Minneapolis) so I have some conference experience…

…and I’ve spent at least 11 years of my life in and outside the Beltway, so I thought I’d give you some tips about DC and some thoughts garnered from last year’s conference.

  • 5 day forecast from wunderground. DC is hot and humid, but any librarian worth her (or his) salt knows that the cardigan fits nicely in one of those Demco/B&N/Brodart/your vendor’s name here bags. You will be going in and out of the conference center, hotels, Metro stations…so dress for the weather (hot, humid) but carry a cardigan.

Last year before the conference, I went all out and bought Mephisto sandals. Pricey, but so worth it. I did a lot of walking (Chicago’s ALAs are extremely spread out) and having that cloud under my feet was especially good for walking the blocks. One time, another librarian and I walked a mile side by side, not talking, just power-walking. We didn’t know each other, we didn’t talk. But the side by side walking kept both of us going to our final destination. I doubt I would have continued walking had it not been for the silent competition/comradery we had going.

  • Get a Metro pass. My sister, who is a true Washingtonian, recommends that tourists (that’s you) use a daily pass. That way you don’t have to worry about adding money every time you go somewhere.  They cost $9, which is a bargain if you think about how much cabs cost.  Here’s the link to purchase one online. Scroll down a bit. They are good after 9:30 on weekdays (like today and Monday and Tuesday) but work all day on weekends (Saturday, Sunday)

I was staying with my friends in a darling Chicago neighborhood called Lincoln Square. I got lost a couple of times, but by the end of my short time in Chicago, I knew my way (at least back to their apartment.)

  • Are you staying with family/friends? (Congrats on your networking skills, it’s a great way to attend conferences on the cheap.) Tell them about the exhibits only passes. Any Jim or Jane off the street can pay $25 at the registration booth inside the conference center for a one day exhibits-only pass. Link here for what’s in the exhibits…lots of great stuff! Even better,  offer to pay for their pass–it’s a great host/hostess gift for any book lover.  (What’s $25? You could be paying for a hotel room, remember?)

The friends I stayed with had just gotten married, so I got them something off their wedding registry. And I gave them a lot of my vendor swag…my friend is considering becoming a librarian someday, so she loved hearing about what I’d done each day.

  • Network. And I don’t just mean in your meetings. Are you waiting in the taxi line because the shuttles are all gone and you have to get back to your hotel? Ask the folks waiting if they are going to your hotel or nearby. Sharing cabs cuts the cost. Or, if you have an internet enabled phone (you lucky dog!) you can try out a new service in DC, called CabCorner, which creates an instant cab-pool.

One hot Chicago afternoon, going from the conference center into downtown, my fare got paid for by some ladies who were at the other conference in the conference center. When they found out I was a librarian, they paid my way. While at first I found it a little ego-bruising, I decided in the end that it was really sweet of them, and graciously thanked them.

I seem to remember it was a day when I was exhausted and just needed to get OUT of the conference area. Which brings me to…

  • Don’t just go to the exhibits and meetings and presentations…especially if you are paying your own way. Take a diversionary trip. The Metro is very easy to navigate, and a lot of the museums are right on the Metro line. Go to a Smithsonian or two. And hey, they are FREE.

It was the ONLY day I’d have a chance to go to the Art Institute…so I went. I stood in front of my favorite painting for almost a half hour. Yes, it meant I missed hearing Cokie Roberts, but it’s not every day I’m in Chicago.

  • Always read people’s name tags. You never know who you’ll meet. Do you know someone from their state? This is a great way to meet the person you’ll eat lunch with today. Are there empty seats at a table in the crowded caf? Don’t be afraid to ask if you can sit with people–they may become your new best friends!

I’ve met Robert Munsch’s brother (Toronto, ’02), Richard Peck (same), and last year, darn it, a really great children’s poet. (Write this stuff down!!) We were on the escalator and I read her name tag and said, are you x, the poet ? And she was!

  • Do you twitter? follow the hashtags #ala10, #aladanceparty, and for fun, @alatotebag, who tweets such gems as this:

Who had the bright idea to hold #ALA10 in a 100 degree swamp? Librarians don’t keep well in the heat. Cardigans will spontaneously combust.

A few other librarians have written GREAT conference advice posts:

Librarian by Day: ALA Conference Survival Tips #ala10

Free Range Librarian: ALA Conference Survival Tips — 35 Conferences Later

Elizabeth Bird at SLJ: Remembering what I’ve forgotten


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