A huge conference center filled to the brim with law librarians who have literally thousands of years of experience between them and all of whom seem to know each other (and the Annual Meeting routine) can be pretty intimidating for a first time attendee. Heck, it would have been my 5th AALL Annual Meeting* and I still get intimidated. Everyone you ask has advice for the new and newer attendees on how to make the most of the precious educational, networking, and work time in those few jam packed days we have together. I asked the members of the Professional Engagement, Growth, and Advancement SIS (PEGA-SIS), many of whom are in their first few years in the profession, for the tips and tricks they use to make their conference going experience easier/better/more fun. Whether this will be your first conference or your 40th here’s hoping you find a suggestion to help make the best of Philadelphia 2015.

Pace Yourself & Prioritize:

  • No matter how much planning you do ahead of time, your schedule is going to change when you get there, and you just need to go with it because those changes can lead to some of the best learning and networking opportunities.
  • Take Breaks- even if you have to schedule them in.
  • Carve out some time every day if you can to do something non-conference-related, whether it’s some sightseeing, going to the gym, even just taking a nap.
  • Do your best to get enough sleep. You will be less tired and have more energy to explore the local area and get more out of the educational programming.
  • Don’t feel like you have to attend everything. You’ll just go home exhausted. If nothing in a time slot interests you, don’t go. Spend the time chatting with someone in the hall or grabbing a moment to yourself.
  • A one-page printout of YOUR conference schedule is extremely helpful, and can be more efficient than relying on apps or other online resources. Especially when the wifi isn’t working or your phone or tablet is dead.


  • Pay attention to the SIS, caucus, and other similar programming schedules. They tend to offer a lot of practical information, and you usually get a chance to actually talk to other librarians with similar interests, instead of just listening to a speaker.
  • Go to a program that isn’t in your area. Are you a tech services person, then check out a public services program and vice versa. In academia, go a state/court program, etc. It’s a great way to see what others in your type of library and in the profession are doing and facing. And it may be a way to find a partner for a writing project or grant project.
  • Don’t worry about hopping for program to program. It’s ok to leave in the middle (or shortly after it starts) and move on to another that interests you. It is common practice, just don’t be disruptive to the speaker, panel, or audience.
  • Attend a roundtable. They are a terrific way to hear about what your colleagues at other institutions are doing and hear different perspectives on how others handle issues you may have faced.
  • Attend poster sessions when the creators are there to tell you about their projects. Innovative things are happening everywhere and the posters are a quick and easy way to learn about new projects.
  • You’re not going to get in trouble if you skip a few sessions, and it’s perfectly ok to sleep in a little, enjoy the city, leave one session early to go check out another one, or crash a committee meeting at the last minute because you spoke with someone who made it sound interesting.
  • Plan ahead of time how you’ll be taking (and cleaning up) your notes. Old school paper and pencil is often easiest for taking notes in crowded halls but you can also use your phone or tablet and a note-taking product like OneNote, Google Keep, or Evernote for easy note taking and filing. Make sure to take a few minutes after each session/meeting to clean up your notes.

Get Involved:

  • Attending business meetings is a great way to get involved!  Your presence will be noted.
  • Volunteer to take notes at round tables and/or sit at tables in the exhibit hall for the SISs, Caucuses, and chapters you are involved with!  You can contact the organizers ahead of time to see if they need anyone.
  • Volunteer at the registration booth.  It’s a great way to meet people.
  • There is no shortage to professional development opportunities within AALL.  It doesn’t matter if this is your first job or your first year as a law librarian; if you’re enthusiastic and willing to approach people, you’ll soon have people seeking you out for publications and committee work. Even if things seem like a stretch for you, you CAN do it, so don’t be afraid to volunteer.

A (potentially) Social Network:

  • Feel like you’re all alone at an event? Look for someone else who looks the same, and say hello. They’re probably just as friendly and eager to meet new people and nervous about doing it as you are.
  • Never eat alone. Be ready to strike up a small-talk conversation when in line for food, offer some of your trail mix to whoever you're sitting next to, and invite people you've just met to lunch or dinner (or accept the invitation).
  • The nightly social events are also really important – not only do they give you a chance to wind down (and eat for free), but you meet amazing people and end up with some surprisingly close friends.
  • Don’t spend the entire meeting hanging around the folks you work with back home. You can visit with them any day of the week. Use the annual meeting to meet and network with others.
  • Don’t forget your business cards and take a moment after meeting someone to jot down how you met/what you talked about/a unique identifier about them on the back of their business card. It will help you remember all the contacts you made when you get back home.
  • You can eschew traditional business cards for social media like Facebook or LinkedIn. Apps like Evernote Hello create contact lists browsable by picture, meeting date/time, or context of encounter.

You Must Eat:

  • Eat a full breakfast, or you will not make it through the day (the hotel breakfast buffet is usually worth the insane price, but in a pinch, Denny’s will do).
  • Bring snacks. Based on your interests, and who you meet, and when events are happening, you might wind up with a break at 10:30 a.m. and then not again until 2:30. Just bring something to get you through until you can grab a real meal. (Bonus advice: don’t skip real meals.)
  • Definitely making note of when food is offered in the vendor hall during exhibit breaks and at traditional meal times.
  • The Bloomberg/BNA area has TONS of free food and coffee.  In addition to the usual unhealthy stuff you find everywhere, they also normally have bananas, apples, granola bars if you need a break from all of the conference sugar bombs.
  • Either pack a selection of treats to take along (great for saving money in airports and when you’re in a hotel room) or make sure to find the location of a local CVS/Walgreens/Aldi/etc. before you go.


  • Dress in layers. Start with a very cool layer for hot weather outside (plus sunscreen and maybe a hat), add a mid-weight layer for normal indoor temperatures, and have a warm layer ready to deploy in a frigid conference room.
  • Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to knit/crochet in sessions. We’re librarians, after all.
  • Saying “I’m sorry, I don’t make purchasing decisions in my library” will save you from a lot of long conversations in the exhibit hall.
  • Locate where the closest post office or USPS store. It’s generally cheaper to mail things home/to the office via a Flat Rate box from a real post office.
  • Bring a refillable water bottle. The conference center often has water coolers set up strategically around the venue and it is important to stay hydrated!
  • Make sure you have additional power cords/batteries or a portable charger for your electronic devices. Airports and convention centers are notorious for having limited outlets available.
  • Explore the city a little. Get out of the convention center. Go on a tour, go to a museum, try some new cuisine. It will give your mind time to process all you have learned and it will give you something to chat about when you’re in the Fastcase suite.
  • If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, you can report them. We have a Code of Conduct for all AALL meetings and events: http://www.aallnet.org/code-of-conduct.

Here are some additional resources for successful conference going experiences:

  1. Bob Berring's Rules for Surviving an AALL Convention.
  2. How to Plan for Conferences (great suggestions for presenters as well as attendees).
  3. Jason Eiseman’s 10 tips for networking at CALI, AALL and beyond.
  4. Conference & Travel Packing & Survival Tips (full of great packing suggestions).

*I’m sad to miss everyone this year but I’ll see y’all next year in Chicago!
© Jordan A. Jefferson, 2015. Coordinating Librarian for Reference Services, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School, New Haven, CT.