The International Librarians Network was represented at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference 2015 by Alyson Dalby, ILN Director. Below she recounts her experience attending the world’s largest library conference.
ALA Annual is big. Really big. I knew this before attending the conference in San Francisco this year, but I still wasn’t prepared for what that meant for the everyday experience of going to sessions, navigating the exhibition, and generally trying to get from one place to another.
The first thing to note is that when ALA is in town, you know about it. The size of an ALA Annual conference means that it takes over, if not the whole city, then at least several blocks of it. This year ALA took over several blocks of San Francisco. Given that it was also Pride weekend, it’s fair to say that it was a crowded city. The volume of people means that if you’re staying in an ALA hotel, the chances are that most other guests are also librarians. It makes for great networking opportunities – in the lift, in the bar, in the gym – everywhere you look there are librarians.
Then there’s the program. At every other conference I’ve been to there are plenary sessions – sessions where there’s only one thing on, and most people at the conference are expected to attend that one thing. It’s usually an opening or closing session, or the big name speakers. But ALA Annual this year had about 25,000 delegates – there’s no conference centre with a room big enough to hold that many people. So even the big names (Gloria Steinem, for example) don’t get a program slot to themselves. At every point there are many, many sessions to attend – at 1pm on Saturday I counted 155 different program sessions to choose from, not including author talks and vendor presentations. It’s fair to say that there’s something for everyone at ALA Annual.
Particular highlights of the program for me were the aforementioned Gloria Steinem, who spoke about her experiences with American society and the media. danah boyd gave a fantastic presentation that focused on how teens use social media, but then moved on to look at mass data collection and surveillance and how that impacts different social groups. The International Relations Round Table hosted a panel discussion on working abroad, comprising expats working in places such as Afghanistan, Cambodia and Shanghai.
I was honoured to be a part of the IRRT International Papers Program, speaking about the International Librarians Network. I spoke alongside people recounting their own stories of international mentoring, which reminded me how valuable international communications can be.
The best networking at ALA Annual was by far the International Librarians Reception, held on the last night of the conference at the San Francsico Public Library. The Library staff were wonderful hosts, and it was a great opportunity to meet people from around the world – there I met Nigerians, Danes, Spaniards, Canadians, French, and British people, as well as bumping into another Aussie!
Attending such a big conference reminded me of the diversity and creativity in our profession. There is so much happening, and so many developments, that keeping up with just a small amount of it can be a challenge. It’s an exiting time to be a librarian.