Lauren Lawler shares her reflections on attending the SLA 2013 conference in San Diego as one of our Early Career Conference Award winners.

When I applied for the SLA Early Conference Career award, I confess I had never heard of the SLA. I had never been to a conference of its size and magnitude. A couple of weeks after attending the conference, the experience lingers. I think it will always stay with me.

I applied for the award after a cursory glance of what it had to offer; the opportunity to attend one of the largest conferences in the world for information professionals – and in California. I thought – wow….a girl can dream. I also distinctly remember thinking I didn’t stand a chance. So, I was really taken aback when I found out I had been selected. I was allocated mentors, both from the Legal Division and the Europe Chapter, Tracy and Sam. From the outset, I was given constant support; it was like immediately belonging to the clique. Tracy nicknames the Legal Division conference award winner “Paddington” and I was duly honoured with a cuddly bear when I arrived. I carried my bear around with me, it became my mascot! Name badge

I knew the conference was big, with over 4000 librarians attending, but I was unprepared for the logistics of it; I learned the hard way that it would take 15 minutes to walk from one end of the conference centre to the next. Although the conference is enormous, I was able to ease myself in – I met with my mentors and I attended the First Timers event where I got the opportunity to network with other SLA conference newbies.

The seminars and workshops were many and varied but the online conference planner made it manageable. My seminar highlights include, “Ninja Skills for Librarians”, whereby two law librarians demonstrated how their martial arts background lends itself to librarianship. They spoke about conflict resolution and relationship management from personal experience – and showed us some pretty cool karate moves. I also enjoyed “Sharepoint Speed-dating”, a very useful session where a number Sharepoint experts shared some practical advice and answered any troubling questions.

Everyone tweets during seminars; I had never engaged on Twitter before, but my fellow award winners and conference attendees taught me the ropes and before long I had my phone out like everybody else. I got excited over retweets, I felt like a seasoned conference pro!

One of my overall highlights was the Legal Division breakfast and business meeting where I was presented as one of the award recipients. It featured an emotive speech from the first ever Chair of the Legal Division, about its formation and continuance. I was constantly taken with how passionate members were about their division and the SLA as a whole. Throughout the conference, several speakers referred to the SLA as a “home”, and it really began to feel that way. For an organisation so big, and a conference so humongous, you still feel like there is a place for you.

I met so many amazing people. One of my networking stand-out moments was meeting Karen, a Native-American school librarian who educated her students about her culture with her tattoos; her “body illustrations”. She spoke to me about the cultural similarities between the Native-American and Irish people, it was fascinating. Networking is paramount at the SLA conference. I was told I would be surprised with how many people I would stay in contact with after the experience. I’m happy to say, so far, it’s true.

And then there were the social events, like the California Dreamin’ themed IT dance party, and many receptions from the various chapters and divisions. Ever wondered what a bunch of librarians singing karaoke looked like? A raucous rendition of “Sweet Caroline”, dodgy dancing (from me, especially) and strobe lights. Awesome.

The conference has benefited me enormously both personally and professionally and I am excited about being further involved in the SLA. I would like to say a big thank you to SLA Europe and the SLA Legal Division for giving me the opportunity to attend the conference in San Diego. Many thanks to Sam and Tracy for looking after this bear, and for making my conference manageable and great fun.