The Ghost of SLA Conferences Past

I’ve been so inspired by all the great blog posts from both newcomers and veterans alike chronicling their experiences at the SLA 2012 Annual Conference & INFO-EXPO in Chicago this past July.  I thought I would take a trip down memory lane and post the article I wrote for the then-titled Legal Division Quarterly about my experiences at the SLA 2007 conference in Denver, Colorado.  I was the Division’s New Member Travel Grant winner that year and the experience changed my life.  A mere five years later, I am the Chair of the Legal Division.  It is both comforting and amazing to me how much of what I wrote below remains true today.  Set your way-back machines (ok, or your recent past machines) to 2007 and see how it all began for me with SLA.

It’s Not Easy Being Green: Reflections of an SLA First-Timer
Legal Division Quarterly (Summer 2007, Volume 14, Number 3)
by Tracy Z. Maleeff

When I arrived at the Colorado Convention Center in the early afternoon of Saturday, June 2nd, I could just sense the calm before the storm. The meeting space was adorned with SLA signage, so this newbie knew she was in the right place. As the recipient of the Legal Division’s New Member grant, I was just giddy to even be in Denver. My freshman status was solidified when I received my nametag lanyard with a bright purple “First Timer” ribbon attached to it. I naively thought this ribbon would make me a target or even a pariah. As if the big kids at the conference were going to shake me down for my lunch money. You have to understand, I was a bundle of nervous energy. I was completely uninitiated to the ways of SLA or any professional conference on this grand of a scale. I spent the entire week filled with wide-eyed enthusiasm. I went against the sage advice given to first timers on the conference website and packed my schedule to the gills from morning to night. I estimated that I averaged 4 hours of sleep each night that week. To me, the conference was Spring Break, New Year’s Eve, and the Super Bowl all tied together with a giant bow of professional development. I wasn’t about to miss a minute of it.

Much of my exploits and thoughts of the week were detailed in the blog I created just for the conference. Named LibrarySherpa.com, for no particular reason, I tried to chronicle what I was doing at the conference as close to real time as possible. I performed double blogging duty at the SLA’s official conference blog as well. My goal was to give detail of events for those who could not attend themselves. I felt very fortunate to be the recipient of the travel grant and knew that I would not have been able to attend otherwise. I realized that the approximately 5,000 conference attendees were only the tip of the iceberg of library and technology professionals in this great profession of ours.

It was these people, my fellow information professionals, who impressed me the most of all at the conference. The Opening General Session featured award winners whose professional and personal accomplishments inspired and awed me. The general kindness and hospitality shown to me by my fellow attendees was exciting and inspiring. The camaraderie I felt among my peers validated in my mind that I chose the right professional path. I felt like I truly belonged.

I tried to take advantage of the wide variety of sessions available during the conference. If you used the online planner, you know what I mean when I say that mine was black because of all the overlapping sessions I earmarked. I found some of the sessions to be hit or miss, though. The technology presentations I attended were pretty much below my skill level, which was disappointing. Some of the legal offerings were so over my head that I began to get stress pangs trying to follow along. When I related some of my session experiences to Legal Division President Bob Sullivan, he offered me a perplexed but consoling reply, “You know you can leavethe sessions, don’t you?” I laugh about this now and am very grateful for Bob’s honesty. No, it had not occurred to me that I could actually leave a session if it was not to my liking. It was moments like mine with Bob that really helped me to understand how an experienced attendee can lend a hand to a newbie like me. I look forward to dispensing sage veteran advice at future conferences.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the open houses and social events I enjoyed. From the open houses to the IT Division’s Gold Diggers Ball, my fellow conference attendees confirmed what I already knew—librarians know how to have a good time. It was in these informal settings that I was able to have some quality face time with Legal Division board members, SLA leaders, as well as my fellow novice librarians. I chatted one-on-one with CEO Janice Lachance and had my photo taken with incoming President-Elect Stephen Abram. I think you would be hard pressed to find another professional organization in which this kind of interaction is possible. It made a great impression on me and validates my decision to join the Special Libraries Association.

What I take away from the conference is a sense of belonging, increased awareness of issues pertinent to our profession, and personal relationships which I hope to cultivate in the future. I left SLA feeling empowered to be a future leader within the organization. Along with souvenirs and photos of the beautiful Denver scenery, I brought home enthusiasm and pride for our profession and for our organization. My trip would not have been possible without the financial assistance of the Legal Division. I am truly grateful for this and look forward to being an active and contributing member for years to come.

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