Sarah Hume was the winner of one of the SLA Europe Early Career Conference Awards this year, sponsored by the Competitive Intelligence Division. Sarah is a final year part-time student at University College London, studying for her MA in Library and Information Studies. She is a part time library assistant at the Geological Society of London and at the London Library, a contributing writer for Hack Library School, and Chair of CILIP’s National Student Committee. Sarah tweets as @sarahfhume
Winning an Early Career Conference Award was something I had always hoped I would manage one day, but not something I was expecting to happen. I read the confirmation email very late at night and just about managed to not wake my housemate with excited screaming. My award was cosponsored by the Competitive Intelligence Division – the field is a lot more developed in the US than here in the UK so I jumped at the chance to get to meet and learn from experienced practitioners.
Attending the conference at this stage of my career was the perfect timing. I am about to finish my MA, and I am still deciding where my career will go. The sheer scale of the conference gave me the chance to attend a broad variety of sessions, run by all sorts of divisions, something I had never had the chance to do at a conference in the UK. As well as sessions run by my division – which were an excellent insight into the sorts of careers CI specialists can have – I attended sessions on NASA spinoffs, mind mapping (one of the excellent 15 minute Quick Takes), graphic novels, and many more. I think my favourite was ‘Autocategorization and Human Tagging: how do they work together?’ which was entertaining and incredibly well presented as well as being highly informative. It reignited my inner cataloguer, which was handy, as I needed to start writing my dissertation on cataloguing as soon as I got back to England. I really appreciated the conference app, both for organising my days and because I could access slides and other relevant material on the go.
Session hopping was a new experience – I only did it once, during a Crescendo session, but it was a new experience for me. The Crescendo session was the perfect time to test my nerve. These sessions were new for 2015, and took one topic from beginner to expert. I attended ‘New Roles for Librarians and Info Pros: Developing a CI Function from Beginner to Expert’ – the beginner and intermediate sessions were insightful, with practical applications and clearly very experienced speakers. I ducked out before the expert section, mostly to avoid information overload!
The contributed paper sessions were fantastic – four or five speakers for the price of one. It was really great to get so varied a selection of papers. A lot of people called the sessions hidden gems, and I would have to agree – it would be great to see more people attend, the speakers were all fantastic and their papers were well researched.
I am not a natural networker, so I set a goal for myself to talk to as many people as possible. This was tested during the Competitive Intelligence Reception, which was the first social event I had been to where I did not know anyone. That was a busy evening for me so I sadly did not get to spend too much time at the reception, but it was great to meet other division members and see exactly how many options exist within the CI field – I met tech librarians, corporate librarians and even a Disney librarian! The other receptions I attended were also a lot of fun, the atmosphere was relaxed and other attendees were happy to chat.
I was really helped by having the other ECCA winner, Neasa McHale, around. We were staying in the same hotel and attending a few of the same sessions and receptions so we were able to touch base as the days went by, and it was nice to see a familiar face in the (extremely long!) corridors of the conference centre. The centre was enormous, so I got quite a workout just getting between sessions.
I am indebted to everyone who went out of their way to give me advice and support – my mentor, Sam Wiggins, met up with me before the conference to make sure I knew what was coming and then checked up on me throughout the conference to see how I was coping. My ‘first timer’ ribbon was just as helpful as people predicted, it really felt like people went out of their way to keep an eye on those of us wearing them. I should also give huge thanks to Tracy Z. Maleeff, who adopted me alongside her actual mentees and gave the best tips – if you need to know which receptions will have the best food, or want an introduction to an expert in almost every field, Tracy is your person. Every single person I met during the conference was welcoming, supportive, and keen to share their knowledge – it was really a defining feature of the conference for me.
I will definitely find a way back to Philadelphia next year! I will hopefully be rewriting my dissertation and submitting it as a potential contributed paper – keep your fingers crossed…