ALA Annual 2017

Five Tips for Newbies Attending an ALA Conference

For many librarians, June means the ALA Annual Conference, but for we children’s librarians, June means the start of Summer Reading! I’d never attended the annual conference before, in part because that time of year is the busiest time of year for us at the library. Going out of town in the days before SRC officially kicked off always seemed impossible. But after hearing raves about the 2016 conference from other children’s librarians, I was determined to finally attend Chicago in 2017!

Banner image for ALA Annual Conferenc

Before ALA Annual started, I fully expected to fly back to New Jersey exhausted and dragging. I thought it was going to be difficult to jump immediately into the hustle and bustle of Summer Reading. Instead, I left Chicago energized and excited to get back to work, with a renewed commitment to the important work we do as librarians, ready to implement all the new ideas I’d gained.

I spent the weekend attending many wonderful sessions and lectures by other children’s librarians.  One highlight was attending the Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder banquet as a guest of Penguin Young Readers, where I enjoyed hearing the inspirational speeches, and chatting with another Penguin Young Readers Award winner, as well as two librarians who had served on that year’s Newbery committee.  Talking to them made seem serving on one of the awards committees seem like an attainable career goal!

For those of you who are interested in attending an Annual Conference but haven’t yet taken the plunge, here are five tips for ALA Newbies that I wish I’d known!

Dress comfortably!

You will be doing a lot of walking! Convention centers are huge, and you’ll probably want to explore the host city in the evenings.  At the end of my first day, I wondered why I was so exhausted. I was shocked to look at my pedometer app and see I had walked almost 7 miles that day! Make sure you pack a few pairs of comfortable, supportive shoes. Your feet will thank you!

Whether or not the forecast calls for summer swelter, the air-conditioning in the convention center can get quite chilly, especially when you’re sitting in a session and not moving around.  You may want to throw a light sweater in your bag!

Travel light.

Many of the librarians I talked to throughout the weekend made a point to mention they’d left extra room in their suitcases for all the swag they’d be bringing home at the end of the trip.  I was glad that I had left plenty of extra room in my suitcase and also packed an extra empty carry-on bag.  On my return trip home, both were filled with ARCs, posters, and other handouts.  Other librarians told me they didn’t want to shlep through the airport with bags full of books, so they packed all their conference goodies into a box and mailed it to themselves at home.  There was a business center right at the conference center that would do this for you!

Resist overpacking every morning during the conference as well. The bag you normally carry around every day may seem light at 9 a.m., but after a day on your feet and several trips through the exhibit hall, you’ll soon find yourself weighed down!  Pack a small bag with only the essentials.  For me, this meant my phone; a small wallet with a bit of cash and a credit card; an external battery and extra charger for my phone; and a notebook and pen for taking notes.   When I headed back to my hotel every evening, loaded down with tote bags full of books, I was glad I hadn’t brought anything else!

I noticed a few folks carrying around backpacks from home. At first I wondered why they’d bothered, since practically every corner I turned, someone was shoving another free tote bag into my arms. However, after my shoulder started aching after carrying around tote bags full of books, I started to envy the people who were walking around with more evenly balanced loads in their backpacks.

Plan ahead.

The earlier you book your travel and your hotel, the better. I found the inexpensive hotels affiliated with the conference filled up fast!  There were still a ton of hotels available at very reasonable rates, but if you have your heart set on staying in a certain hotel or a certain neighborhood, the earlier you book, the better the selection.  You also get a discount on registering early for the conference!

Before the conference, spend an evening or two looking at the schedule and marking the various sessions you want to attend. I found the official ALA app to be very helpful to keep track of the events I was interested in, especially since it would give me an automatic reminder prior to the start time.  I starred anything that looked remotely interesting, even if I had already booked something else during that time period.  As the conference progressed, I was glad I had given myself so many options. Upon first glance at the calendar, I hadn’t realized that some of the sessions were in different buildings and I had not left myself enough travel time.  Luckily, I still had plenty of other interesting options to choose from.

Make connections.

One thing I wish I had done differently was contact a few of the children’s librarians I am friendly with on social media and make definitive plans to meet.   Don’t assume that you will bump into others, even if you know you will be attending the same sessions.  On the positive side, there were still plenty of chances to network with other librarians.  One of the most valuable sessions I attended was ALSC 101, where I met other ALA and ALSC newbies. Everyone was very friendly, we learned about all the ways we could get involved with ALSC, and most of us left with some great prizes!

And there’s always serendipity!  I literally bumped into my best friend from middle school the first morning of the conference, who was also attending the conference for the first time! We sat next to each other at the brunch honoring Sarah Dessen, winner of this year’s Edwards Award, and reminisced about our days furtively passing Judy Blume books in the library.

Leave time for fun!

After a full day of networking, attending sessions, meeting authors, and talking to vendors, you will need time to decompress! Give yourself some time to explore the host city, eat some local foods, and see the local sights.  The weather in Chicago was perfect, and I really enjoyed walking around at night and eating at some of the amazing Chicago restaurants.

I’m so glad I decided to attend an ALA Annual conference. It has definitely been one of the highlights of my professional year. I left excited, enthusiastic and eager to better serve the families in my community with the ideas I’d been given. I look forward to attending future ALA Annual and Midwinter Conferences, and becoming more involved with the greater library community.

I am so grateful to both Penguin Random House Young Readers and to ALSC for their sponsorship of the award and stipend that made my attendance of the conference possible. It is a fantastic opportunity for new children’s librarians to get further involved with the profession and get ideas that will help them in their day-to-day lives at work.  If you have been thinking about attending an annual conference for the first time, I highly encourage you to apply for the Penguin Young Readers Award next year!”


Our guest blogger today is Katy Halpern. Katy is a Children’s Librarian at the Lake Hiawatha Library in Lake Hiawatha, NJ and a recent recipient of a grant from ALSC and Penguin Random House, enabling her to able to attend her first national library conference.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at

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