As a still “not-yet-professional”, I’m very fortunate in that I have managed to attend a couple of conferences. This was due to the generosity of my employees at The London Library who worked hard to ensure the overall experience offered the most rounded view of the profession possible.
Last November I attended the e-books conference which was held at The Italian Institute and organised by the EUROLIS group of CILIP. I won’t write in depth about the content of the conference because I already did that and you can click here to read my post; what I’ll do here is analyse the experience in a critical way, as suggested by Caroline.
Anyone who knows me will probably describe me as confident, bubbly and talkative which is all true but as I strode through the ornately detailed door and my shiny little shoes struck the polished wooden floor my calm exterior was a fraudulent mask for the chaos within. My heart was in my mouth. It didn’t help that upon arrival there was the obligatory confusion over my being a lady, not a man. No matter, I was adamant I would ace this day. I located an uncharacteristically yet highly conveniently placed tipex in my handbag and erased the “Mr” from my name badge and strutted on: “this can be a funny anecdote I’ll tell to the crowds of people who will inevitably be gathered around me by the end of the day drinking in my wisdom and laughing manically at this hilarious situation”, I thought. However as I approached the cavernous room with a heart full of fear, excitement and anticipation, a curious reaction manifested within resulting in the complete eradication of all of my brave resolve and grand intention. I skirted over to a corner and failed miserably to arrest the attention of the few attendees who were already safely enveloped in beautifully sized groups whereby the chemistry and dynamics fostered the perfect environment for each of it’s participants to thrive in professional conversation. Had they have looked at me, I would have telepathically received the message from their eyes that “Sorry, this circle is full, we can’t run the risk of allowing an extra person to disturb the equilibrium of our pow-wow”. So I did the obvious thing and ran to the bathroom (which I hadn’t noticed until now that I was debilitating desperate for anyway).
When I returned to the room a few more people had arrived and I scurried to a seat next to some one who looked as lonely and out of place as I did. She was very shy and quiet and I had to contend with my cursed poor hearing (just to amplify my well established repertoire of problems!) which was a shame because her job sounded really interesting, she worked in a legal library. Polite conversation filled the gaps until the conference began and I was ousted from my seat by a hustling group of Italians who were having far too much of a good time for nine thirty in the morning. I later realised the source of their joy and was overcome by it too – I’ll talk about this later but for now let’s just say the Italians really know how to put a good event on (I’m talking the best coffee, food and wine you ever did taste).
The talks rolled out one after another, they were really engaging and I massively enjoyed the fact that I was getting an overview of e-books not just in this country but across the whole of Europe. There was a nice mix of talks; some had more meat than a Turkish mezze (in which instance my pen scrawled at a hundred miles an hour in an attempt to keep up) and others provided a little respite and were more conceptual. I stuck to the good old fashioned method of taking notes which can be tricky as it’s hard to keep up, I think next time I attend a conference I would consider taking my laptop (which would allow me to tweet without looking too rude). After the first two talks, there was a coffee break. This wasn’t an English “two-minute-break-then-back-to-work” kind of coffee break, this was an Italian “coffee-is-more-important-than-anything-else-in-the-world-so-for-a-generous-half-hour-all-other-matters-are-suspended” kind of coffee break. I milled around the refreshments table for as long as was respectably acceptable then accepted my fate and boldly strode into the “networking” room.
Within a minute a friendly librarian had introduced himself to me, we chatted for a while and oddly enough we’ve been friends ever since! Whilst talking to other people I couldn’t help but worry about the part where they ask me what I do and the ugly truth that I was a lowly graduate trainee would have to surface. People were generally very friendly though and in a lot of cases we were so busy discussing the topic at hand that we didn’t even get onto what we did. I’ve found Caroline’s post extremely useful regarding all of the tips about how to manage the contacts you accrue throughout a conference. I stand by business cards being the best way forward here but I didn’t (and still don’t) feel like I warrant a business card – I often wish I had one as it would be useful to quickly pass over my contact details but as an unqualified librarian in an assistant position I can’t help but think it would be slightly laughable.
I realised throughout this process that my people-skills still require A LOT of fine-tuning. Just because you’re confident and find it easy to talk to people does not mean this situation isn’t a mine-field for you. My main problem is my memory, I sometimes find it difficult to remember the small details about people and quite often I can’t quite hear what their name is for instance or exactly where they work and then I feel to embarrassed, ten minutes into the conversation to ask them to repeat it. I generally scrape by without these details but I think in future, one of the things I’m going to have to proactively work on is methods of committing the essential details to memory or as Caroline suggests just write it down. If I’m not confident with what I’ve spoken about with some one, a follow up conversation can be extremely daunting so it’s best to make things easier for myself by taking a few small measures in the first instance.
The next round of talks rolled by, and these were followed by the most exquisite lunch I’d ever had served by a handsome fleet of Italian waiters who were eager to inject delicate, crisp wine into the equation too which I was more than happy to appease. The lunch hour was easily filled with conversation, I spoke to my (then) new friend David Rose some more, he ended up inviting me on a tour of his school library which coincided nicely with a visit from a children’s author and journalist K. A. S Quinn (You can read about that here). I spoke to other librarians and practised the art of networking and as the lunch hour began to wind up I actually wished it could continue for longer.
All in all it was a very positive experience that made me feel a part of a wider community – watching people who had been motivated to run campaigns and conduct research was a massive inspiration and it made me see how important it is to apply yourself not just to your job but to the profession as a whole. I will keenly look out for other similar opportunities though I am somewhat restricted at the moment as I can’t really afford any professional events and it seems unlikely I would be offered any support from my employees. I would certainly consider applying to receive conference funding in the future and as I continue in my career I hope to apply myself to any opportunities that arise for me to demonstrate my genuine interest in order to help future application processes.
There is one free event in November which I am considering going to, though it is in Huddersfield which is far way from London (yet close to my parent’s home) and it is an event for postgrads to showcase their dissertations. I think this would be really beneficial for me to see the types of things which I may learn about on my course, the guest speaker is due to talk about how to submit articles to professional publications which would be useful. I’m the first to admit that it can sometimes seem like making the time to attend these events is more hassle than its worth, however you never know what you’re giving up by not going. I may set myself a goal of attending one professional event every three months and see how I go.