June 28, 2009

Conference Advice – ALA Exhibits

Posted in Professional Success at 6:09 pm by melissaautumn

The exhibits hall is one of the “must do” aspects of an ALA Conference. Be prepared – the exhibits hall at ALA is huge. It can be overwhelming and, if you try to cover it all, exhausting.

  • Decide ahead of time what you want to see. You won’t be able to stop at all of the booths, so you need to prioritize. A reference librarian may want to see what databases are available in a particular subject area, while a children’s librarian may want to see what new books are being published. The exhibits can also be a great time to identify vendors and products in an area that is new to you (e.g., if your library is planning to purchase a new ILS, look for those vendors). Stop at booths that are relevant to your professional needs and skip the others. 
  • When you pick up your conference packet, you’ll get a list of exhibitors and a map of the exhibit hall. Skim the list of exhibitors – if there are any you are particularly interested in, note the booth numbers. The exhibits are laid out as a grid with each aisle marked, so it is relatively easy to locate an exhibitor by booth number.
  • Don’t take too many brochures. You’ll quickly overload your bag and your back. If you are genuinely interested in a product, grab a brochure, but otherwise resist the urge to take paper from every booth you visit. Remember that most vendors have the same information available on their website – rather than grabbing every brochure a vendor has out, take one as a reminder and look up additional information when you get home.
  • Vendor swag is fun! All those pens, pencils and post-it notes are useful later and make fun little gifts to give for colleagues who did not make it to the conference (the ALA Store is located in the exhibit hall, too, and can be a place to grab a small library-themed gift). But as with brochures, don’t take more than you really need and can easily carry.
  • Stop by your library school’s booth (they’ll be located all together in one corner of the hall). You may see a familiar face, since the booths are staffed by school administrators and faculty. And if you are feeling overwhelmed by the anonymity of ALA, when you find your alma mater, you’ll find friendly faces who are happy to see you.
  • Don’t feel you have to do it all – there’s lots to do at ALA and while the exhibits can be fun and educational, they can also be overwhelming and exhausting (did I already say that?). If you’ve had enough, leave. You can come back another day or simply use your time in other ways.

June 27, 2009

ALA Conference Advice

Posted in Professional Success at 1:52 pm by melissaautumn

A few students have asked for advice on going to ALA. I’m not an ALA expert, as I rarely go, but here are some resources.

  • The ALA Wiki has tons of information and advice.
  • There are many events for new members and new conference goers. Some are designed to orient you to the conference, while others provide introductions to various ALA chapters and special interest groups.
  • Once you register, you can use the Event Planner to select the programs and events you want to attend.

ALA Annual is a huge conference and there will be a lot happening simultaneously, so you’ll need to prioritize what you attend. 

  • As you develop your schedule, pay attention to where programs are being held and make sure you can get from one location to another in the time available (there are usually conference buses running from hotel to hotel, which can help you get from place to place for free).
  • In addition to the educational programs (lectures, panels, etc.) that you would expect, there are many social programs. The social programs are good opportunities to meet other librarians, so I recommend you add a few to your schedule.
  • Make time for a big name, controversial or oddball speaker. They are usually very good speakers and even the wacky ones make for an interesting topic of conversation at social events (or when you get home and people ask what you did at ALA).
  • Library schools usually host receptions for their alums – these are great opportunities to see old friends and faculty and make new acquaintances.
  • Be realistic. You can’t do it all, so don’t try to. Also know what you can handle – if meeting new people is stressful, don’t add four social events a day to your calendar.
  • Buddy up. I find conferences are a lot more fun if I have someone to hang out with. Arrange to meet a friend for an afternoon program or dinner. If you don’t know anyone going to ALA, the library school receptions are a great place to reconnect with former classmates and meet new people. Be brave and ask a new acquaintance if he or she would like to grab dinner or walk to an evening program.  
  • Take care of yourself – take time for regular meals, stay hydrated, and get your sleep. You’ll enjoy the conference more and better remember what you learned if you feel healthy and alert.
  • Make time to see the host city. For this year’s ALA Annual, my top recommendations would be Millennium Park , which you can walk through on your way to a program, and the Art Institute, which is free Thursday and Friday evenings.

Finally, have fun! Going to a conference should be a special treat and leave you energized about the profession you’ve chosen.

June 25, 2009

Forum Posts, Part II

Posted in School Success at 9:45 pm by melissaautumn

In my last post I provided basic guidelines for posting to course forums. In this post, I’m going to suggest content for a these posts.

The goal of posting to the forums is to engage others, specifically the instructor and your peers, in discussion. In order to start a discussion or contribute to an ongoing discussion, you need to say something that goes beyond just summarizing the required readings (which presumably we’ve all read). Instead, you want to post an idea or question to which others can respond, just as you would in a face-to-face class.

  • Ask questions. If you have a question about a reading or course topic, chances are others in the class have the same question. The instructor may even be waiting for someone to ask the “obvious” question.
  • Share your experiences. Posts that provide real world examples of course concepts are always appreciated by other students and can result in interesting conversations about how libraries implement services in different ways to best meet their users’ needs. Students who haven’t worked in libraries can share their experiences as patrons, prompting us to think about what these services look like from the user perspective (those of us who have worked in libraries for a long time sometimes lose that ability to look from “the outside in”).
  • Invite others to share their experience. Posts like “This is really interesting; how many of you have had this experience?” or “How do you handle this at your library?” give classmates a chance to respond with their own expertise.
  • Question the status quo. Students who are new to the program or who have not worked in libraries sometimes feel uncomfortable posting on a topic they sense others know more about – but your “newbie” perspective is valuable because it prompts us all to question and evaluate our traditional way of doing things.
  • Extrapolate from one setting to another. Articles in the library literature often focus on research or best practices in a specific library setting, such as a school, public or academic library. Rather than have students read three articles about a topic, one written for each setting, the instructor will pick the best article about the topic, regardless of setting. Thus the forums can be a place to discuss how an idea from the reading can be applied to or modified for various types of libraries and patrons.
  • Evaluate the author’s argument. Do you think the author is right (if you are just agreeing with the author, that’s not such an interesting post) or wrong (this could be an interesting post!)? If the author is wrong, why? If you disagree with parts of the author’s argument, why? Instructors often pick readings because they are provocative and lead to good discussion, so don’t assume that just because an article is required reading it is “right.”
  • Synthesize multiple readings. Discuss how multiple readings relate to one another in order to draw larger conclusions about professional practice. Most obviously, you can pull together ideas from the readings for one week in the course, however you can also integrate a current reading with materials from past weeks or with readings from other courses, particularly core courses that other students would have taken.

Additional thoughts on posting to forums:

  • Read with a pen in hand – writing in the margins as you read will help you engage with the material and better retain what you have read. You can also use your pen to jot questions or other ideas for forum posts as you read.
  • Don’t be afraid to disagree. Disagreeing with others (in a respectful way, of course) is great, because it builds a conversation and challenges us to think more critically. Not sure you disagree? Act as the devil’s advocate – pull out counter arguments for others to consider.
  • Do your part to create a community of learners. People need to know they are being “heard” – you can be a good citizen by posting occasional replies like “well said” or otherwise acknowledging the contributions of others.

June 19, 2009

Writing Forum Posts

Posted in School Success at 12:04 pm by melissaautumn

Note: I haven’t posted in a few weeks while I took a much needed vacation and prepped for summer session. The break between spring and summer sessions is the longest one of the year for me, so in addition to just taking some time off to rejuvenate, I took the opportunity to really dig into my reference course and make changes in assignments. But, as summer session starts, my mind again returns to my teaching and this blog.

My summer courses have been going for less than a week and our forum discussions are just getting started. As a result, I’ve been thinking about what makes for a good forum post and a good class discussion. Following my own advice (see the third point below), I’m breaking this into two posts – today’s focuses on basic guidelines for posting; later this weekend I’ll share suggestions for developing the content of posts.

And so, with no further ado, some basic guidelines for forum posts:

  • Limit yourself to one topic per post. This makes it easier for the class to have “threads” of conversation as people reply to you. If you have more than one idea to share, write multiple posts.
  • Give your posts specific, meaningful titles. Your title should describe the content of your post so that we know what to expect. In general, avoid using the week’s topic or the name of the forum as a title. After all, in the Collection Development forum, all the posts should be about collection development, right? Try titles like “Print vs. Electronic” or “Thoughts on Weeding” instead.  
  • Be succinct. I don’t want to discourage you from diving into a topic in depth – by all means, write enough to make your point clearly. At the same time, remember that your writing will be read online, a format where many people have trouble with sustained reading. If you have written more than three or four paragraphs, you may be rambling – re-read your post with an eye to brevity and clarity.
  • Proofread and spell-check. Posts with spelling and grammatical mistakes appear unprofessional and are more difficult for others to read. Remember that your classmates and I are your future colleagues – our impression of your ability to communicate clearly and professionally is based largely on your forum posts and they should reflect the same care you would take in writing an email or document for work.
  • Post in a timely way. In my courses, we devote one week to each topic. Your posts on the topic should generally fall within this time frame; people do not want to read your thoughts on the topic two weeks later, when the class has moved on to a new issue, and probably will not respond to you. (The exception to this guideline is when you discover an interesting resource or news event that you want to share with others.)