This title is more than a little dramatic, but those of you who have the uncommon delight of meeting me in person know that this is perfectly appropriate for me. I would never have dreamed that a Circulation Assistant, without a Master’s at a Class IV library in Michigan would ever have been allowed, never mind welcomed at state-wide conferences let alone national ones. I was lucky to have been introduced to the world of library conferences by a former director who saw potential in me even though I felt under-qualified to attend, let alone present. I started out with a poster session where I honed my schmoozing skills. It was low-stress and I gained practice talking to people briefly about what I did. Then came the lone presentation at MLA. I’d built confidence and a small audience with my session and now knew the parts of my spiel that really grabbed people. My attendance wasn’t standing room only, but I drew some attention. It set me up for sharing a stage at a national conference (thanks Kevin!).
A major benefit of conferences is connecting with people. Nothing is more energizing than meeting new people who understand you, your work, your life, your challenges. Have you ever had that head-nodding moment with another library employee? You say two words, “copy machine” or “James Patterson” and you’re suddenly sharing the same head space, picturing that perfect frustration either of those phrases brings to mind. This is, at it’s most simplistic, why conferences are great. Yes, the sessions are frequently amazing, innovative, inspiring and brilliant. You come back to your town bursting with new ideas. Often, when I come back I come back bursting with experiences, they were just as likely gained from sitting in the hotel bar with one or two people as from sitting in a crammed conference room.
As managers we should take these networking opportunities when we can. But don’t forget to offer them to your staff, especially those who think they don’t qualify for such things. Who knows who will be inspired to be a department head, come up with an innovative program, present next year or even pursue their Master’s of Library Science.
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