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An EBSCO/ALA Scholarship Winner Brings Home More than Swag

Posted June 15, 2017 in Events & News

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Jennifer Wilheim, attended ALA-Midwinter in Atlanta as one of the EBSCO/ALA Scholarship Winners. We asked Jennifer, a reference librarian at Larry J. Ringer Library in College Station, Texas, to share her ALA experience.

“ALA Midwinter is Disney for librarians!” This is a vast oversimplification of ALA Midwinter 2017, but bear with me, it was the closest comparison my brain could make as I excitedly roamed the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Midwinter, held in January, was my first experience with a large library conference, and I would be remiss if I did not recognize the generous sponsorship provided by EBSCO that allowed me to have this opportunity.

I truly had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Atlanta. My previous conference experiences had a much smaller attendance and footprint. Coworkers and friends had tried to prepare me for the completely overwhelming experience that is an ALA conference, but being the overconfident 20-something that I am, I thought surely, they are exaggerating. I had planned out my days with the conference scheduler app, looked up nearby restaurants to try, and confidently packed my suitcases only halfway full in order to make room for the swag I would take home. Silly me. My selections of sessions to attend switched with my mood and where I was in the conference center, I frequently forgot to eat 1-2 meals a day, and I ended up sending two giant boxes of books and posters home (thank you mail center!). I say all of this not to indicate that I was exhausted and overwhelmed by the experience. Quite the opposite. I was so energized by the presence of 9,000 fellow librarians that I just could not stop going! If you learn nothing else from this essay, note that you should bring plenty of snacks and water in your bag, and do not wear new shoes.

After arriving back home in Texas, I reflected on the experience. Despite my expectation that the sessions would be the bulk of my time and therefore the most likely aspect of Midwinter to have an effect on me, I found that networking had a very large impact on my experience. Living in a small city, where the 12 librarians of my system are the only public librarians in a 100-mile radius, it can be incredibly hard to seek out new ideas and perspectives. At Midwinter, however, I found myself eating meals with Emerging Leaders, exchanging business cards with fellow members of the NMRT, and enjoying the back and forth discussion of a panel I sat on. From one individual I received advice that led me to tweak and improve my Resume Review program. With another, I discussed our teen volunteer program, and traded ideas for keeping teens involved in the library. Truly, my fellow attendees were rock stars of the library world, and were more brilliant and eager to share and learn than I could have expected.

Although I was pleasantly surprised by the productive conversations I had, I also enjoyed just sitting and listening to others share their passions. The presenters in the sessions and panels I attended were engaging and enthusiastic. Surprisingly, some of the most useful time spent in sessions was in those I had not picked ahead of time. Flexibility and willingness to step outside one’s favorite subject matter were clearly key to getting the most out of the conference offerings.

Thanks to EBSCO and their support, I was able to bring back excellent ideas, materials, and connections back to the Bryan + College Station Public Library System. Midwinter was an excellent introduction to ALA conferences, and hopefully will lead to many years of conference learning and connecting.

Visit EBSCO, NoveList, GOBI Library Solutions and Learning Express in booth #4411 as part of your ALA-Annual experience in Chicago and ask about future scholarship opportunities.

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