Over 500 library professionals gathered in Portsmouth for the VLA annual conference held on October 27th-28th. The theme of this year’s conference was “Nature is a Language, Can You Read? Literacy and Sustainability in Virginia’s Libraries.” The conference was hosted at the Renaissance Hotel, located right on the waterfront. Thursday was the perfect day to hang out near the water or sight-see between attending conference programs and comparing notes with other librarians across the state. In contrast, Friday was chillier, but there was still much to be learned at the sessions held that day.
I traveled down to Portsmouth with two of my co-workers on late Wednesday afternoon; we stayed in a comfortable hotel within walking distance of the conference. Meeting over breakfast the next morning, the three of us decided our battle plans for the day. I was still undecided because there were so many programs to choose from that were held in the same time slot—should I go to “The Legally Literate Librarian,” “Gone with the Wind: The Literary Legal Complexities of a Bestselling Novel,” “Interviewing: Tips from the Other Side of the Table,” or “Urban Lit for Teens?” I ended up going to the session about Gone with the Wind but it was a pretty difficult decision to make.
Speakers at the opening session included Matt Todd, the President of VLA and Kenneth I. Wright, the mayor of Portsmouth. In her keynote speech, “Making the Invisible Visible,” Rebecca Kamen discussed how various scientific concepts shaped and influenced her work and the pivotal role that libraries played in her career.
I attended a session, “Neither a Borrower nor a Lender Be: E-Readers and Library Policy,” which discussed the use of e-books and e-readers in public and academic libraries. The presenters found that public library patrons are the highest users of e-books whereas students and other academic library patrons did not borrow e-books as often. I find the latter to be true especially in my community college library. Students almost always prefer to have a physical copy of their textbooks as opposed to an e-text. The presenters from Longwood and Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library mentioned tactics they use to promote e-books among their patrons.
Another useful session was “Workshops for the Common Good: Developing and Implementing a Successful Learning Commons Academic Skills Workshop Series.” Jamie Price and Emily Moore, both from the Jefferson College of Health Sciences, discussed how they created a series of workshops which addressed success skills for college students. Topics for the workshop programs include time management, test-taking, and resume-writing skills.
The highlight of Thursday was attending the VLA New Members Roundtable social and the All Conference social later that evening. The NMRT social had an excellent turnout of new library professionals who were very friendly and engaging. I spoke with one librarian and it turned out that we had a couple of mutual acquaintances who worked at the same library! I ran into her again at the All Conference social and we had a good time during karaoke and dancing! My personal favorite—the guy who did a hilarious rendition of Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”
My co-workers and I planned to leave early on Friday. Hoping to see a couple more places in Portsmouth, we decided to visit the public library only to find that it was closed for renovation. A nearby museum was closed—permanently. I missed the second general session and went to one of the mid-morning sessions instead. The highlight of Friday?–catching up with Megan Hodge over lunch at Cafe Europa! The last session that I attended was a must for anyone who teaches instruction or works with library technology. The presenters discussed free technology tools such as Linoit (a website for virtual sticky notes), Bubbl.us, and Mindomo (both online mind-mapping sites). Although we left immediately after the session, I knew that I would have much to talk about to my other co-workers who were unable to attend the conference.
VLA gave me a chance to meet and talk to library professionals across the state and discover what everyone else is doing in their libraries and perhaps try these new ideas out in my library. Conferencing is more than just attending sessions and taking notes. I once read somewhere that some people arrive at the point where they go to conferences just to network or to catch up with colleagues. I’m not quite there yet (I only graduated from library school last May!), but I found that I had plenty of chances to learn something new and to chat with old friends!