To Conference (verb)

As I contemplate what to pack for Dallas and worry about blinding new and old friends with my pasty winter legs, I can barely contain my excitement.  You see, professionally AND personally, this is one of my favorite weeks of the year.

This post is for conference veterans and newbies alike. A bit of AISL conference advice. Please use the comments section to build on this.

How do you conference?

What to wear? (Thanks Jen Weening—I’m adding this after reading your email to the listserv!). During the day, you’ll find a little bit of everything, from jeans to dresses and heels. I vote for business casual during the day with comfortable shoes as you’ll be doing a lot of walking. I also layer so I’m ready for heat and AC. Bring something fun for the Skip Anthony banquet. It’s your chance to exchange your Clark Kent façade for fun, stylin’ Superlibrarian.


The hospitality suite: when you arrive at the hotel you might find yourself feeling road weary. You probably have a fantastic new book in your carry-on and some comfy pants calling your name. Fight it. Go by your room to drop your bags, freshen up, then head to the hospitality suite. When you arrive there, grab a snack and a glass of wine and get ready to mingle. It might be uncomfortable at first, but putting faces with names and learning who you might have some things in common with (single sex? Elementary, middle, or upper?) can open up doors to meaningful conversation and perhaps even genuine friendships by the end of the conference.  Not your first time? Look for new faces and make them feel welcome. Revel in reconnecting with old friends and putting listserv names with faces, but look for conference newbies to draw into conversations. I really appreciated those that did this for me my first year.

Meals and bus rides are equally valuable. Even if you are an introvert, don’t miss this opportunity to connect. At times, these conversations can be as educational as the workshops that you will attend.

Talk to boys! Men tend to be in the minority at our conference. It’s uncomfortable to be in the minority. Ladies, let’s make sure we’re making them feel welcome and included as well.

 Practical Advice

Carry a notebook or device for note taking at all times. When you’re on the bus and someone starts talking about a fantastic book they’ve read that you or your students might also like to read, write. it. down. You probably think you’ll remember. You might. But if you’re like me and your “brain plate” gets full, these details might fall right off. I also take people’s cards and write on them what it is we discussed and anything that I want to follow up on when I get home. It will help, trust me. Try to sit with someone new on the bus each time. It’s quality time built into your day as you travel.

Bring a camera or device to take pictures. Take a picture of the name of the library before you start snapping away—you might want to email the librarian to discuss specifics later. You will see some awesome displays, new titles, furniture, spaces, quotes, technology, programming, etc.  Take pix of slides in a presentation if they are particularly good or relevant to something you’re interested in. Record all of this inspiration to recreate in your own space or to include in your conference report when you get home.

Take pix of student art to share with your art teachers. Do the same for other student work displayed in the library or on campus that might inspire a class project. Innovative recycling program in San Fran you say? Bring it to your school! I first saw Read posters done for middle and upper school teachers of the year at a school I visited during an AISL conference and that became an awesome tradition at my last school. Reading programs, book displays, ways to integrate book carts into 3D book displays, tech integration…pix are always good to show administrators great ideas in action when you get home.

Use social media to engage in conversation with our colleagues who are unable to attend this year (#AISL2014 @AISLDFW)

Have FUN, but not too much fun. Be remembered for your fabulous ideas, not for your fabulous table dance moves. 😉

Take advantage of every opportunity offered to you. The planning committee has spent an incredible amount of time and energy thinking through what you should see and do in their town. Even if you’re really tired, push yourself to go on that tour, visit that museum, see that sight. Some of my favorite AISL memories include seeing Niagara falls for the first time, visiting wine country, touring the Country Music Hall of Fame, catching a Rockies game in Denver, dancing the night away with a 360 degree view of the San Francisco skyline, and touring the Naval Academy last year, just to name a few. [Note, I missed Las Vegas because I had a new baby. There are surely some good stories from that one.]

I absolutely love this conference. It is my professional ‘cup filler’ for the year. To avoid information overload, I come back and choose 3 action items to either begin on immediately or to plan for the next year. I keep my notes and refer back to them at least once a year. It’s amazing to see some of the same issues from my first conference in ’07 still relevant today.

These are just some of my suggestions for getting the most from your time in Dallas. What did I miss? Please share comments, questions, or suggestions of your own below. Until then, I’ll pack my boots and sing…

“The stars at night, are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas!”

10 thoughts on “To Conference (verb)

  1. My very first AISL conference was Dallas. I had no idea what to expect, but after the first day, I thought I was in Heaven! There were Librarians that I could talk to about every aspect of my job, my space, my administration and everything in between. They could all relate to what I do and they all had the best advice about everything. There were workshops that showed me how to create better programs and there were beautiful Libraries that presented books, artwork and work spaces that I could easily incorporate into my Library. I made great friends that are still great friends, and every conference since just gets better and better (especially if I can get an hour to check out the local shopping!).
    I’ve kept a file from every conference I attended, and refer back to it when I’m looking for that something special to make my Library better.
    I’m looking forward to Dallas, new friends, old friends, new ideas & getting my professional “fix” that will be a great help to making me a better Librarian!

    Barbara Share

  2. Thanks so much for reminding us all how special the people, places and things are at the AISL conference, Katie!
    Collecting business cards is a great tip. Here’s what I do: I stow them away as I acquire them inside my conference badge, behind the name tag insert. After the conference, I have colleagues’ information gathered in one handy spot. I still have my badges/name tag holders for several conferences. Looking forward to meeting up with everyone soon! –Diane

  3. My first conference was Boston- many years ago. Until that conference I had felt like a fish out of water when attending my state and also the big sister of all- ALA– AISL made me feel welcomed and also I had found “my kind” of librarians with the same talk and walk. A few years ago Nashville hosted and one of our headmasters showed the “walk of the librarians” film clip at an ALA– slow and methodical did they move– while our conference is almost always happy dancing with warm greetings to new and renewing friends. I also come back surprisingly refreshed to finish this school year and filled with at least one new practice to incorporate for the next year. The Skip Anthony celebration is not an event to miss. Some dress with a little bling while others come in smart casual– either way- COME and catch that plane on the red eye or Saturday morning.

    See you soon!

    Jean Bruce

  4. Katie, you remind me of why I get excited weeks before each conference! I checked out AISL for the first time in Pasadena–the hotel was ~7 minutes from my school–to see if I’d prefer this group to AASL. I never looked back! I met so many wonderful people over the years, forging forever-friendships, and adding to my arsenal of great library practices! You all never cease to inspire me, and you’ve made me better at what I’ve been doing for 40 years(!)
    For me, times on the bus have been very special. I’ve met new people, shared in-depth personal and professional conversations with librarians from all over the country and Canada, and had trips from Niagara Falls to Monticello, to the Carter Library, to Nashville’s Parthenon! How fortunate am I to have had these experiences with such an amazing group of librarians?
    I’m looking forward to catching up with many of you, meeting new people, and visiting DFW’s wonderful schools! See you in the hospitality suite!

  5. I echo everyone’s sentiments–there’s no place like AISL. AISL was born the same year as my daughter (1987) and I have attended most of the conferences since then. It is a bittersweet feeling knowing that this will be my last conference as a librarian employed by a school (though I may not be able to pass up 2015 in Florida!). In case you don’t already know it, I have loved being part of this group and learning from its many talented, inspiring, intelligent, creative, outrageous and funny members. Rock on.

  6. My first AISL conference was last year and I loved it! Met lots of really great people and was so happy to hear that others were having some of the same experiences – and frustrations – that I was. I also took home some great ideas to help alleviate those frustrations, or just fabulous new things to try in my library. I had never been so energized by a conference before.

    Since I didn’t know anyone going in, I often ended up talking to new people, and though I found a few new friends to hang with occasionally, I used the conference as an opportunity to network and put faces to the names I’d seen on the listserv. The only problem is my fading memory. I can remember some faces and some names, but can’t always put them together in my head. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it to Dallas this year due to a conflict with an important event at school, so won’t get to reconnect and refresh my memory this year.

    Is it possible to post a picture next to our school listing on the wiki? Is this something people would we willing to do? That way we could help refresh our memory before or after a conference by looking at names and faces. Just a thought to help this middle-aged brain.

    • I love this idea as well, Linda! I’ll pass along to the Wiki admin. It might be something as simple as a Google doc where we insert a picture, but it might be cool to add any personal/professional blogs, social media handles, etc. there as well. Thanks for suggesting it!

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