June 26, 2019

Confessions of a first-time ALA attendee

I’ve been working in libraries for almost a decade but have never been able to go to the annual ALA conference due to family, school, or work obligations. My luck changed this year after joining NoveList this past July. It’s my job to talk with libraries, so it was my job to go to ALA! Color me excited.

Coworkers kept popping into my office in the week leading up to the conference. “Are you ready?” they all inquired. I just smiled and nodded, knowing that I had packed my materials and nailed down my schedule. As I walked up to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, surrounded by librarians from around the country, I realized, “I am SO not prepared for this.” Four chaotic (and let’s be frank, sweaty) days later, I’m back at my desk at NoveList world headquarters in Durham, NC, and my head is still swimming with inspiring conversations and unbelievable experiences.

Some realizations from the conference:

  • I have a book problem. And a tote bag problem. And a button problem. And a bookmark problem. You see where this is going. I will now direct your attention to Exhibit A:  
    I was simply utterly unprepared for the number of books that would be waved in front of my face over those days. I tried to resist, which lasted all of ten minutes. Soon enough, I felt like an octopus in a crustacean shack – it was as if I magically sprouted extra arms to grab anything and everything within my reach. I was banned (self-imposed, of course) from going to get tea while on booth shifts because I would come back with three more totes and nine more books every time.
    Even better than the free books was the opportunity to speak with authors and publishers about these many titles falling from the sky. I saw the excitement of first-time authors as their book-signing lines grew; I appreciated the advice from booth workers about upcoming books perfect for my graphic novel-obsessed daughter or poop-obsessed sons; I loved hearing attendees talk with each other about how a book had changed their life.
  • I was not able to keep my cool when I met Carla Hayden. I will now direct your attention to Exhibit B. That is all. 

  • I felt (a little bit) like a rock star at times. On a normal day, I feel lucky to work at NoveList. There is nothing better than being able to talk with librarians all day and see how we can help you reach your readers. To be honest, I was also unprepared for the love thrown my way as I walked around the conference with my NoveList badge. You made this overwhelmed librarian feel very special and reaffirmed the importance of what we do here day in and day out. 
  • You know NoveList! Tied to aforementioned rock star-age, ALA conference goers were also NoveList rock stars! I loved hearing you talk about favorite themes and appeal language. It was great to be able to chat with you about how one of our features helped you during an impossible hunt for a book or while prepping for summer reading. Most importantly, it was extremely helpful (and constructive!) to hear your feedback and to know why our ongoing quest to add more access points for readers is so vital. At no time was this feeling more palpable than when I talked about our most recent addition of Media Mentions, where readers can look up titles that have been discussed in the media. Attendees jumped at this, saying they had just had patrons who were looking for books they’d heard previewed while listening to NPR or watching CNN. Keep sending in the feedback, and we’ll keep working hard!
  • This is my family. I’ve worn many hats in my professional career and came to librarianship later. The conference reinforced for me that I have found my family, my people. You are brilliant and snarky, inquisitive and encouraging, conscientious and compassionate. You made me laugh with literary references, wowed me with your programs and initiatives, and brought me to tears with your stories of how one library can change the entire world for a reader. 

Thank you for an amazing first ALA! 

Oh, and if you find my purple cardigan, please send it c/o NoveList to 2800 Meridian Parkway #100, Durham, NC 27713. Just kidding, but not really. I loved that cardigan. 

Jen Heuer Scott is a NoveList Consultant. 


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