#SLAChicago: Simon Barron’s reflections | SLA Europe

The greatest benefit of attending the SLA Conference 2012 was experiencing the unexpected. I knew that the conference experience would involve my first solo overseas trip, my first trip to the USA, my first big conference, and my first professional award. But everything turned out to be even bigger, stranger, and more unexpected than I ever imagined. Every day was a confluence of new experiences – doing things that I’d never done before, seeing things that I’d never seen before. I felt new things, met new people, learned about new ideas, and discovered new things about myself.

Simon and the other four ECCAs

Simon and the other four ECCAs

As a first conference, this one felt thoroughly overwhelming. For four 16-hour days, I was entrenched in librarianship from the minute I left the hotel room to the minute I stumbled into bed. I was surrounded by fantastically intelligent, funny, and interesting people at all times. I went to fascinating conference sessions where new ideas, old ideas, and all the various excitements of librarianship are discussed openly and enthusiastically. In this state of doing, eating, and feeling exciting new things all the time even something as mundane as seeing a green, right-angled US street sign – like the ones on TV! – felt significant. Though it felt overwhelming and exhausting while it was happening, the whole experience was so utterly exhilarating that, even one month later, I still feel buzzed on conference excitement.

Discovering that you’re excited by the same things as someone who was born and raised 4000 miles away from where you were born is a perception-changing experience. One half of the conference was presentations, lectures, and workshops; the other was networking events. It’s hard to say which half was the most valuable. American information professionals – like most Americans I met – turned out to be amazingly friendly individuals happy to talk about anything from upcoming Presidential elections to patron-driven acquisition models to the subtleties of British accents. I came home with a stack of business cards (a BIG deal at US conferences!), a raft of new professional contacts, and an email inbox full of interesting messages from people I met.

Throughout the week, I learned more things than I can possibly mention here. I learned about the challenges of solo cataloguing and picked up some cool new cataloguing practices; I discovered the horrific extent of cuts to Chicago’s public library system and how they affect the staff; I learned – from the excellent speaker, Mary Ellen Bates – that being an info pro is about extracting what’s important and not passing over the important. For unexpected experiences, one session stands out. In ‘Collections in Transition: E-Books and Collection Development’, Krista Coulson from the University of Chicago Press discussed ebooks in libraries from the perspective of a publisher. She explained the economic, legal, and technical reasons for all the ebook foibles and limitations that I grumble about all the time in my day job. Libraries aren’t the big market for ebooks: the profit is in individual sales, through Amazon and other providers. In that session, I saw the mirror-image of my day job. I suddenly saw that situation from the perspective of the publishers I work with every single day and realised that they’re not being stubborn or obtuse: like me, they have perfectly valid concerns and desires and ideas.

In the closing panel discussion, Stephen Abram told us that we need to ‘infect’ our colleagues who weren’t at the conference. It was luck that put us in that room instead of our peers and so we each need to share our experience to make people across the profession feel the enthusiasm that infected that conference centre during those four days. I need to thank the friends and peers who helped put me in that room: my employers at Durham University Library for being so supportive; Biddy Fisher for supporting my ECCA application; Geraldine Clement-Stoneham for providing great support as a mentor; Bethan Ruddock for sorting everything out and generally being brilliant. A special thanks to my colleagues in Voices for the Library who are fighting to protect the UK’s public libraries and who saw something in me before I saw it myself.

Attending the SLA Conference 2012 exposed me to a thousand new experiences. Ultimately, I think that’s the point of conferences, of travel, and even of life. Seeing, doing, and feeling new things with new people in new places. The ECCA exposed me to these unexpected experiences. Thanks to the other ECCA winners, to SLA Europe and the SLA, and to everyone from the Sci-Tech Division who made me feel so welcome at a strange conference 4000 miles from home.

I’ve written more extensively about my conference experience and my thoughts on America and the SLA on my blog, Undaimonia: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.