But first, a story...
As a newbie, I was asked in Atlanta if this was my first professional conference. Atlanta was actually my second Midwinter; I had attended the 2015 Snowstorm Midwinter in Chicago (everyone remembers that Midwinter).
In addition, I had the privilege of attending professional conferences starting when I was 18. My undergrad was a huge Writing Center hub, and our director at the time was able to find money to send 30+ consultants to a writing conference each year. I was only a few months into undergrad when I found myself on a train from Illinois to Baltimore. I've been thinking about that experience a lot recently, with ACRL coming up in Baltimore and as I think about my first year as a library professional.
I loved Writing Center conferences. It was nice to have this large group, with many of my close friends, at a giant conference. We were by far the youngest participants, which made us great for undergrad insight when paired with Writing Center directors, PhD students, and graduate consultants. It was these conferences where I figured out what the heck "pedagogy" meant (what a buzzword), learned about the multi-faceted process of giving a conference to an ESL student, and began to understand how praxis worked (without knowing it was praxis).
At these Writing Center conferences, Coe consultants moved in small packs. Even if a session was a blow out, we had each other to talk through the ideas, critique the ideas, and come to a better understanding of the topic. We were never afraid to talk in the sessions and ask lots of questions. For some of us, being active was helpful for writing the report on the sessions, which was a requirement of attending the conference. I'm sure I have several dozen pages of analysis and reflection on the four conferences I attended during undergrad.
Once we fulfilled our requirement of sessions, our groups would take off into whatever city we were in. I saw Baltimore, Madison, San Diego, and Tampa because of the Writing Center. I had my first Thai meal on one of these trips, got lost in several cities, and rode on a train in San Diego on Halloween to the beach. These adventures taught me to travel and to navigate cities I barely knew. We had so much independence on these trips and we really took advantage of it.
However, at the end of the day, our groups would end up at the hotel. We would wander to one room and talk about the day. The adventures we went on and the sessions we had attended. We had those conversations that fit the stereotype of college life that movies show us. The stay up all night, talking about everything and nothing, sort of talks. These talks created stronger friends and these friends pushed me to see new perspectives and asked big questions that often didn't have simple answers. I always felt renewed and re-energized to be a writing consultant after these conferences. I came back to Iowa with a bit more confidence and a bit more passion for what I was doing.
I'm telling this long backstory to say this: I'm not quite at that same level with ALA conferences. I know I'm a fresh professional fish who is still trying to find her group. It's a slow process and I keep reminding myself that it takes time to settle. I still find myself renewed and refreshed after both Midwinters I've attended, carry around notebooks filled with my scribbles and passing ideas. I feel more confident after Midwinter and feel that the work I am doing at Penn State is meaningful, which is always a good feeling to have.
To the conference recap...
And so we return to ALA Midwinter. Day 2 and 3 went by fast and were full of rain, good conversations, and some free stuff. I got to spend some time in the exhibition hall, which is always a little overwhelming with all the vendors, advanced reader copy books, and other miscellaneous activity (including free coffee and champagne). I did run into people I knew in the hall, including my grad school administration, now known as the iSchool (how I miss the GSLIS title).
On Saturday and Sunday, I did manage to attend some great sessions including:
- Libraries Transform -- Civic Innovation
- The Future of Librarian Labor
- ACRL Framework for Information Literacy: Update Session
- Building Civic Engagement with Civic Lab
I particularly appreciated The Future of Librarian Labor and Building Civic Engagement with Civic Lab. The Librarian Labor was led by Eamon and Emily, two librarians at LIU Brooklyn and two librarians I actively follow on Twitter. They set up their talk with their experience during the LIU Brooklyn lockout in the fall 2016. After setting that groundwork, they talked about the ways in which they are building a collective up and preparing to take more action, if needed. They reminded us in the room that we as librarians are pretty natural organizers (ability to identify connections, outreach experience, and understanding complex processes).
During the Building Civic Engagement with Civic Lab session, librarians from Skokie Public Library (shoutout Illinois) talked about the set-up they created to help the public talk about issues in the lead up to the election. Their Civic Lab would "pop-up" with materials and space to have tough conversations. It was interesting to think about ways to do something similar (or inspired by) this lab at Penn State. Civic engagement seems like something that we need to continue to work on, especially with the state of the US right now. If there was a way to bring people together to talk about these issues, that could be a start.
My time at ALA also included meeting some folks from the Library Instruction Roundtable (LIRT) and attending the reception for the Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award (given out by the University of Illinois School of Information Science). Both were a good chance to see some familiar faces and meet some new people too.
And as quickly as Midwinter had started, it was over. I'm glad I was able to attend the conference. I've got a conference-packed first part of the year. I'm headed to The Collective Conference in the beginning of March and then head to Baltimore for ACRL this year. Excited for more opportunities to get inspired, meet new people, and grow professionally as a newbie!