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I attended my first ALA Conference weekend before last in Anaheim, CA. Before arriving I tried to keep an open mind without any agenda or pre-conceived expectations. I just wanted to “experience” this annual librarian event. Turns out I wasn’t the only one thinking about experiences. If I could select one word (and obviously I am) to describe the conference, the state and future of the library, and my personal perspective, “experience” is the word that keeps popping into my mind.

I attended several LITA programs – on Distance Education, Social Showcase, and the President’s Program. (for more details on these programs see Lauren’s blog, seems silly to repeat good summaries) I found them all informative, but even more so I found people who inspired me with their thoughts, ideas and passions for the library and its users. Throughout these three programs we talked about the library not as just a place or service, but also as an experience. One LITA member used the Harley Davidson Motorcycle’s website as an example. The website’s not about buying a motorcycle, but about the experience of owning a motorcycle and all the things you can do with it. Isn’t a library similar? We have tangible resources and services, but maybe it’s the intangible experience of finding and using those resources and the services offered that makes the library unique. As the library moves more and more outside its traditional brick and mortar walls, the experience is central to the users. Whether they are at a remote location chatting via IM with a reference librarian, searching a database or sipping coffee with their friends in the cafe aren’t they “in” or “experiencing” the library? I wonder if this would be something to incorporate into the marketing of the library or designing the website?

I also attended a COSWL program on care-giving and librarians. (again, see Lauren’s blog for details if you’re interested) The speakers were excellent, but there seemed to be more focus on caring for the elderly and not so much on childcare, which is the issue for me. Turns out I wasn’t the only one going through this and to know that it’s not just a personal issue, but a social and political one as well helped empower me, both personally and professionally.

I also attended programs on “Energize Your Instruction” and “Collaborative Digital Initiatives”, both of which were not what I expected. The instruction program wasn’t about things you can do to energize your instruction or pedagogy specifically, but more broadly about energizing yourself, thereby energizing your audience. We took a personality test and the speaker, Andrew Sanderbeck, gave a lively and entertaining slide presentation on keeping your passion, asking for help, taking a day off, and other “tid bits”. Although I would have liked more specific information on classroom techniques or pedagogy, I did come away with a renewed vigor in my step toward teaching.

The digital program included the South Carolina Digital Library, the PALMM project of Florida and the Eastern North Carolina Digital Library. As I have been working with Susan and Erik on the Digital Forsyth Project I had hoped to learn more about the metadata aspects. Turns out they were just showing their websites and explaining their processes, although not in enough detail for me. Quite a few of us left early (only program I did that).

Other experiences I had were catching up with my MLIS Information Literacy professor, Elizabeth Leonard, talking with the former library director at UNCG, and meeting with colleagues for lunch, dinner or wine tasting. I also met librarians who knew librarians here at ZSR (at the IS Soiree, I met Carol Cramer’s college roommate, Ann Brown, a librarian at George Washington University!).

I attended the Lexis-Nexis breakfast where Susan received her award (for the second or third time during the conference?). The speaker, Dana Milbank, is a political reporter for the Washington Post and gave a witty and satirical speech on his new book, Homo Politicus (which I won a copy of!).

Overall, my “experience” as a first time attendee at ALA was quite positive and fortunately not as overwhelming as some had warned it could be. I understand the 2010 conference is scheduled for Las Vegas – now that should be an experience!