#SLA2013: Lizzie Caperon’s reflections

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

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to get an Early Conference Career Award (ECCA) from the Special Libraries Association which allowed me to travel to the sunshine of San Diego, California, for the annual SLA Conference 2013.

From talking to previous ECCA award winners and attendees I knew the SLA Conference was set to be fizzing with networking, ideas and activity and it lived up to my expectations, sometimes far surpassing them.

Convention Centre or Airport?

The convention centre where the SLA was held was half a mile long, which more than catered for the thousands of attendees from all over the world and North America.  Some of the corridors reminded me of the many airports I’d channeled through whilst hoping across the country beforehand, and having flown home from San Diego airport, I wonder if the Convention Centre was actually bigger…Such an analogy sets the context for a vast, grand and stimulating four days of networking, talking, learning and absorbing.San Diego harbour

Sharing the experience…the fellow ECCAs

This year there were four other ECCA award winners from the UK (Penny Andrews and Laura Williams) and Ireland (Lauren Lawler), and it was invaluable spending time with them and sharing the experience; we walked to and from our hotel together, introduced each other to people we met, tipped each other off about the best freebie stalls to go to in the InfoExpo (vast exhibition hall), learnt about each other’s work and career plans, and of course bonded over obligatory American cuisine (pancakes and ice cream to name a few). Our ECCA Whatsapp conversations were invaluable at coordinating meet up spots!

First Timer’s?

Our first engagement was the first timer’s meet held at the conference hotel (resembling a shopping mall) which involved being thrown into a networking mixing pot of information professionals from all over the world, some who were attending the event for the first time, and others who were more experienced attendees and mentors there to offer advice. In the first twenty minutes I met librarians from Canada, the US, most of the board of SLA Europe, and several candidates canvassing for votes in the upcoming SLA elections. The hour flew by with exchanges of business cards, smiles and career stories. Throughout the three days of the conference it became clear that people were attending for different reasons; networking, job opportunities, business deals, election votes, social events…the attendees who impressed me most were those who had paid for themselves to attend with the hope of widening their knowledge and contacts in the sector.

Welcoming divisions

Following an opening award ceremony which involved speeches and TV cameras, we attended our division events.

SLA 2013 Opening session

Opening Session

I was sponsored by the Health and Pharmaceutical Division and was warmly welcomed at their board dinner, lunch and breakfast; my division mentor Rochelle Stern, being an invaluable support, introducing me to others and showing me the ropes. It was interesting to watch how a division board meeting worked as I spectated from the side-lines. So, as ECCA’s we were not only warmly welcomed as part of the friendly SLA Europe contingent, but also by our sponsoring divisions.

Future debates in eclectic sessions

Amongst some quirky named sessions (the Science of Wine being one example), there were some interesting talks, my favourite being the debates around Big Data. As at all conferences now, tweets were being rapidly generated and an extra layer of interaction was created by lively debates on the social media platform amongst those in the sessions. I found the ability to walk in and out of sessions refreshing (not done in Europe) and it enabled me to pop into many sessions in the allocated timeslots.

Hot Dogs, Baseball and International Deserts!

Petco Park stadium

Petco Park

One of the highlights of the conference was Monday night, which, for me involved a back to back timetable of captivating events! Following a day of talks and networking events, I and fellow ECCA Penny took EBSCO up on their kind offer of the hospitality suite at a San Diego Padres match at the new Petco Park stadium just down from the convention centre. After seeing a home run (with accompanying fireworks of course) and eating an all American style hot dog with chilli, mustard, cheese and everything else, we headed back to the International Reception. This was another highlight as it was a chance for attendees from all over the world to mingle over international deserts. I chatted to info professionals from Canada, Europe and Australasia, sharing particular affinity with the Kiwi’s.  Meanwhile the infamous IT Dance Party started booming next door. A lot of people had said to me that the social occasions enable you to get the most out of the conference and I would agree.

Top Tips…

  • Get badged up and use it. The first timer’s label you can pick up will be a great conversation starter.
  • Layer up – wear comfy and casual layers and shoes, there’s a lot of walking and long days. Don’t worry about being dressed too smart during the day.
  • Card exchange – collect business card from interesting people, then follow them up after the conference. Have your own cards to give back.
  • Question – get assigned mentors (mine were great – thanks to Penny Leach and Rochelle Stern), and ask them as many questions and you need or want to.
  • Balcony breaks – luckily the convention centre had an amazing sunny balcony with views of the harbour. Take time out, it’s an intense experience and you can’t absorb if you’re on the go all the time.
  • Scribble – take notes, you’ll forget what you did if not.
  • Sit on the floor – my favourite spots in sessions were at the back on the floor for the main reason that you can leave and go to another session any time, maximising the whole experience.
  • Tweet – if and when you see something interesting, this lets people thousands of miles away share snippets of the whirlwind with you.
  • Freebie Away! –  Make the most of the free meals and freebies, especially in the exhibition hall; you never know who you’ll meet over a plate of tacos or a cup of hot steaming coffee. Leave space in your case when you go to bring things back…
  • Be charged – charge that tablet every night, if you don’t own one it’s a good idea to beg or borrow, they’re an essential accessory to have. Have a way to tap into wifi too, and keep in contact with people through messaging such as Whatsapp.
  • Share – find people in a similar position to share the experience with; you’ll get more out of it, create shared memories and learn from multiple perspectives, a lesson in life. When you get home, keep up with the people you met.