Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Caralyn Champa Reports from the 2009 SLA Conference

I’d like to thank Tanya Cothran for encouraging me to apply for the SGO’s Professional Development Funds. These funds will help defray the costs I incurred while attending the Special Libraries Association’s (SLA) Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. in June, 2009. This post is intended to share information about my experience at the SLA Conference with other MLIS students.

Attending this year’s SLA Conference was a priority for me as I am seeking employment in a federal library setting. Not only does SLA have a sub-group called the “Government Information Division,” the conference was going to take place in Washington, D.C. It seemed like a great opportunity to learn about the range of government librarians and to meet special librarians from a variety of backgrounds and specialties. I diligently reviewed the pre-conference brochure, sketched out a schedule of the sessions I especially wanted to attend, packed up comfortable yet dressy clothes and footwear, and headed to our Capital City! I hope you’ll enjoy the list I’ve created below. If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email (

Caralyn’s SLA Conference 2009 Tips, Learnings, and Resources

  • Try to attend SLA and similar conferences while you are still in graduate school because:
    • Registration fees are much lower for students, and there may be opportunities to apply for funding from the Student Governance Organization (SGO) and other student groups (
    • Having a badge that says “Graduate Student” is like having a free pass to ask anyone and everyone questions at the conference. It is a great conversation starter, and on the whole, people were interested in where I went to school, what I was focusing on in my studies, and what I thought of the conference.
  • Listen carefully during the sessions you attend and be prepared to stand up and ask a question when the presenter opens the floor to the audience.
    • It found it startling and disappointing that there was little audience engagement or participation in these Q & A sessions. Even if I was not familiar with the speakers or the topic, I tried to have a few questions ready to ask, and in the event that the room was quiet, I would stand up and ask one of them. In part, I feel this is a respectful thing to do for a speaker who has presumably put hours of effort and thought into preparing his or her presentation. If you have a question, asking it during the Q & A is simply the best way to get an answer, and by asking it in public, the other session attendees will benefit from hearing the speaker’s response. Finally, because I had asked questions at several different sessions, the speakers recognized who I was when I went up front to speak with them and to introduce myself. It is intimidating at first, but try to remember that most of the presenters are excited about their topics and genuinely want to discuss them with attendees.
  • Even though you might feel like you have to attend as many sessions as possible, take breaks and explore city where the conference is taking place.
    • Over the lunch hour on Monday, June 16, I visited the National Portrait Gallery before the afternoon sessions started. Upon entering the museum, I was delighted and surprised to find myself in front of Shepard Fairey's Barack Obama "Hope" poster. This is a hugely important and iconic work of art and I was right there, seeing it with my own eyes! In case you’d like to get a sense of what it’s like in person, here’s a link to one of the museum’s blog entries about it ( As the daughter of an art teacher, it was a delight to see the different techniques the artist used, and as a librarian-in-training, it was fascinating to see the original version of a work of art that has been at the center of a copyright controversy. Interestingly, the session I attended that afternoon was about copyright issues in today’s climate of social networking applications. One of the speakers was a lawyer from the Associated Press (AP). Why does this matter? Well, the AP and Mr. Fairey are suing each other because of the copyright issues regarding the “Hope” poster. This MSNBC article from February 2009 provides a good overview of the situation ( If you are interested in reading Mr. Fairey’s opinions about the situation, here’s a link to one of his blog postings regarding the lawsuit ( During the Q & A, one of the audience members asked the AP lawyer about this case, and she replied that she was not able to comment on it, since the case was on-going. At that point, I trotted up to the microphone and encouraged the audience (and panel members!) to take a 3-block walk to the National Portrait Gallery in order to see this work of art in person so they could develop their own opinions on the matter. It was a nervous-making moment for me, but it felt important to tell other conference attendees about this amazing resource just down the street.
  • Access the conference or association’s web site every few days after the conference ends in order to review the presentation slides and handouts that may have been uploaded.
    • At SLA 2009, there were often more than 15 concurrent sessions at each time slot. I don’t know about you, but I can’t be in two places at once, much less 15 places at once! Therefore, I am glad that the SLA has a web page where they have the resources they have received from conference speakers. I have accessed this page ( several times since the conference, and it has been fun to review slides from presentations I attended, and it has been beneficial to have access to resources from sessions I couldn’t attend. I encourage you to take a look at this link, as you will likely find a topic of interest to you.

When I came back from this conference, I was excited about what I had learned and who I had met, disappointed about a few of the sessions, thrilled about having spent time in D.C., and exhausted from several days of intense learning, socializing, and site-seeing. Now that several weeks have passed, I can appreciate the value of having attended SLA 2009, and I encourage you to consider attending a conference like this while you are still at St. Kate’s. Happy Learning!

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