WAAL Conference

Last week from the 27th through the 29th of April I attended the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians conference in Stevens Point. My first professional conference!! It was a momentous occasion.

I really wasn’t sure of what to expect. I arrived in Stevens Point at about 9:30 PM on Tuesday the 26th. My scholarship covered a hotel room for 3 nights, so luckily I didn’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn on Wednesday to drive there. The conference was located at the Ramada Inn and Conference Center, and my hotel room was wonderful–I had a whole king-sized bed all to myself! The best part was the silence. I love solitude, and the last few years have been packed full of non-stop interactions with people. Even when I’m at home there will be a faint buzz from a TV or radio in the background, so being in a spacious, clean, silent room was blissful.

The next morning I woke up, grabbed some breakfast, and headed to some presentations.

  • Strange Bedfellows: Unconventional Partnerships to Accomplish Campus Learning Objectives
  • Marketing the Academic Library: Expanding Your Role on Campus and Increasing Your Profit Margin
  • Uncommon Solution to Creating an Information Commons
  • Growing the Curation Community in LIS: Current Research and Academic Initiatives

Melissa Cragin from the University of Illinois gave the keynote presentation on data curation, which was fascinating. A little overwhelming for someone who is new to the field, but it definitely made me want to look into data curation more. Afterward I went up and chatted with her briefly and she offered to set me up with some contacts at IU, which was very kind.

I met the mentor I had been paired with as a scholarship recipient, Sheila Stoeckel from UW-Madison. She was very nice and also very busy, as she was on the WAAL Conference Planning Committee.

That night I went to a hole-in-the-wall type bar called Rusty’s for dinner with one of the grad student scholarship recipients, Ashley, and some her friends and colleagues from UW-Madison. It was amazing to be around librarians letting their hair down, as most of the interactions I’d had with librarians up until that point had been very formal.

The next morning I woke up, got breakfast, and attended more presentations.

  • Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: Data Curation at the Laboratory for Optical and Computational Instrumentation
  • Instruction Potluck: Share, Design and Create New Materials for Your Classroom
  • Age Management Medicine for Your Book Collection: Can You Rejuvenate Interest in Older Books by Adding a Table of Contents?

Thursday was a fantastic day for presentations. The first presentation I attended was by a graduating SLIS student, Andrew Johnson, about his work with LOCI on the Madison campus. He talked about the challenge of adapting to such a vastly different environment than he was used to, and about finding where he fit amongst computer scientists and biologists and professionals from all different fields. The instruction potluck was by far the most dynamic presentation I saw at WAAL; there was a lot of small group work and collaboration, and it was interesting to talk to librarians from large and small universities and compare the challenges they face working with students. And of course, I couldn’t leave out the last presentation, which was given by UW-L librarians John Jax and Bill Doering. I had never been exposed to structured studies on library collections before, so the idea of tracking browses and checkouts was interesting to me even though they found that adding table of contents info did not ultimately alter checkout and browse rates in a statistically significant way. 

The poster presentations were Thursday afternoon, and it was wonderful to see what current SLIS students were doing–I started to envision what sort of projects I might undertake over the new few years. So, so exciting! While looking at posters I ran into Andrew, whose data curation presentation I’d attended earlier, and we started talking about his presentation and librarianship in general. He introduced me to some of his SLIS friends, and I ended up going to dinner with them and ended up hanging out with them all night. They claimed to have adopted me, and I was altogether too happy to be taken under their experienced wings!

That afternoon as I was near the lobby and heading up to my hotel room on the sixth floor, I heard a woman ask me, “Excuse me, do you know where the elevators are?” When I looked over, I instantly recognized the woman as Char Booth, Friday’s keynote speaker. Rachel had talked about her in the past as a library hero of hers, I had seen her picture in the WAAL information packet, and I’d been perusing her blog the night before… so to run into her as she was looking for the elevator took me aback in the very best way. I introduced myself and fessed up to knowing her, and later at the Tilted Kilt (I know, I know…it was part of the conference center) she hung out with the SLIS grad students and me. I was able to ask her for some tips on blogging. She laughed and very self-deprecatingly talked about her first year or so of having a blog, how she didn’t know what to write… she mirrored many of the feelings I have about this space. She said to just keep at it. Do it even if it doesn’t feel like a significant contribution, because it is a good space to play around with. She also admitted to having “blogger’s block” for the first time. I think I fell in love with her a little…

On Friday, breakfast with my new SLIS friends as we laughed about the previous night’s antics and watched news about the Royal Wedding, then more presentations:

  • Instructional Literacy and the Library Educator: Design, Technology, and Academic Culture
  • Where Everyone Knows Your Name: Building Successful Relationships with CRM Software

Char’s presentation was mind-blowing for everyone in attendance, I think. I would purchase her book if it were not prohibitively expensive!

Then I said my goodbyes, stopped at Noodles & Co. and hopped on the road, totally refreshed by WAAL. It was a great first-time professional conference experience, and I came away with a lot of business cards! I met so many different kinds of librarians, and I am reminded of how excited I am to be going into a profession filled with such eclectic, innovative people.

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