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Preparing for the 2009 NJLA Conference

With spring time in the air, library professionals from the Garden State know that as the tulips and daffodils begin to grow, so does anticipation for the 2009 NJLA Conference (April 27th – April 29th).

If this is your first conference, you may be wondering how to prepare or what to expect. Perhaps an introduction to the conference may help put anxious minds to rest. For those of you that can navigate the Ocean Place Spa and Resort with your eyes closed, make sure to point out any survival tips I may have forgotten.

Step One:

Explore the city! I just so happen to live and work in the City of Long Branch, so consider this step done. Our city is one of the largest and most diverse cities on the Jersey Shore. With a Latino population of over 30% and a blossoming Brazilian population, you’ll find quite a selection of Mexican, Dominican and Brazilian specialty stores and restaurants down the main street of Broadway. In the late 1800’s, Long Branch was a popular and affluent summer destination with private beach clubs and casinos. Sometime after the 1920s, Long Branch witnessed a steady decline and inner city challenges began to emerge. Today, you will find a mix of cultures and economic backgrounds throughout the city. Long Branch is in the midst of an exciting rebirth with beautiful oceanfront developments, great lawns and parks, trendy shops, superb restaurants and a hip nightlife. Take time to walk down the boardwalk and visit Pier Village, just south of the Oceanplace Spa and Resort. Here, you’ll find over 30 restaurants and boutiques such as Carmella’s Café, Stuarts Root Beer Shop, McLoone’s Pier House, Sawa and more!

Step Two:

  • Start preparing! First check out the NJLA Conference Wiki – this may seem obvious but sometimes things get away from us and we forget the obvious. No matter how many times we’ve attended, something has probably changed. The website provides a wealth of information for both the exhibitors and the attendees, including a floor plan and an event grid (the grid identifies room numbers and clearly labels specific tracks you may want to follow according to your professional interest).

  • Create your agenda – it’s always a good idea to read the description of each workshop and note the guest speaker. Make sure to check the site once again, a few days before you leave, for any last minute changes. Try to establish a general itinerary for your day. I emphasize “general” because I think it’s best to get out of your comfort zone and experience new things. Besides, it’s likely you’ll meet up with a cordial and enthusiastic group of librarians that will suggest specific sessions or events. Be open to new ideas and allow for last minute changes. If you’re the spontaneous type and itineraries are not for you, at least think long and hard about the reasons you are attending the conference and decide upon one or two things that you really want to come away with.

  • Bring extra copies of your business cards (trust me, you will be asked for them), comfortable shoes, tote bags to carry all of those neat giveaways, and cough drops. After all, it is spring, and if you aren’t getting over a cold or suffering from allergies, chances are someone next to you is!
Step Three:

Make the most out of it! Once at the conference, there is no end to the amount of quality resources and information available but before you start checking off that agenda, make sure to stop at the NJLA table for your badge and any additional conference information. To ensure your time is well spent, here are a few suggestions on making the most of it.

  • If this is your first conference it’s okay to be nervous, but think of it as an adventure. This is a chance to leave your shy self at home and step out of your comfort zone. For an easy ice breaker, mention a few recent programs or services that your library had implemented. We absolutely THRIVE on sharing ideas! If you’re feeling especially nervous, arrange to attend with a co-worker or classmate.

  • Step away from the smart phone. I know, I know, I have an iPhone myself and share the need to stay connected to everyone, everywhere. But how can you focus on the presentation, if you’re also sending mixed drinks or Coach bags to your Facebook friends? Go easy on the microblogging too, unless of course, you’re actually presenting a workshop on it. After all, if you’re too busy letting others know about what’s going on in your world, you may just miss your own experience.

  • Take notes. Whether for a blog or future article, you’re going to need them. No doubt, you’ll be asked by a co-worker or supervisor how the conference went, who the presenter was and what sessions you attended. You may even be asked to write a report or train others on staff.

  • Have fun and socialize. This may be THE most important step and the one we most often forget. First off, as soon as you get to the conference, take it easy. According to Travel and Leisure Magazine, Long Branch ranks among the top 20 American beaches, so weather permitting, take a stroll down the boardwalk. Drop your shoulders every now and then, take a deep breathe and RELAX. Then make sure to have fun! Don’t pass up an invitation to go out as a group or meet new people because some of the best networking happens AFTER the presentation. If you haven’t been invited out for lunch or dinner, then join NJLA’s Lunch Buddies or Dine_Around groups. If you enjoy meeting new people, try volunteering at the conference. The NJLA website offers a list of available and rewarding volunteer opportunities. If you’re too late this year, there is always next time!

  • Remember the people you’ve met, by asking for their business card. It’s not only a tool to remember contact info but you can always jot down notes on the back. If you promise to follow up about something specific, note it on the back of the card so you don’t forget. Follow up is crucial!

  • After the conference, I suggest taking the next day off. I know this is next to impossible but at the very least, take it easy. By now, we may be running on empty. Try not to schedule appointments that day or attempt to reply to every email. Consider the day after the conference – part of the actual conference. Sort out what ideas are easy to implement and what ideas should sit in the “bright ideas” folder for a while. Distribute the information you’ve brought home to the appropriate staff (half will accept with a grimace or smile) and file the rest.

Finally, work on getting your co-workers, director and board members to approve the many ideas you’ve brought back with you. By the time you’re finished, it will be spring again…Happy Conferencing!

I’m sure many of you have wonderful tips for planning and attending the conference. Suggestions anyone?

April 22, 2009 at 7:01 pm

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