Posted by: Maria | July 3, 2008

What I learned from ALA Annual 2008

What I Learned, in a categorized list format:

LOCATION: I can see that I’m not alone in my earlier complaints about the unsuitability of Anaheim as a conference location. If I can help it, I will not attend a conference in Anaheim (or any other similar location) again.

CONTENT: After my experience with last year’s Annual, I came to Anaheim not expecting to be excited, energized, or stimulated by the conference programming. For the most part, I was right. What does it tell you when I tell you that the EBSCO lunch was one of the most exciting parts of the conference, and no, not just because of the food? After the disaster that was LIRT’s program, I was so disappointed and demoralized that I didn’t bother to attend anything else. I will have to attend Midwinter and Annual next year because of committee work, but if not for that, I would more than likely never go to an ALA conference again. This leads me to my next point.

PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY: I am having a hard time finding my home in this profession. When the  major annual conference in my field has been so disappointing, this leads one to question where one fits in. It is clear that for the most part, my interests are not matched by the programming offered by ALA conferences. I am pursuing other avenues for professional development, to be sure, but it would feel less alienating if the major conference in my field didn’t feel like such a disappointment. Dear ACRL Annual, please be as awesome as I think you might be. If you can deliver superior programming and allow for socializing and networking, you will be my most favorite conference ever. Anyone else is looking forward to Seattle in March 2009? And speaking of socializing…

SOCIALIZING: This was definitely the only positive thing about my ALA experience. I was really happy to see Emily again, and while I was plagued by social anxiety, I’m glad I went to the ACRL IS Soirée. I also really enjoyed the ACRL IS Orientation meeting, where I met people, shook hands, exchanged business cards, and met the chair of the committee for which I will be interning next year. The GLBTRT Social was excellent as well. The location was far superior than last year’s in terms of space, seating, and food. (We can just pretend that it wasn’t in Downtown Disney, if that’s okay with you.)

What did you learn from ALA 2008? Anyone else want to weigh in?



  1. Maria, I’m relieved to hear that I’m not the only one who has had a hard time finding my way in this profession. As academic librarians we are supposed to “contribute to the profession on a national level” or whatever, but so many of the meetings seem like meeting for the sake of meeting. Ditto for many of the presentations. So many promising presentation titles with very disappointing content. I think the scale and bureaucracy of ALA contributes to the fragmentation. If we were to “make it our own,” what would that look like? How does one work within the existing structure of the organization and do anything different? These are mysteries to me.

    Here’s what I learned at ALA this year:

    1. A strategic cup of coffee can kill my appetite for expensive hotel lunches.

    2. I want a better tote bag.

    3. I’m in for a two-year tour of duty in my ACRL section, but in the meantime (and after my six-year review), I’m shopping around for other associations or conferences that allow for more authentic and substantial contributions (although I’m not sure what that means yet). And which meet in cool cities and sometimes outside of the U.S.

    4. The GLBTRT Social was a highlight for me and taught me to a)show up despite social anxieties, because b)there are many cool librarians doing very cool things, and c)a fun, icebreaker sheet of questions is an excellent way to get strangers to talk to each other.

  2. In all honesty, I am pretty much over going to ALA in order to discuss issues in my actual line of work–not because I’m not interested in the work that I do, but because a lot of the discussions are unsatisfying. I went into library work because I wanted to use it as a form of social justice, and listening to someone talk about FRBR isn’t really meeting that goal. So now I try to talk with like-minded people at ALA and make contacts. It has worked pretty well in recent years; I usually go back to work feeling less isolated, at least for a while!

  3. I also have found it hard to find my way, and became a librarian for the social justice aspect, and have terrible social anxiety! I agree with what everyone has said, and would only add that I actually came back from this conference feeling like I had a new lease on life, purely from the conversations I had while at the conference. Being around like-minded folks who are publishing and thinking and feeling similar frustrations was so great! I don’t even bother to waste my hope on the sessions anymore.

  4. I am so glad that I’m not alone in my feelings and thoughts on this. It is good to know that other people similarly about the ALA conference experience, and I also felt really energized by meeting people and talking to people.

  5. Hi. It must be a disappoint not to have useful seminars and interaction. I went to TLA this year (tennessee lib association) and enjoyed it immensely. Perhaps state association might be a better format.

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