Attending Seminars Equals Professional Development

By Lorena Mata, AFT 6157 Council of Division Reps, EVC Librarian

Lorena waiting for Hillary to speak

This summer I had the opportunity to attend the American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Chicago. It had been several years since I attended an ALA Conference partly because of the location, cost and most importantly, childcare. I have three children ages 12, 10 and 5, and it’s tough leaving them behind or bringing them along. Earlier in the spring, I’d receive emails from ALA, announcing confirmed keynote speakers and special events. As usual, I’d delete them and move on.

That was until I received notice that Hillary Rodham Clinton would be the closing speaker. I forgot about the kids, my husband and the cost. There was no way I was going to miss this opportunity. Without hesitation, I planned my trip to Chicago.

The conference was not only a memorable experience mostly because of seeing Hillary Clinton, but also because I reconnected with former colleagues, made new contacts and learned about what other libraries are doing.

This all reminded me of how much I enjoyed attending conferences during my early years as a librarian. If you’ve forgotten as I had, here are some reasons why you should attend a conference periodically:

  • To learn something new and/or innovative about the profession. One can learn from the successes of other institutions, so that you know you’re on the right track or want to try out.
  • To reenergize and renew your excitement for the work that you do. There’s nothing like getting pumped up and rejuvenated about your profession.
  • To network with peers in the profession. It’s the perfect opportunity to meet people and to bounce back ideas to one another. It’s also the perfect opportunity to meet up with former colleagues.
  • To meet with vendors at the exhibits. There’s nothing like getting tons of freebies to add weight to your luggage, but it is the perfect opportunity to learn about innovative products and services that will better serve you and your students.

My moment with Hillary Clinton happened on the last day of the conference. I arrived two hours before the doors opened only to find a long line of excited librarians. Once the doors opened, it was free for all to grab a seat. I managed to find a seat within 20 rows to the stage and high-fived the person next to me for our success on great seats.

The energy in the room was fascinating with music booming and librarians socializing, taking selfies and even dancing. When the song “We are Family” by Sister Sledge filled the room, we knew the moment was near. This was my kumbaya moment. When she walked on stage and did her signature salutary wave, so many emotions came over me. I was both honored and proud to be in the presence of our former Secretary of State.

She announced her upcoming book, which explores the 2016 election and her personal journey of resilience after a loss. She spoke about how we need libraries and librarians now more than ever and shared three reasons:

  • Reading changes lives. Whether it’s old-fashioned books or e-readers, wherever it is.
  • Libraries are places for communities to come together. You see this every day. Libraries are one of the few places in America, shared by people of every income, race, background, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation; everybody is there.
  • We need critical thinkers more than ever. Long before fake news and alternative facts were familiar terms, librarians were teaching media literacy. In libraries and classrooms across the country, librarians helped learners of all ages sort out truth from fiction and build an argument based on rational evidence.

I hope my experience motivates you to attend an upcoming conference. You can obtain Staff Development Funds: $1,000 for fulltime faculty and $500 for adjunct faculty per academic year. And yes, the deep dish pizzas of Chicago are the best.