Where’s the Coffee? Experiencing the Ontario Library Association Super Conference

By Stacey Nordlund

You’ve probably heard it a million times: one of the key elements of developing your career path as an information professional is networking, networking, networking.  And what better way to network than to attend a professional conference with thousands of other librarians?

That’s exactly what I did in February when I attended the Ontario Library Association’s (OLA) Super Conference 2011 in Toronto, Ontario.  This four-day event is the largest library conference in Canada, and information professionals from across Canada – and even from the U.S. – trekked into the city to attend despite the sudden snowstorm and frigid temperatures.  Because the population in Canada is widely spread out over a large land mass, the annual Ontario Library Association conference is a unique opportunity for librarians from across the country to interact and share ideas in person.  As an added bonus, out-of-towners get to spend some time experiencing the culture and sights of the largest and most diverse city in Canada.

This year’s conference theme was “The Power of C – Collaboration!”, with plenaries, sessions, workshops, and poster sessions that focused on the importance of collaborative effort in librarianship.  I came away from the conference with a renewed appreciation for teamwork.  Those group projects in the MLIS core classes aren’t just busywork; they really do prepare you for future collaborations with colleagues.

Looking back at my conference experience, I can think of a few things I wish I had known beforehand.  Here are some tips to help you navigate your first professional conference successfully:

1) Keep your career in mind
Attending some of the career-focused workshops might give you useful ideas about where your MLIS can take you.  This is particularly true in these changing times when the moniker “librarian” doesn’t necessarily mean your future lies in a traditional library.  The MLIS is relevant in many career paths, including publishing, marketing, web development, information systems, and social media consultancy, to name but a few.  A repeated refrain was to plan your career trajectory, join professional associations, and, of course, network, network, network.  The vast majority of speakers didn’t get jobs by applying for them; they heard about openings from a colleague or friend-of-a-friend, or from connections made at conferences.

2) Bring business cards
You don’t want to meet someone and then spend time scrounging for a scrap of paper to write down your email address.  A great resource for creating unique, high-quality personal cards is MOO (http://us.moo.com.).

3) Be prepared for hiccups
No, not the ones cured by water.  When I arrived on the first day, I had to wait for a new badge to be printed because mine was not in their system.  After solving that problem, I was faced with a far more serious dilemma: no free coffee.  Ack!  No problem, I thought, I’ll use my search skills to locate the nearest Starbucks.  Unfortunately, there was no free wi-fi.  No wi-fi  for technology-obsessed librarians at a conference focused on collaboration?  How luddite. Hopefully this is something the conference planners will remedy by next year.  So keep in mind that small annoyances are bound to happen, and try not to get too bothered by them.

4) Find the free stuff
OK, this one isn’t quite so essential, but every librarian needs to take a break and have a little fun.  There’s plenty of free swag to be found at a library conference; you just have to know where to find it.  The EXPO Hall at OLA Super Conference featured Canada’s largest library tradeshow with over 100 exhibitors.  There were author signings, book giveaways and other cool stuff.  And, of course, free food, which is always appreciated when you’re constantly on the go.  Plus, talking to vendors may lead you to some interesting job possibilities.

Finally, one of the most valuable aspects of the conference was meeting fellow students and alumni at the SJSU SLIS reception.  After all, attending a conference is mainly about networking, and what better way than with your library school peers?  We’re part of a vast network of future information professionals, and it’s never too early to think about potential collaborative opportunities and to share knowledge.  Plus, as a Canadian SJSU student, it can be challenging to feel like a member of the SLIS community.  So go to a conference, visit with SLIS faculty and students in person, and introduce yourself to someone new.  You never know where it will take you.

Stacey is a library assistant with the Toronto Public Library, and is currently in her fifth semester at SLIS. Her professional interests include emerging technologies, reference services and instruction. Contact her at staceynordlund[at]gmail[dot]com.