Conference Reports 2- SLA Conference June 2009

Another report from DC: this time it’s Bethan.

Bethan graduated with and MA in Library and Information Management from MMU in September 2008, following a Graduate Trainee year at the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester. She currently works as Content Development Officer, Library and Archival Services, at Mimas. Having joined the SLA Europe board in September 2009, Bethan is serving as co-chair of the Early Careers Committee.

I’m writing this account on the anniversary of starting as a graduate trainee at the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester. Three years and a library degree later, I’m still at the University of Manchester, now working for Mimas as Content Development Officer, Library and Archival Services. I often find it quite hard to believe that, three years ago, I had never stepped behind a library counter or heard of MARC or EAD; of AACR2 or ISAD (G); of NoWAL or RLUK; of CILIP or SLA.

These are not randomly-chosen acronyms:  each of them has had an effect on my professional life.  Perhaps the greatest is from SLA; specifically, the SLA Europe Early-Career Conference Awards.

When, lured by the prospect of attending the SLA conference in Washington, DC, I applied for one of the awards in February 2009, I had no comprehension of what an impact winning one of the awards would have. From hearing that I had won an award, to leaving for Washington in June, much of my time was taken up in preparation.  Even the preparation was not what I would have expected!  As well as haunting the SLA conference website and preparing for the holiday that would follow the conference, I was getting to know my fellow award-winners by email and twitter, and being inundated with good advice from my mentors.

We arrived in Washington on the Friday before the conference, and spent the evening getting to know each other and failing abysmally at simple maths.  I had some free time on the Saturday to see Washington, which I foolishly did mainly on foot, in new shoes.   Later on, complete with blisters, we had dinner at Zaytina with the SLA Europe board.  This was the first time I had met any of the board, but I was not surprised to find them a welcoming, lovely bunch – and well-deserving of being mistaken for a table of fashion editors!

I was very glad that I’d had some time to relax because when the conference started in earnest, there was no time for anything but sessions and networking.  I had been told not to be afraid of taking breaks, which, sound advice that it is, was unfortunately, very difficult to take.  For most of the conference, I wanted to be in at least two places at once, and the thought of actually missing a session or networking event was just unthinkable. People had said that we would have very full days at the conference, but I hadn’t realised quite how true this was.  I had a couple of days which started with business or networking breakfasts at 7am, then went right through until we stumbled home from more networking events at midnight.  And I enjoyed every single minute of it.

The most intriguing session I attended was Dan Clancy (chief engineer for Google Book search) talking about the Google Book Settlement.  It was fascinating to hear Google’s ethos behind the Google Books digitisation programme, and to discover the main concerns of the librarians in the audience.  The session was arranged late, and was not in the programme – I found out about it through Twitter, an excellent example of the need to keep your ear to the grapevine.  Seasoned conference-goers confided that the most interesting and productive events are often those which are not part of the official programme.  Conferences are starting to exploit this phenomenon through having ‘unconference’
sessions, SLA2009 among them.

The sessions I attended were interesting and valuable, but my memories of the conference are dominated by the networking events.  These included breakfasts, lunches, dinners, afternoon receptions, evening drinks receptions, and a memorable dance party.  I got to chat to information professionals from all sectors and stages in their careers.  It was very illuminating to speak to MLIS students about the differences between the English and American courses.  I seem  to recall that we worked out that there are as many library schools near Detroit as there are in the whole of the UK!  I  think that this is indicative of some of the differences in how librarianship as a career is viewed in the two countries.

My heartfelt thanks go out to SLA Europe and the Insurance and Employee Benefits Division for making this possible,  and in particular to Barbara Robinson and Sylvia James for being fantastic mentors.  I’d also like to thank Annie, Laura,  and Sara for being great companions, and generally very cool people. I’m honoured to have been asked to take over from Barbara Robinson in 2010 as Chair of the Early Career Committee, so my involvement with the ECCA awards is just beginning! I’m delighted to have the chance to help other people benefit from this amazing opportunity for  professional and personal growth.

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