Well. I wish someone had warned me. Or, at the very least, prepared me.
ALA isn’t like the other nice, civilized library conferences I’ve been to in the past. It’s the library world’s version of the Thunderdome. They may as well have had Tina Turner give the opening address.
Now, that’s not to say I didn’t have an absolutely marvelous, wonderful, extraordinary, magical, magnificent time; I certainly did. I just think that, had I known what I was in for, I could have capitalized on my experience a little more.
THINGS I LEARNED AT ALA
- It’s every man for himself. While people are happy to smile and chat with you while waiting around, when the rope drops to the exhibit floor, there are no such things as friends.
- There are SO MANY giveaways. I was astounded by the sheer volume of stuff vendors were giving away. Books, bags, pins, pens, posters – any type of swag you can imagine.
- Don’t bother to try to schedule ANYTHING (except author signings, because that’s imperative – more on that later). You can go into ALA with the best intentions, with a shiny schedule on your ALA app, and in ten minutes it’ll be shot to smithereens. Scenario that may or may not have happened to me: OK, the session I want to attend starts in fifteen minutes – I better start heading that way. (Overhears a conversation while walking.) What? Drew Daywalt is signing his new book over at the HarperCollins booth? I’m SO there! (PS – this MAY OR MAY NOT have happened A LOT…)
- Work out your arms for a month solid before going. I have a 9-month-old baby who weighs as much as a small unicorn. I thought my arms were in shape. I was very, very wrong. At any one point in time, you may be carrying fifty pounds worth of books. And unless you are conveniently parked in the ramp just outside AND don’t care that you’ll miss ALL THE THINGS while you’re gone dumping your #bookhaul in said car, you’re going to be carrying them around for a long time.
- There are SO MANY books. If you’re a complete #booknerd like I am, you may go a little crazy here. I learned that publishers use conferences like ALA, PLA, and Midwinter to do a lot of promotion for new and upcoming releases, and they have no problem giving away millions upon millions of books. Every six hours or so, a new group of galleys drops, so by the time you get through one trip over the exhibit floor, you have to start again, so you don’t miss anything. At last count, I came away from ALA with 115 books.
- There are SO MANY authors! I knew there were going to be authors at ALA, but I really had NO IDEA just HOW MANY. I was only there on Saturday and half the day on Sunday, and these are the authors I saw/met/got signed books by, and what they are known for (and this is, by no means, a comprehensive list – just the ones I can remember): Angie Thomas (she is fabulous, btw) – The Hate U Give; Jason Reynolds (huge and imposing and so, so gracious) Ghost; Drew Daywalt (eeeeee!) he of The Day the Crayons Quit fame; Victoria Schwab (be still my fangirl heart) – A Darker Shade of Magic; Maggie Stiefvater (be still me second TimeLord fangirl heart) – The Raven Boys; Marie Lu (I don’t have any hearts left, but she was SO sweet) – Legend; Alexandra (“just call me Alex”) Bracken – Passengers; Sharon Cameron (steampunk genius) – Rook; Cat Winter (lovely mind behind demon-slaying Victorian teens) – Odd & True; Kelly Barnhill (middle grade queen) – The Girl Who Drank the Moon; Melissa Albert (so, so grateful and humble) – The Hazel Wood; Cassie Beasley (cute as a button) – Tumble & Blue; Jen Lancaster (yes, THE Jen Lancaster) – The Gatekeepers; Amanda Foody (heroines can kick butt AND wear lipstick!) – Daughter of the Burning City; Tom Angleberger (he drew Rocket and Groot in my book!!!) of Origami Yoda fame; Matthew Cordell (drew a monkey in my book!) – Dream; and Julia Quinn (romance queen) – The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband. And guys – this was just in a day-and-a-half. SERIOUSLY.
- Be prepared to wait in line. They move pretty quickly, but don’t be surprised if you have to hang out in line for a half-hour or forty-five minutes to see some of the authors. I had my Kindle, so it wasn’t a big deal. You can also usually find interesting people around you to chat up. I have several fascinating conversations while waiting in lines, with fellow librarians and book-lovers from all over the country. But don’t be surprised when things come to a standstill.
- Hydrate. When I checked my step-counter at the end of the first day, I had walked the equivalent of nine miles. NINE MILES. I didn’t even bother to look at the end of day two, but I know it was as much, if not more. Pack water; pack crackers.
- Do some sight-seeing. ALA is always somewhere awesome. As Chicago is the home-base for ALA, the conference is held there every-other year (as it was this year), but on the off-years, it travels around the country (next year it’s in New Orleans, my all-time favorite place YAY!!!). Take some time (but don’t miss anything awesome at the conference!) to take in your surroundings!
All of this, and I haven’t even mentioned the #librarianship aspect of ALA. I attended several informative sessions that dealt with library issues, library challenges, library accomplishments, and library advancements. Some of them were directly relevant to my position as the Director of a public library; some were not. One of the things I really liked was hearing the different perspectives of the different library representatives who led these sessions. I always love learning about all facets of libraries, and conferences like ALA are an amazing way to become familiar with “library things” you may not otherwise encounter.
One other thing that I really appreciated about ALA was the fact that I could see and experience firsthand new library services and products all in one place, and at one time. The experts were there on hand to talk about the things they were offering, and I was able to try and test things myself, first-hand, and in real-time. I looked at products I normally wouldn’t have the time or resources to see; I was made aware of new advancements and technologies that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. ALA really is one-stop shopping for libraries.
So, on the whole, I am so grateful to have been able to attend ALA this year. I learned a lot, met a lot of interesting people from all over the country, gained a lot of experience, made some great connections, and had a wonderful time. And NEXT YEAR, I’ll be ready for the next edition of the Thunderdome. “Two (wo)men enter, one (wo)man leaves!”