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SLA 2011: First reflections

Love Park by NiteLynx, on FlickrI got back yesterday from the SLA conference in Philadelphia, and am absolutely buzzing with ideas and inspiration! I’m going to be blogging more about the actual sessions I attended, but I thought I’d jot down a few first impressions while everything is still fresh in my mind.

1. 2011 was the year of gadgets and Twitter!

I was lucky enough to attend a previous SLA conference, in 2009, and it was really interesting to see how things had changed in the past two years. I can remember in 2009 being in the minority by having a smartphone and live tweeting sessions. This year, the only people I could see around me without smartphones had iPads instead! As a sidenote, I have serious gadget envy now – I hadn’t been that bothered about getting an iPad (or other tablet – I quite like the Android Galaxy tablets too!) until I saw so many of them in action this week. I’m actually seriously considering selling my laptop (which I hardly use as it’s so heavy and bulky) and getting a tablet instead.

There was also significantly more tweeting going on – perhaps partly because so many more people had smartphones or tablets, and partly because Twitter is much more highly used than it was in 2009. At my last SLA I lost count of the number of conversations I had with people who wanted me to explain what this Twitter thing they kept hearing about was. This year, I lost count of the number of people who I spoke to for a few minutes and realised we had already had conversations on Twitter!

It was interesting to see how frequently the @SLA2011 retweeter account fell over due to too many tweets! I must admit, I was slightly relieved when this happened – I was following the hashtag using an extra column on Tweetdeck, so when the retweeter was up it just flooded that column with dozens of tweets I’d already seen. With all the greatest respect to @yankeeincanada for setting the retweeter up, I wonder if that tool has served its purpose and should perhaps be retired for next year. It was incredibly useful in 2009, but I think that now there are a) so many more people tweeting and b) many more ways of following hashtags than there were two years ago, the retweeter probably isn’t such a useful tool any more.

2. Conferences are easier if you pace yourself

I attended significantly fewer sessions this year than I did in 2009. When I attended my first SLA, I was determined not to miss anything – partly because I was there as an ECCA winner and felt I owed it to my sponsors to make sure I was as present and visible as possible, and partly because there were so many amazing sessions on that I couldn’t really find a time when there was something on that I wouldn’t mind missing!

I was a lot easier on myself this year. Not that my two reasons for pushing myself so hard in 2009 didn’t still apply – I was sponsored by the Legal division this year, and wanted to do as much as possible to repay their investment in me, so to speak, and there were certainly enough interesting sessions that I could have filled my entire schedule – but I just didn’t want to burn myself out this year. I remember very well how exhausted I was after conference in 2009, and how little time and energy I’d seemed to have for actual networking. I think I got the balance much better this year – knowing when to go back to the hotel for a snooze, or just get out of the conference centre and go for a walk, allowed me to have much more energy to pay attention to the sessions I did attend, and also have time to spare for networking.

That’s not to say that I don’t regret missing out on some sessions I had wanted to attend – Mary Ellen Bates’ session on elevator speeches in particular springs to mind – but part of what is so great about SLA is how networked the conference is. I could scroll through the tweets from the sessions I was missing, in many cases people’s presentations are already on SlideShare so I can follow them up in my own time, and I can also be reasonably confident that if anything really groundbreaking was discussed in any of the sessions I missed then they will certainly be blogged about somewhere!

3. The Legal Division is made of awesome!

This is the first year I have been a member of the Legal division, and I am so glad I joined! In 2009 I had just got my first post-library school job (despite still having a dissertation to write!) at a law firm, and I knew my interests lay in law librarianship, but I don’t think I attended any of the Legal Division’s sessions. This may be partly because on the whole I spent more time in professional and personal development-type sessions rather than anything particularly practical, but also I think I probably had in mind that they wouldn’t be too relevant to me. I know that US and UK law and law firms are very different, so I wasn’t sure how applicable many of the topics discussed would be to the job I was about to start. I was also a little concerned that the fact that at the time I had no experience of law firm work at all, so didn’t know if I’d even really follow the legal division’s sessions.

I’m happy to say that I’ve been proved wrong on my previous ideas, and that I’ve met some fantastic people in the process! Although one of the legal divisions’ sessions I went to, on cost recovery, was of limited application within a UK law firm (we handle charging and cost recovery very differently), I actually learned a lot from the session. Despite it not being immediately applicable to my work, it was incredibly interesting to hear about and in the process learn a little about the culture of US law firms; and the session also contained plenty of practical tips on cost reduction that I’m pretty sure would be useful to any corporate library.

I was also delighted to meet so many friendly, helpful and interesting legal division members. Everyone was so welcoming to me as a new division member and as a travel grant winner, and I’m really looking forward to getting more involved in the division and keeping in touch with the great people I met.

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2 comments on “SLA 2011: First reflections

  1. I’d second your observation about the retweeter. If you’re following the hashtag, it’s really just unnecessary duplication and noise. I tried just looking at @sla2011, but because of the high volume on peak conference days, the feed retweeted through that profile just couldn’t keep up.

  2. Laura – I too was amazed how many people had smartphones & tablets. For the first time ever in my experience at conference there weren’t any queues (lines) for the cyber cafe.
    I’d echo Your comments about pacing yourself. My first few conferences I tried to attend everything, but now know I have to pace myself.

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