Monday, 13 August 2012

SLA Chicago 2012 - Part 1


I was recently awarded the Early Career Conference Award (ECCA) sponsored by the Leadership and Management Division and SLA Europe) and was given the amazing opportunity of attending the Special Libraries Association (SLA) Conference in Chicago. I first found that I had won the award in between a two part interview for a job as a Subject Liaison Librarian. I was very excited, however, I managed to retain enough composure to complete the interview and on the way home I was told I had the job too. All in all, a pretty good day! I can’t fit everything that happened at SLA Chicago into one blog post so there will most likely be several looking at different aspects of the trip.

Bethan Ruddock introduced all the ECCAs (Ruth Jenkins, GilesLloyd Brown, Marie Cannon, Simon Barron and I) and Anneli Sarkanen, the Conference Award winner, to each other and this meant we had formed a little group by the time we had arrived in Chicago; I was also able to meet some of them at the SLA Social a few days prior to flying for a few last minute sharing of jitters.

L-R: SLA Europe President-Elect Stephen Philips, past President Sara Batts, ECCA winners Ruth Jenkins, Sarah Wolfenden and Marie Cannon, Conference Award winner Anneli Sarkanen and President Darron Chapman.

Even though we had plenty of time to prepare I still felt underprepared as I left England. I had just started the new job and as anyone who follows me on Twitter knows the sometimes 5 hour round trip to work and the preparations for the LIKE Conference were eating up all my time. However, I managed to sort out my business cards, which were to be a crucial element to the SLA Conference, and organise my conference planner.

I haven’t flown very much and like many of the other ECCAs this was my first flight to America. I didn’t have much luck at the start as my hair mousse squirted everywhere and then my hair clip set the security alarm off so I was frisked (I was also frisked and had my hands swabbed on the return journey so I must just have one of those faces or my nerves were betraying me).

To stave off jet lag and to get our bearings we had all decided to go on the highlights tour of Chicago. The main part of this was a trip up the Willis Tower, including a quick, nay, very quick, step on and off the SkyDeck. It was a fabulous introduction to Chicago.

Pancakes, ribbons and enchantment

Sunday started, as any Sunday should, with Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate and a stack of American pancakes with blueberries and maple syrup.

Fully fortified, we ECCAS caught the shuttle to the McCormick Convention Centre. People weren’t kidding about the size of it – it sprawled. Because of this, I think, it made the place seem more relaxed – there wasn’t the hustle and bustle and I didn’t get squashed or bumped into once – this is quite a feat when you’re rather on the petite side. I also got a lot of walking done over the conference period.

We immediately gathered our badges and ribbons. The ribbons are supposed to give people an idea of who you are and offer talking points – as ours reached our knees almost they were most definitely a talking point; fairly often a conversation would start with; “awesome, look at all those ribbons”. I am afraid I had to suppress a giggle at the amount of ‘awesomes’ issued – quite hard to get Bill and Ted out of my head.

Fully ribboned, we ECCAs hit the Info-Expo vendor area and Marie and I left so many business cards we had to return to our hotel room to retrieve more. The advice on business cards wasn’t misplaced. One of the surprises for me was that the majority of the vendors were so friendly (common theme throughout whole trip) and they were willing to talk without the hard sales patter despite us not being able to purchase anything off them there and then. I was told later, although I can’t remember by whom, that often they had been librarians/info professionals in the past so they really knew their customer base.

L-R: Giles, me, Marie, Simon and Ruth (picture courtesy of Ruth)

As a first timer, it was recommended that we attend the First Timers and Fellows reception, which, as the name states consisted of conference first timers and SLA Fellows. The room was filled with warm, welcoming people and everyone was very friendly. A few of the Fellows gave conference tips such as, ‘never eat alone’ and one gave a well rehearsed story which I quite liked – he remarked on how fascinated we would be if we were walking down the Champs Elysses and bumped coincidently into another librarian and how we would have lots to talk about. Then he asked us to consider what a coincidence it would be if we happened to travel to Chicago and end up in a room full of librarians, ending his story by asking us to look around us and make the most of the opportunity in front of us.

The keynote speaker of the evening was Guy Kawasaki, of Microsoft fame, he gave us a general overview of how to be successful with a few practical tips on giving a good presentation, for example, ten slides is an optimal number and use 30pt text and no smaller. I must admit I was then quite surprised to find out he hadn’t created his own slides but maybe you don’t need to when you are as ‘enchanting’ as he was. Enchantment was the name of his speech (and his book) I found him to be a confident corporate speaker but his smugness did grate a little.

Like everything in Chicago the stage for the keynote speech was massive, as was the auditorium - it can apparently fit in over 4000 people. Prior to Guy’s speech, Brent Mai gave awards to SLA members who walked, or in some case danced, over the stage to collect their certificate/handshake. What struck me was how proud they were, and how proud everyone in the room felt at their achievement. You could feel it in the room; despite its size, it was palpable. There was no cynicism or irony – just a pat on the back for a job well done. The other ECCAs and I discussed this all the way to the Open Houses where we were given free drinks which helped us in our reflections…

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