Archive for February, 2013

Chicago on Sunday morning

My fellow ECCA winners and I decided that in order to fully experience Chicago, it was absolutely compulsory for us to have pancakes for breakfast. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday morning, and the first opportunity we had to walk around Chicago and to fully absorb the sights, sounds and smells. On walking out to Millennium Park, the city appeared so calm and serene, and it was the perfect morning to recover from the stress of travel the day before, and it provided us with a breather before we fully launched ourselves in to the SLA conference experience.

PancakesWe spotted a pancake house, and I was surprised by how big and extremely busy it was. I remember spending ages choosing from the hundreds of sweet and savoury pancakes on the menu, and when my pancakes with strawberries came I was not disappointed – they were absolutely delicious.

Having been revitalised by the pancakes, we proceeded to the McCormick Place’s Lakeside Center where the conference was being held for the very first time. I later found out that it was the 2nd largest conference centre in the world. Personally, it reminded me of an airport – you would have to remember which ‘gate’ your coach departed from, and the sheer size of the rooms and corridors were staggering. It was so enormous that the centre always seemed to be fairly empty, despite the fact there were approximately 4,000 conference attendees (or so I was told). I was very glad that I had been instructed beforehand to wear comfortable shoes, because there was a lot of walking to get just from one session to another.

RibbonsThe very first thing we did was got our conference name badges and ribbons. There were what seemed to be hundreds of different coloured ribbons that you could attach to your name badge depending on your interests. Their was intention was to be conversation starters and so that you can spot people in the same division or chapter as you and go and talk to them. I think we got more than a little over excited with our ribbons, and the number of them we each had certainly attracted a lot of attention!




We proceeded to the INFO-EXPO exhibit hall to see what stalls and products were being advertised, as well as to collect a few freebies! As I had only started my new job 2 weeks before attending the conference, the INFO-EXPO was of limited use to me, although it was still very interesting and enjoyable to walk around. I couldn’t believe the scale of the exhibition, and we ended up only seeing about half of it before we all rushed to attend the SLA Fellows and First-Timers Meet session.

I was rather nervous as this would be the first time I would network with SLA members outside of the Europe group, and the first time I would have socialised with Americans in a large number. But everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and you got a real sense of community from the Fellows who were greeting each other warmly. They were extremely welcoming, and the Americans are so at ease with walking up to complete strangers and introducing themselves, in complete contrast to our British reserve, that in fact much of the I networked by being approached rather than having to bravely venture out on my own and approach others.

This was also the first instance where I learned how important the practice of exchanging business cards was at American conferences. It is an expected protocol that when you talk to someone, you exchange business cards at the end of your conversation. By the end of the conference I had quite a number of business cards to go through and try and remember which card belonged to who, and whether I wanted to follow them on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn, etc. Unfortunately, the drawback of business cards is that you tend to only get their business contact details and often not their social media details, which would have proved more useful to me.

View of the Hilton lobby from the Leadership Tea

View of the Hilton lobby from the Leadership Tea

I then proceeded to the SLA Legal Division’s Leadership Tea at the Hilton – which was a very posh affair with glamorous sandwiches (if sandwiches can be glamorous) and lots and lots of varieties of tea. It was very strange to be doing such a quintessentially British tradition in the heart of Chicago, surrounded by Americans. But it was a really lovely experience, and as we were seated at tables I was able to meet some of the Legal Division members properly and put names to faces. It was really interesting comparing our experiences of law, and I distinctly remember them being rather jealous of my job title, as I am a ‘Information Officer’. In the UK, legal librarians tend to be called Information Officers, which the American Legal Division members thought sounded very impressive. I remember discussing the upcoming Olympics, and learning about American football and how ingratiated in American culture it is. It was here that I also met my US mentor, Liz Polly, for the first time. Liz was very welcoming, and I was absolutely fascinated by her Kentucky accent. Unfortunately for me, I did not get to see much of Liz during the conference due to the busyness of our schedules and our hotels being fairly far apart; but it was still very comforting to know that she was there to help if needed. I think having a US mentor as well as a UK mentor is a really great practice to help the ECCA winners get the most out of the conference experience, and I only wish I had the opportunity to get to know Liz better.

Awards Presentation

General Session and Awards Presentation

After the Leadership Tea, we headed back to the conference centre for the General Session and Awards Presentation, and for the keynote speaker Guy Kawasaki. It was in a huge theatre and I had no idea what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect the flashing disco lights and music that we got! What struck me the most, was how happy and proud the award winners were, and how they seemed to have a large number of fans in the SLA crowd who were willing to cheer, whistle and in some cases dance, as the winners went up to the stage to collect their award. This was my first impression of the SLA as a very strong community of professionals made up not only of work colleagues, but also very good friends. Watching the award winners and learning about their achievements was a very inspiring experience – particularly to me as a new professional. I was just about to complete my MA in the UK and until this point I hadn’t really been able to focus on what my next steps would be after becoming a qualified information professional. But this session showed me what I could be aiming for in the future, and it has certainly motivated me in my current work for the SLA Europe chapter as a way to focus on my personal development and as a stepping stone to hopefully gaining some of the achievements of those award winners on stage.


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As I mentioned, this was my first trip to the US, and my first time travelling ‘alone’ (at least, without friends and family). However, happily for me I was going with the other award winners; Anneli, Giles, Ruth, Sarah and Simon.

Sarah, Anneli, Giles, Ruth and Sarah on the first day in Chicagotour

Sarah, Anneli, Giles, Ruth and Simon on the first day in Chicago

This made the travelling aspect much less terrifying and a lot more entertaining. I had briefly met some of them at an SLA networking event the previous week, and of course we had contacted each other through Twitter so we were not complete and utter strangers. I think the lasting friendships I developed with the other ECCA winners over the 4 days where we spent almost every waking minute with each other, was something that I had completely under-estimated as a huge benefit of the award.

Braving the many, many networking events together, as a small group of Brits against the seas of what were mostly loud Americans, made the experience much less intimidating and enabled me to get the most out of the networking parties, when I probably would have just sat in a corner on my own too scared to approach anyone otherwise. Six months on and the award winners are all still in touch; mostly through Twitter as some of them are dotted over the country, but we are all in some way still working for SLA Europe and consequently get to see each other fairly regularly. I think the shared experience of SLA Chicago 2012 is something that we as a group will never forget.

The L

The L

So, back to day one. About 45 minutes in to the taxi journey from the airport you begin to see the skyscrapers. Once you get further in to the city, you realise that everything looks like how it does on American TV – all of the roads are at right angles, the huge number of taxis and the mammoth size of the roads and ‘sidewalks’. The strangest thing I found difficult to get used to about the city was the L train, which was basically an elevated version of the tube that ran all over Chicago. That, and the weird queuing system and different meal combos available in McDonalds, although this may have been due to my jet-lagged brain not being able to cope at the end of our first night.

Mine and Giles' feet on the Ledge

Mine and Giles’ feet on the Ledge

After arriving at our lovely hotels (I got to stay in a Hilton!), we had arranged in advance to go on a 3 hour tour of the ‘Highlights of Chicago’, in an attempt to force ourselves to stay awake and get our body clocks on Chicago time. This certainly seemed a good idea before the trip, but I know I certainly felt like going to bed after all of the travelling, queuing in airports and carrying our luggage around. Despite having a 3 hour tour, we managed to spend a whole hour of it queuing to go up to the top of the Willis (Sears) Tower. The views of Chicago and Lake Michigan were spectacular; particularly as we managed to see it at sunset. I also braved going on the Ledge, which is basically a glass box that extends out over the edge, allowing you to see through your feet to the ground from 103 floors up. I’m afraid the rest of the tour merged in to a bit of a blur for me, as I think it probably did with the other jet-lagged Brits. But what I do remember is the feeling of excitement at being in Chicago, and the nerves at the thought of the unknown at attending my first conference the very next day.

View of Chicago from the Willis Tower

View of Chicago from the Willis Tower

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Almost a year ago to the day, I was writing my application for the SLA Early Career Conference Award (or ECCA), sponsored by the Legal Division. If I am perfectly honest, I had not heard of the SLA before the award, and I really had no idea what to expect from them as a professional association, or how I would benefit as a member – which is exactly why SLA Europe offers a number of awards each year to introduce new professionals to the SLA and to provide them with the opportunity to attend their annual conference, all expenses paid.

Welcome to SLA 2012

When I won the award last year, the SLA’s annual conference was in Chicago and it was my first trip to America and my FIRST EVER conference. You can imagine I was really overwhelmed… in fact, it was such a surreal experience that much of the time I couldn’t really believe that such an incredible thing had happened to me… that I was in CHICAGO and at one of, and possibly the, biggest library and information conference in the world.

This is partly why I have not already blogged about my SLA conference experience, but not fully. On getting back to the UK in July 2012 I was scrambling to write my dissertation for my library Masters and I had just started my first professional role as a full time Information Officer for a law firm. You can imagine the panic I felt both at learning my job and completing the dissertation in time. It has been 6 months since then, and now I am actually glad I have decided to delay the blogging of this enormous event as I would not have been able to do it justice, and it has given me time to fully process my experience of the conference.

So, how do I go about blogging about a conference that caters for all kinds of special libraries; from legal to forestry; from academic to food; from military to marketing; from engineering to a cop who decided to create a library in his police station (honestly, and this cop was actually at the conference!). You get the picture – the sessions were so varied and so numerous to accommodate for the extremely varied membership of the Special Libraries Association (SLA), that it took a lot of planning for me to decide which sessions to attend and to make sure I got the most out of the conference.

PizzaI think the simplest way forward will be to blog about each day – this hopefully means that I won’t forget to write about a session if it doesn’t fit neatly in to a theme, and it should also give an overview of the entirety of my Chicago experience (including eating the most amazing pizza on the planet).

I should mention that I have already written a couple of short pieces on the conference already:

Also, I would really recommend reading my fellow ECCA winner’s fantastic and entertaining pieces about the conference on their personal blogs: Simon BarronRuth JenkinsGiles Lloyd-BrownSarah Wolfenden and Anneli Sarkanen.

Award winners

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