Summer Travel: Conferences, Conferences, and More Conferences

Summer Travel: Conferences, Conferences, and More Conferences

Long time, no posting!

It has been since March or April since I posted last. This was not due to neglect but rather the fact that I wanted to do a compilation post updating everyone on my summer travels. Between the months of May and August, I attended four conferences, presented at three of those, and also took a vacation overseas. Although conferences might not be as important for those later in their careers due to the fact that any presentations exist in a sort of ephemeral state and aren’t easily accessible, these opportunities to present and network are vital for new professionals like myself. Not only can I present in different formats (posters, papers, lightening talks, etc.) but I can see what other professionals at other institutions are doing and meet those peers. When we have access to the works of others, we can participate in both the scholarly conversation as well as the profession at large; if I see that a library implemented user experience testing to design their LibGuides, I can then bring that as a suggestion to my library because I have seen its process and outcome, for example.

Because I work at an academic library, summers and other semester breaks are the ideal times to travel because classes are not in session. So, this summer, I took advantage of that and went to almost every conference I could think of. In this post, I will summarize those conferences and how I was involved with them, as well as tips for affording the conferences.

Utah Library Association Annual Conference

Near the beginning of May, the Utah Library Association (ULA) had its annual conference in Provo, Utah. Because I live in Utah and Provo is not far away, my library paid for any employee or staff who wanted to attend. I was excited to attend a conference where I didn’t have to volunteer or present since usually that’s the only way I can justify the expense. Although the national library association conferences are helpful (and even pretty fun), local conferences allow for some of the best networking. It is easier to participate in that sharing of ideas when the institutions are nearby and have similar needs and patron bases, in my opinion.

Some of the sessions I attended included an overview of a digital humanities project at Utah State University which archived student culture, as well as a project collecting reactions to the 2016 presidential election. I mainly went to this session because one of my friends from grad school was presenting, but the topic was incredibly interesting from a metadata perspective. Another detailed a private liberal arts college in SLC resigning their subject guides based on user experience testing, something I have wanted to do here at the Marriott Library. Their guides were beautiful, and I was inspired. I also got to see several of my colleagues present. Although I collaborate throughout the library, I often don’t know what other projects and research my colleagues are getting up to. I think it’s better to know what in general is happening in your library in order to foster a holistic and consistent atmosphere.

Tribal College Librarians Institute

Before my Emerging Leaders group presented our project at the ALA Annual conference (more on that below), we were invited to present at the Tribal College Librarians Institute in Bozeman, Montana. This week-long conference is an opportunity for librarians at tribal colleges to meet, network, present on projects and resources, and learn about products from vendors and government institutions. We also went bird watching.

I am not at a tribal college, nor am I Native American. I was extremely honored to be invited to this conference. It was highly educational to see some of the triumphs and struggles faced by these institutions, and how the range to which those will differ institution to institution. My favorite presentation was done by the library director at Sitting Bull College, which is the college on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. The library director talked about how he and his library reacted to the #NoDAPL protests. The library, being one of the closest structures to the camps, served not only as a place for information and internet but also as a meeting space and general refuge away from the protests. He discussed how his library adapted to these needs, and how he began collecting protest signs and online images and memes related to the protests. He is often not sure who the creators of these objects are but chooses to present them anyway despite possibly breaking copyright law. I think this stance is something we should be more comfortable with as librarians, where the preservation and sharing of materials is so important that we take chances.

American Library Association Annual Conference

Oh boy, here comes the big one. Because I was a 2018 Emerging Leader, I had to attend both the ALA Midwinter conference in Denver, Colorado and the ALA Annual conference in New Orleans. I had never been to New Orleans before this conference. I had wanted to go since I was a kid (I even took French in high school), so I was beyond excited. Wonderful culture, wonderful history, delicious food, and it’s spooky. What more could I want.

My main reason for attending this conference was the poster presentation of my Emerging Leaders group’s project. Our group worked closely with the American Indian Library Association to create a directory/digital advocacy tool that gave information for tribal libraries in the United States. We turned this into a website with an OpenStreetMap map. We collected our data through surveys, and all libraries included in the resource had to opt in instead of us automatically including any library we could find. We also wanted this map to be educational, especially for non-tribal librarians and patrons. We wanted to show where all the libraries were as well as what services they offered. Although we only got as far as the contact information and location, we plan on continuing the project with a more detailed database that will live on the AILA website. If you want to see the project in its current form, you can check out the sample website we made.

At the conference, we presented this as a poster in a special session just for the Emerging Leaders groups. This was held the first day of the conference, so the rest of the time I had to myself. I didn’t attend many sessions this year except for committee meetings, mainly due to the fact that there weren’t a lot of interesting metadata sessions. One of the highlights of the conference was seeing Michelle Obama speak with Dr. Carla Hayden as our keynote presentation.

Besides all of the wonderful professional development opportunities, ALA annual conferences are really good for visiting cities and having a lot of fun. When I wasn’t being a fancy librarian, I was:

  • Going on ghost tours
  • Taking tram rides to sight-see
  • Eating delicious food
  • Trying hurricanes and regretting them
  • Going to parties to support local LGBTQ organizations
  • Making new friends
  • Wandering around the French Quarter via rented bicycle

I especially loved the ghost tour. It talked about vampires. I am a stereotypical goth and love vampires, especially dandy New Orleans vampires.

New Librarian Summit

My final conference of the summer was the New Librarian Summit at San Jose State University in San Jose, California. This conference is meant for new librarians as well as librarians in new positions to share their work. I did a short presentation on a research project I undertook with several of my colleagues. This study investigated the information seeking behaviors of students in a first-year experience course from both an instruction perspective and a metadata perspective. I am particularly interested in what gets lost in translation when a information need is formed into a question which is then formed into a search string for a database. We collected data through research diaries so this process could be observed in a natural setting on the students’ own terms. Conference attendees seemed to enjoy my presentation and several stated they planned on doing similar research at their libraries.

My favorite session of this conference was a workshop on feminist citation practices and feminist library instruction pedagogy. Although I was already familiar with feminist pedagogy, I was not familiar with feminist citation practices. This workshop was eye-opening, and I plan to implement its suggestions into my own work, teaching, and resources for students.

Affording Conferences

I realize the importance of professional development as a new librarian; however, attending conferences is extremely-cost prohibitive, especially for someone who is fresh out of graduate school. A lot of my friends and professional colleagues were rightly surprised and curious as to how I was able to attend so many conferences in such a short amount of time because of how much money it takes to do that.

My secret?

I applied for travel fellowships and also asked my library for extra travel money. I used my own money without reimbursement for the New Librarian Summit only. For ALA, I used the emergency money as well as an EBSCO sponsorship I applied for and won. Utah Library Association was free because my library paid for all employees to go. The Tribal College Librarians Institute was funded entirely through an IMLS grant.

If you are a new professional, I highly suggest applying for as many sponsorships, scholarships, and other grants as possible. Most conferences have their own, but often vendors will offer them as well. And frequently, these scholarships are meant for new professionals, people who would have trouble affording it, and/or marginalized professionals. If able, also try asking your institution for help traveling. I know this is highly dependent on your institution, but if you can justify the expense and why it would benefit your library, it’s worth a shot. ALA even has tips for asking your employer for permission to attend the conference, and those reasons apply to travel money as well.


Looking Ahead

I have one more conference for the year, the DLF Forum in October. As much as I love traveling, I’m excited to work on my capstone project and teach, something I will update you on soon. I will also be writing a featured blog post about librarianship in New Zealand, as that is where I went for my brief vacation in July.



And since my last post, I have started going by a different name professionally. Please now refer to me as Jay or Janus, and use they pronouns. 🙂

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