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I Went to My First Library Conference and Didn’t Take Away What I Thought I Would

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It started rough.

I’ve written before about my ADHD and how that diagnosis changed my life. Sometimes, I let the lure of the systems I’ve set up post diagnosis lull me into a false sense of security. I applied for reimbursement with my county, which I had to do BEFORE buying anything and before the event even happens, and I arranged for school related leave. Months went by. I talked with other librarians in the county and found someone to share a hotel room with. I got emails from my boss about who was going and who wanted to have dinner when and which night. I’d completed so many steps! Then, a week before the conference, I remembered I hadn’t actually registered for the conference itself yet. No problem, right? Oh, past Nikki, how naive you were. Online registration for this conference was closed. 

Frantic best friend texting ensued (she is also a librarian). I sent an email to one of my colleagues who is on the planning committee for the conference titled “Haaaalllpppp.” Yes, I am a professional. Thankfully, she wrote me back letting me know there would be onsite registration at a higher price. Just the ADHD tax I have to pay. Plus, since I didn’t register ahead of time, I missed all the conference emails full of useful information, like the schedule and how to get a parking pass. Thankfully, my hotel roommate does not have ADHD and was also driving. She got the email. She printed the parking pass. She also packed the toothpaste, another thing I forgot. 

I tell you this to help you understand my mindset going in: frustrated with myself, stressed, and a little desperate. Registration was available onsite though, I got myself a name badge, and was finally ready to get down to business. 

The conference took place over three days. Mornings and afternoons were full of workshops presented by school librarians from all over the state. Morning sessions started at 8 a.m. and went until lunchtime, where we would eat and hear from keynote speakers. Then more afternoon sessions until about 4:30 p.m. My county then had dinners and meet-ups planned for the evenings. It was amazing, but it was also nonstop. 

 Seeing other librarians just like me present on topics they were passionate about was inspiring. These people took their time, most likely outside of work hours, to help their colleagues out of the goodness of their hearts. This shouldn’t surprise me, working in a public service job, but seeing it in action is a completely different experience than understanding it without context. 

There were sessions on literacy, diversity, collection development, inclusion, programming, digital tools and much more. One common theme I noticed throughout the workshops is that every presenter had practical actionable steps we could take to implement their ideas. This wasn’t some ideological library theory. These were how-tos and personal accounts of success. Presenters were genuinely excited about their work. 

I have pages and pages full in my notebook where I was furiously scribbling notes from the workshops I attended. It’s so interesting to see what other people are doing in their libraries. While being a school librarian is less isolating than being a teacher where you are the only adult in a sea of children, it’s still an outlier in the building. I work in the only library in my school. No other school in my county has the exact kind of demographic I do. No one else fully understands the needs of my particular students. It can be lonely, and much like teaching, you wonder if what you are doing actually makes a difference to the school. During these workshops, I saw the difference programming actually makes. I saw how our work affects the entire school culture. 

While the workshops were generally helpful, they were not the best thing I got from the conference. Making connections with other librarians far surpassed any of the prepared content. There were hundreds of us all in the same place, something I had never experienced before. I got to talk and laugh and commiserate. In teaching, the best way to motivate and discipline students is through making relationships. I know this. I have known this for some time. Yet when it comes to myself, I think I need to be a self-sufficient professional librarian machine. Just me and my co-librarian on this desolate library island with no other resources or options outside a Google search. The conference made me see it’s not true. I am part of a larger community of amazing people who are happy to help, share ideas, and brainstorm with me. 

When I went back to school the following week and realized that the library staff had been left off yet another school-wide document, it was nice to be able to remember sitting in a room with hundreds of other people, who were also probably left off their school-wide email, too. It was nice to remember that small oversight doesn’t diminish the usefulness of my work or even reflect how my school actually feels about the library. While there is still a lot of work I want to do in my library and I feel like it still has a ways to go before being on a workshop presenting level, it was comforting to remember that this is how many of the people at the conference last week started, too. Having a long way to go to get to where I want to be, doesn’t mean that I’m not walking in the right direction.