My aim for SLA2013 was to make the most of every opportunity for networking. The main reason I wanted to attend an SLA conference was for the opportunity to meet people. People have always been the highlight of professional events that I’ve attended before. The times for networking are usually my favourite times at any conference. It is a great opportunity to catch up with old acquaintances, and former colleagues, as well as a chance to meet many new people. Armed with a stack of business cards and my best smile I tried my best to throw myself into the conference.
I’m not afraid of meeting new people and usually thrive at networking events. However I’ll admit that I went to bed on the first night feeling deflated and anxious that I wasn’t the right person to be at the conference. A classic case of letting my own confidence levels take a hit because of the overwhelming scale of the task. The first day was a rollercoaster of highs and lows, which weren’t helped by jetlag. I spent most of the Saturday exploring San Diego on my own before attending a first timer reception, followed by the Business and Finance Awards reception. The first day on your own in a new city is always a tough one. Thankfully the first timer reception was a great icebreaker and I met a number of people who would become great conference friends. The Business and Finance Division event was great because it was nice to be recognised by the division and the number of people congratulating me was overwhelming. Everyone was wonderful however I felt a little lost at sea, unsure how best to introduce myself to people and found it hard to work out what best to talk about. As a result I went to bed that night feeling worried about being cut out for surviving the conference. Ultimately though I need not have worried because everyone at the conference was so very friendly, welcoming and ready for conversation.
The noticeable thing about the SLA conference was how willing people were to engage with everyone regardless of background or level of experience. At SLA people are equal. People are valued. I can’t recall any occasion at the conference where I felt inferior or less worthy of my place in the conversation. What I do have is many memories of occasions where people at the top were happy to engage with newcomers like myself. Hierarchy is not a driving force. SLA CEO Janice Lachance sat at my table during a lunch break. SLA Europe board members invited me to join drinks in the bar each night.
One of the most important set of relationships I developed during the conference was with my fellow ECCA winners. We helped each other navigate the vast conference experience. We bonded over food, drinks and baseball games. We shared new experiences and reflected on our different pasts. I learnt with them. I learnt from them. I’m still learning from them. Reading the blog posts written by fellow ECCA winners continues to bring new perspectives and challenge my viewpoints on the conference and the profession.
The first in my series of write ups of SLA 2013 focuses my experiences of the overall conference programme; the sessions, and events attended.
In the weeks leading up to the conference I was able to use an online conference planner to find out what sessions and events were planned. My first observation was the volume of sessions and the comparatively small space of time they were crammed into. Every day of the programme offered a lot of choice, everything from breakfast business meetings to panel sessions and interactive workshops. There were even some of those old school style speaker and a PowerPoint type things. Navigating my way through all of the choices seemed like a challenge at first however the online planner was great as I was able to build my own personal schedule for the event. Though of course I didn’t really stick to that at all choosing instead to pick sessions as I went along. Recommendations from others and reading tweets during the event were really useful in making these decisions.
I went to some amazing sessions and some rubbish sessions, as is the way with conferences. You never know what it will actually be and how good the speaker will be until you get started. As a result I attended a lot of sessions but not a lot of complete sessions. At US conferences it is acceptable to switch between sessions at any time. I found myself doing this a lot, partly because I could and partly because too many potentially interesting things were happening at once. Session hopping has downsides though. It was great to be able to leave sessions that weren’t overly interesting or living up to expectations but arriving part way through a session can make it hard to understand exactly what is going on. I found there was a lack of focus in the room, which was perhaps due to a flow of people coming and going. Session switching is definitely an interesting and useful concept though, especially when you are in a session that you don’t think you are getting anything out of.
My favourite sessions were:
- Dream Jobs: What’s it like to Work There
- Bad Food: Life-cycle of a Food Recall
- Big Data, Big Challenges
- Storytelling Across Multiple Platforms
- Make the Most of a Difficult Situation: Solutions to Get You Through
Alongside the conference sessions was a varied and busy programme of social and networking events. These were often hosted by specific divisions however were generally open for anyone to attend. For me these events were the best part of the conference. As presentation and panel sessions can often be very specific it is sometimes hard to feel properly engaged but networking events are great opportunities for learning and building contacts. I took the advice of my mentor Neil to heart and attend as many as possible. One evening I attended 5 different social events, namely The Canadian Reception, Solo Librarians Open House, International Reception, Legal Division event and the IT Dance Party. At all of these events I was able to engage with people, discuss various topical issues and build up a network of contacts. Even the IT Dance Party provided opportunity to get to know people; it was especially good for getting to know people in more social context. I’ll write more about this aspect of the conference in Part 2: People.
I’m not going to write about the exhibition hall as I didn’t feel I had much to talk to any vendors about. I did enjoy the wide range of vendors and absorbed quite a lot of awareness about various organisations and services though which could be useful in the future.
There is so much more that I could write about however for now that is the broad overview of my reflections concerning the actual conference itself.
In June 2013 I was lucky enough to travel to San Diego to attend the 2013 Annual Special Libraries Association conference as an Early Career Conference Award (ECCA) winner. The experience was truly epic in every sense of the word; an 11 hour flight, 18 hour days, thousands of people, over 200 events and a conference centre stretching across more than 8 street blocks. Everything about the experience was massive and overwhelming but absolutely amazing.
Now that I’ve been back for a month (or so) I’ve have had time to digest it all and distil the experience down. I’m writing up by splitting my reflective writing into four parts;
- The Conference
- What I Wish I Had Done Differently
I’ve also been busy writing up my reflections for various other blogs and journals. A conference report can be found in the July edition of the CLSIG Journal. I’ve written a piece for the SLA Europe Blog so look out for that in the future, as well as a report for the Business and Finance Division Bulletin.
The challenge is trying to work out what to write and what to leave out. There is so much I could say, so much I’d love to capture in writing so I don’t forget it all in the future. The experience of being an ECCA and attending a conference of this scale is so mind boggling and overwhelming, so it’s hard to condense my thoughts down into neat reflections.
The arrival of the summer season might not mean guaranteed sunshine, picnics and beer gardens for the British librarian but it does mean conference time. Summer tends to be packed with conferences of all shapes and sizes . Summer means finding a way to attend conferences without bankrupting myself. This year I’ve been really lucky as I’ve bagged myself sponsored places at two of the big summer library conferences; SLA2013 in June and CILIP’s Umbrella conference in July.
I gained my place at this years SLA conference by applying for the SLA Europe Early Career Conference Award. I had no expectation of winning this one because I’ve applied a couple of times before with no joy, but I don’t give up on dreams so poured a lot of energy into making this years application the best one yet. Next week I will be on the other side of the world with a lot of amazing information people which is slightly terrifying but very exciting. I’ve known about the trip for a couple of months now but I don’t think it has sunk in as reality yet even though I’ve worked through the online conference planner and made plans for meetings with mentors and others whilst there.
My funded place at Umbrella has come about thanks to my involvement in the Commercial, Legal and Scientific Information Group (CLSIG), which is a CILIP special interest group. Last year I started attending committee meetings to become more involved in a professional body, and earlier this year I was offered opportunity to take on the role of secretary. My fellow committee members were kind enough to select me to attend the conference on behalf of the group, in return for representing and promoting CLSIG at the event.
Sponsored places are the only way I can attend conferences because I have no money and my employer isn’t going to send me to any events because I don’t really work in a library anymore. So I’m extremely thankful such opportunities exist and even more thankful that this year I’ve been given more than one.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; APPLY FOR EVERYTHING!
I’ve been on a rather lengthy blogging hiatus for a few months, for various reasons, the main one being my work-life balance.
When I last wrote back in February I was unemployed, not having worked since just before Christmas 2012. I can happily say that shortly after publishing that blog post, my life changed dramatically as I secured a new job and moved to the big, scary and far away city of London.
I haven’t blogged since partly because I’ve been too busy with work and with life, but mainly because I’ve chosen to temporarily take a step back. The last few years of my life have been dominated by libraries; it feels like most of my energy has been focused on being involved, active and getting qualified. If I’m honest, I was feeling rather tired of it all by the end of last year. The LIS community is one with many very passionate, hard working and ambitious people. It’s easy to get caught up in it all and feel the need to be constantly switched on and involved.
I have made a couple of (very non-scientific) pie charts to illustrate my work-life balance. First 2013:
Compare this to what I think last year looked like:
2012 was intense. I think I probably tried to take on too much especially at work. With my last job I ended up spending a lot of evenings and weekends either doing work or thinking about work. I also felt a lot of pressure to stretch myself in terms of CPD, for example I started attending London events even though I was living in Leeds. This year CPD related activities such as blogging, reading stuff and being a generally active person within the LIS community both on and offline have taken a backseat which has been refreshingly wonderful. 2013 has been the year of less commitments. I’ve taken a committee role, written an article for a CILIP SIG journal and given a careers talk which to others may seem like a lot but by my standards in recent years it is nothing at all.
This year I’ve taken a step back to try and find my happiness in other areas of my life. To devote more time to adventures with friends and family. To spend my energy on the people I love. I’ve done big things like travelling (New York, it was amazing) and focused more energy on everyday changes such as more socialising, running and photography. For example I no longer spend most lunch breaks sat at my laptop reading library related things and instead I socialise over lunch with work colleagues or go running along the River Thames.
I still probably don’t have the balance right. I’m realising I should probably increase the CPD wedge of my pie as it is quite small. My latest copy of CILIP Update is still in the plastic so I will unwrap that as a good start.
I recently attended a library workshop organised by a CILIP special interest group. To begin we had to go round the room introducing ourselves, including where we were from. It was mainly university library staff with some library school students (who also all had employers too) and a couple of public librarians too. Then we came to my turn to speak;
“Hi I’m Laura. I’m not from any organisation as I’m unemployed at the moment”
Not my greatest professional moment. Although I’ve put on brave face and kept up a positive persona, at that moment I wanted to run for the door.
For most even the shortest spell of unemployment can cause stress about money and the future, leading to depression and feelings of low self-worth. Not having a job slowly chips away at your soul when you love your career and what you do. The last few years of my life have been almost wholly defined by my career in libraries and information. Our jobs construct a large proportion of our identity. For me being a librarian is about more than just the job however the longer you don’t have a job the harder it becomes to identify as a librarian. It’s easy to fall down the route of depression and self-pity but thankfully I survived my short period of unemployment with the help of the following strategies.
- Structure - One of the hardest things about not having a job is often the lack of structure and routine. I found it easiest to treat job hunting like a regular 9-5 job with a lunch hour. Although it didn’t always work perfectly it helped to set an alarm for the same time everyday and to take a lunch break away from my computer. I always walked to and from work, so I started my day with a short walk to put myself in the right frame of mind whilst job hunting at home.
- Flexibility – To succeed in finding a job readjustment of your plans might be required. Compromise is likely to be important especially if you’ve been out of work for a while or don’t have the luxury of being able to take your time to find the next dream job. You may not need to compromise but I recommend thinking about what area you would be willing to compromise on. If you can’t move for a job then you might want to broaden your search criteria to include non-traditional roles or non-traditional environments. Or if your heart is set on working in particular sector then think about how far you are willing to relocate. The dream for me would have been an information related role in Liverpool as that’s the type of work I love, in the city I love. Unfortunately as that is unlikely to happen anytime soon, it has been a choice between the location or the job. My compromise has been letting go of specific ambitions about a ‘dream’ job for the chance to live in a ‘dream’ city. I was offered a great job but the location wasn’t right so I turned it down because I knew I wouldn’t be happy. In the end I’ve found a job I’d never considered before which offers the chance to live in a city that I’ve always wanted to move to.
- Positivity – Positivity is required to survive unemployment. Unemployment makes everything seem bleak. The lack of jobs. Putting everything into applications only to never hear anything. Rejection emails. Having no money. Visiting the job centre. It is all quite rubbish but finding small ways to stay positive helps a lot. Volunteer to gain new skills or take up a new hobby to fill your time when not applying for jobs. Anything that helps give back a little self-worth will help in the job hunt. Remember that you never know what is just around the corner. A week ago I was filling in my job seekers book and feeling depressed about the fact I hadn’t even been paid job seekers allowance for all my troubles yet. Now I have a job to start next week.
I won’t sugar coat the reality. Unemployment has been a rather rubbish experience. I’ve only had to do this for 6 weeks, and I’m aware others have it a lot worse, but it has felt like a very long time. Tomorrow I will send my job seekers allowance book back to the job centre and hope to never have to explain to the staff there that a librarian does more at work than give people books.
Good luck to anyone reading who is struggling with unemployment at the moment. I hope there is something good just around the corner for you.
I never used my phone for regularly reading the news. I do keep up with the news on my phone but only on an ad hoc basis, not much more than links shared on Twitter and occasionally checking in with the BBC News website or The Guardian.
However I recently heard about an app for iPhone called Summly, which is a news app with a bit of a difference (or I’ve not come across anything like it at least). The app uses clever algorithms to bring together content from news sources around the web, presenting news stories as summaries by pulling out the key sentences from articles.
As the screenshot above shows, the app groups together news stories into key subject categories. Simply select a category and then swipe through the main news stories from in summarised form. If you want to read a particular story in more detail then you can do that too through the app. My favourite thing about the potential of this app is the flexibility to set up custom topics. I’ve done this with the topic of libraries, which means I now have a news feed on my phone with quick summaries of news related to libraries. You can also save stories or share via Twitter, Facebook and email within the app.
The mix of news sources for libraries is generally good. At the moment in Summly for libraries I’ve got stories from BBC News, CNBC, NBC, and The Daily Telegraph alongside many regional news sources from around the world.
I love the idea of this kind of app. I’m always stretched for time when it comes to current awareness and don’t have time to read through full news articles everyday. A summary is a perfect compromise which means I can scan through the key points and then investigate more fully anything which catches my attention. I’ll be using it to keep myself informed of the latest library related stories from now on.