I recently attended a convention for my state’s library association as a student photographer. It was quite the experience. I got to spend 4 days mingling with the leaders in librarianship, making connections, getting advice, and generally getting to know the real-world state of the profession.
The biggest surprise? That we photographers were the only 3 students at the conference.
I know that conferences can be an expense that just doesn’t seem justifiable when you’re a grad student eating ramen, but they do have value, even if you aren’t presenting.
Speaking of which…
1) If you have something to say, present it.
Whether you have something you think warrants a whole session or if you just want to prep a poster, make it happen. There’s a lot of information in your experience that other people want to know. You can at least ask if the conference organizers will let you (for ALA Annual, you can still apply for poster sessions until January 17, 2014 – look here).
2) If you can provide a service, see if you can trade it.
To get to the Pennsylvania Library Association annual conference, I listened when a little bird told me that they were looking for students to photograph the event. I am, at best, a hobby photographer (I had to borrow my camera from my roommate), but I asked about the requirements, and was brought on board. Just for being willing to ask.
3) Bring business cards. Lots.
And make sure they say you’re a student.
This seems like a no-brainer, but I went through 150 in 3 days, and I didn’t get to go to all the networking events I wanted to. And when people saw I was a student, it opened up conversation – “Oh, I went to Pitt!” “When do you graduate?” “What track are you studying?”. I got lots of invitations to visit libraries to see how they do things, and lots of tips and tricks. People feel ok telling a student things they might never tell a colleague. They might even invite you bowling. Go figure.
Seriously, look like you want to be there. This isn’t a homework assignment – it’s actually kind of fun. There are opportunities to network, sessions to listen to, exhibitors to schmooze… but there are also unexpected moments of fun (check out these snapshots from the Performers’ Showcase at PaLA). Being willing to participate and to have fun can go a long way toward having a positive experience – and making others remember you in a positive light.