Testing the waters: Reflections for the uninitiated

by Michele Gernhardt

As a relatively nascent law librarian, I felt some intimidation over the prospect of attending an AALL Annual Meeting. The cost, time commitment and travel involved can be overwhelming for a first-time attendee. This year, the convenient location, a generous VALL grant, and a fantastic roommate provided the opportunity and incentive I needed to finally take the plunge. No longer one of the uninitiated, I hope that future first-timers will benefit from my observations and experiences.


If my experience is close to the norm (and I believe it is in this case), you’re not going to spend much time in your hotel room. I had just enough time to shower, change and grab some breakfast or a beverage before dashing off to the first item on my very full schedule each day.

Even with the assistance of AALL’s new online calendar creator, the scheduling process can be quite daunting. The final program for the 102nd AALL Annual Meeting and Conference was 80 pages long and chock-full of programming, meeting details and special event announcements. There were six different programs scheduled during each block of time, meaning it was impossible to attend more than 16% of the programs. I was dismayed at having to choose, and wondered whether I was missing out on some life-changing presentation in another meeting room.

In addition to the programming, one must also make room for chapter meetings (such as the PLL-SIS luncheon and VALL meeting) and events. As if the official AALL Annual Meeting program wasn’t enough, there’s also the deluge of post-cards, e-mails and telephone calls from vendors and library groups announcing special events, meetings and promotions. These little extras started pouring in a few weeks before the meeting and didn’t stop until after my first day in D.C.

Now that I’m on the other side of my first experience, here’s my advice regarding scheduling:
- Don’t schedule every minute. Make peace early with the fact that you can’t attend every program, meeting and special event.
- Make time for fun. You’re in a new and different place. Make sure you get to see more than just the hotel and convention center. Take a library tour, go on an organized outing or just do some sight-seeing.
- Block out a few hours (not necessarily all at once) for the exhibit hall. My biggest regret is not having any time to explore the exhibit hall. Some very generous colleagues saw to it that I didn’t go home empty-handed (thanks for the swag!), but next time I’m going to make sure that I give myself enough time for a leisurely visit.
- Volunteer. I’m especially glad that I made time to volunteer. The online volunteer sign-up form made the process quite simple, and there were a variety of volunteer opportunities to choose from. I worked at the registration desk and also helped out at the closing banquet. It felt very good to give back to AALL and my colleagues in this small way.


I must admit that I came very close to writing an article solely devoted to my culinary experience at the Annual Meeting. Wining and dining is a constant and pleasant component of the convention. You will have more lunch and dinner invitations than you can possibly oblige. I opted for the more intimate functions this year, with the exception of the closing banquet. I will definitely try the larger West and Lexis functions should I have the opportunity to attend a future Annual Meeting.


Overall, the programming at the Annual Meeting was excellent. Our colleagues imparted a great deal of knowledge utilizing a variety of presentation styles. There was an even mix of “big picture” and subject-specific programs.

I attended some wonderful “big picture” programs:
- So You Think You Can Teach: Keeping the Audience Awake and Learning Alive
- Got Ideas? Tools and Techniques to Identify, Refine and Communicate Ideas That Stick; and
- Emerging from the Cocoon: Innovative Ways to Reteach Legal Research to Externs and Summer Associates.

I also thoroughly enjoyed two subject-specific programs:
- What’s in a Name? Trademark Searching, Services and Domain Names; and
- Law Librarian: The New Private Investigator.

These programs provided me with a veritable treasure trove of information to share with my colleagues. However, the most lasting and important piece of knowledge that I gleaned from attending these programs is something very personal. I realized that “I can do it.” I can put this knowledge to use to improve myself professionally. I can provide better service to my patrons. And finally, I can now see myself standing up on the podium at some future Annual Meeting, presenting my own program.


Sharing professional experiences with colleagues in both formal and informal settings is perhaps the most significant benefit of attending an AALL Annual Meeting. It was wonderful to listen to law librarians talk about the challenges and issues that they face and realize that I shared similar concerns and experiences. Chatting with fellow law librarians at vendor-sponsored dinners and between presentations made me really feel I was a part of a professional community.

Parting Thoughts

99997.005000 EMF_US 28233313v1I left the annual meeting feeling both humbled and empowered. I am very grateful to the VALL Grant Committee for providing this excellent opportunity. If you haven’t had the chance to attend an AALL Annual Meeting, I hope you’ll jump at the next opportunity.

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