Student Anna-Carin U’Ren Receives a REFORMA Travel Grant and Enjoys her First Professional Conference

This June I was fortunate enough to attend the American Library Association Conference in Orlando, FL. I suppose I had never considered attending a conference prior to this one, probably because I was so focused on my classes and had never actually worked in a library. Also, the cost of attending a conference (along with requisite travel expenses) is considerable and a bit daunting. When Professor Anthony Bernier notified our INFO 261 class about a travel grant opportunity offered by the group REFORMA however, I decided to apply, and was notified a few weeks later that I had won the grant to attend the 2016 ALA Conference.

Learning about REFORMA and their mission was eye-opening for me, as I was previously unaware of the group and the important work they do. I was invited to an awards luncheon at the East Los Angeles Library, where I was introduced to members of the LA branch and other awards recipients. I met Anita Martinez, a fellow MLIS student at SJSU, who was there to accept the Elizabeth Martinez Scholarship Award, and who was also attending the ALA Conference as a Spectrum scholar. I can’t say how nice it was to meet a fellow student in person, and to discuss our classes and plans for the future. We exchanged information and agreed to meet up in Orlando for the iSchool reception in June.

Professor Bernier had warned me that ALA was huge, and that it might be a bit overwhelming, especially for a first time attendee. He was right of course, and it didn’t help that I had arrived in Orlando early that first morning after taking a red-eye from LA, with very little sleep on the plane. So my first day I just walked the conference center and took in all the booths. I stopped by the SJSU booth and Rhonda Dahlgren was the first person from school I had the pleasure of meeting. She was warm and welcoming, gave me a SJSU ribbon to wear (along with other goodies), and told me how to get to the location of our reception.

I met up with Anita that evening at Tommy Bahama’s restaurant, where we mingled with others from SJSU. The iSchool reception was incredibly generous and lots of fun, the food was delicious and the drinks were excellent (and very welcome after walking outside in the Orlando heat!) I was excited to finally meet two of my professors, Dr. Anthony Bernier and Dr. Michael Stevens, and I also enjoyed meeting other students and alumni at the party. While making new friends and chatting with professors, I tried to soak up as much knowledge and collective experience as I could.

I think that is my biggest take-away from my whole conference experience: to keep an open mind and be receptive to the people you meet, all of whom have incredibly unique experiences and diverse backgrounds. I attended a ticketed event hosted by Sage called “The Laugh’s On Us” with comedy writers, including comedian Paula Poundstone, talking about their upcoming books. I knew no one at my table, but after introductions (there were librarians from all over the country), we quickly bonded sharing wine and cheese, and everyone was ready to laugh (who says librarians don’t know how to have fun!) When I attend my next conference, I have a better idea of how I will plan my conference visit based on my experiences. For the present, however, I count my first time as a resounding success!

photo courtesy of Anna-Carin U’ren