3 May 2013

On the importance of showing up- thoughts before the 2013 MLA conference

Author: krb3k | Filed under: conferences

The 2013 Medical Library Association conference is upon us!

Some of us have already arrived in Boston in anticipation of taking and teaching Continuing Education classes, while the rest will trickle in today and tomorrow. For those of you who are already there and are so inclined, the Drinking Special Interest Group is meeting tonight! On Saturday night, the MLA 2013 conference bloggers are meeting up for dinner/drinks at Sam’s, and of course there’s the vendor party at the Children’s Museum from 8PM-midnight. The conference proper, with its panel discussions, paper presentations, and poster sessions begins on Sunday.

Last year I attended my very first MLA conference in Seattle, and it’s that experience that has me really looking forward to this one. I wasn’t as connected to the #medlibs Twitter community last year as I am now, but there were a few people (Heather Holmes, Teresa Knott, Nikki Detmar, and Michelle Kraft) with whom I’d interacted and the conference gave me the opportunity to meet them in person. Then there were the people whom I met for the first time at the conference: Antonio DeRosa, Laura McLellan, Kenny Nero (well, we’d met once, but it didn’t count ;) ), and Alisha Miles). We all bonded over our vegetarianism, sharing a cab to a highly-rated vegetarian restaurant in a different part of Seattle. Later, deRosa and I would accidentally stumble through a rift in the time/space continuum… but that’s a story for another day! The point is that we met as strangers and parted as friends- it sounds like the most annoying of cliches, but it’s true.

And I knew that would be the case. Of course I didn’t know the specifics of who/when/where, but a career of conference-going has taught me that I will always meet at least one person with whom I click. Though some find this difficult to believe, I’m an introvert- a solid INFJ in the Meyers-Briggs worldview- which means (among other things) that large crowds drain me. As a matter of fact, the dislike of large crowds of strangers is how I met deRosa and Kenny :) I attended the first-timer breakfast and chose to sit at an empty table that was so far away from the populated part of the ballroom that it might as well have been in different part of the hotel. Eventually deRosa, and later Kenny, asked if they could sit at my table. We all bonded over the fact that we were trying to avoid the crowds and, in avoiding the crowds, established a small group in which we felt comfortable. I met Laura after Gabe Rios finished handing us our collective posteriors lead us in a truly inspirational kickboxing class at the YMCA. Laura and I initially bonded over Star Trek and went on to discover that we are truly kindred spirits.

And that, dear reader, is why I forced myself onto the plane in Charlottesville (Yes, forced. I developed an irrational fear of flying after my son was born- kind of ridiculous for a woman who’s flown to some pretty distant parts of the globe, but I guess that the whole not-making-sense thing is what characterizes it asĀ irrational fear. Anyway, the point is that I cried and snuffled and hiccuped all the way from Charlottesville to Chicago). I did it because I knew that an enriching experience, full of professional knowledge and partnership, awaited me. I knew the value of meeting with people in person: it solidifies those online relationships and strengthens the connections with people that we only get to see once per year. Plus, the logical part of my brain wouldn’t stop haranguing me about the ridiculousness of my behavior. The primitive part of my brain tried clubbing Logic over the head, but the Vulcan way is very strong with me so Logic won the day.

I know that, with all of the wonderful technology available to us, it is tempting for some of Those Who Hold the Purse Strings to say, “You don’t need to physically travel to that conference”. They couldn’t be more wrong. Meeting in person and forging those connections ultimately strengthens our profession (and how lucky am I to work in an environment where the Administration completely gets this?). Quick! Raise your hand if you enjoy cold calling people! Anyone? Yeah, me, neither. However, as I grow my professional network, cold calls (or emails) become less necessary because the more people I get to know, the more people that I can call on when I have a question. I wouldn’t hesitate to call or email any of the folks mentioned in this post because I’ve met them. I know that, not only are they genuinely nice people who are happy to help out colleagues, but they are folks who, to paraphrase Zoolander, know stuff good. I know who is interested in what and, as a result, who is likely to have specialized knowledge about a particular topic. In short, I have a knowledge pool composed of about a dozen folks (and growing) all around the country whom I can call up to pick their brains. It’s kind of like a benevolent, non-invasive form of the Borg; like, assimilation is TOTALLY optional ;)

So, there you have it. That’s why I pack my bags (and my issues) and strike out to conferences. Only these days, whenever possible, I strike out on trains.

See you in Boston!