For my first of the Hack Library School DITL post, I’m going to travel back in time a bit to talk about the Music Library Association Conference in San Jose, CA (mmmm sun) from which I just got back. It was my first time attending a national conference, though I’ve been to several state and regional library conferences. I was fortunate to be a winner of the Kevin Freeman Travel Grant, which allowed me to afford the cost of attending. Here are my general thoughts and impressions and some conference attending advice.
Conferences are kind of strange things, when you think about them. It’s this gathering of a bunch of people within a single profession who all want to both share and show off, build connections and make fun of each other, agree and disagree with people of varying degrees of acquaintance all in a hotel in a strange city. Every time I attend a conference I find myself remembering my home economics (is that even a thing still?) teacher promising us that someday we would be glad she’d made us learn which of the forks at a formal dinner plate setting was used for what, and wishing we still recognized the delicate art of polite conversation with almost strangers and had some forum in which to learn how to extract yourself from a boring/ignorant/infuriating conversation without pissing off the big wig you somehow ended up talking to. Not that the latter happened to me at this conference, but trying to make intelligent conversation with people whose articles I referenced in my grad school papers always makes me feel like a downtstairs servant in Downton Abbey sitting at tea with the Dowager Countess. In any case, I think the only way to feel more comfortable at conferences is to go to conferences.
If at all possible, go to conferences where you know at least one other human being.
I feel pretty lucky in this respect because in addition to learning about music library related things and meeting a bunch of new people, I got to hang out with my friend Anya who interned with me at Interlochen Center for the Arts. After a brief fight with snow, which resulted in my actually sprinting across O’Hare airport to catch my connecting flight,
I put in my headphones and read Maureen Johnson’s The Madness Underneath for the four hour plane ride to California. Upon landing in San Jose (sunny and 70 degrees in February. Just sayin) our first order of business was to eat at Anya’s favorite Cali restaurant. Priorities, people. We haz them. Then we found the Air BnB where we were staying. This was a new concept to me. This guy basically rented us his apartment for 5 days. It was much cheaper than the conference hotel, and it was really nice to walk away from the craziness at the end of the day. I highly recommend it. We had a New Members reception, where we all were awkward together, ate Italian food, and had people tell us about ways to get involved and some of the best resources the conference had to offer. Then there was a reception with wine to mingle and look at the exhibits. This is one of those weird student things—there isn’t much point to the exibits when you don’t have a job, but sometimes they give away pens, so that’s a bonus.
There were some interesting sessions, but one thing I’ve noticed about being a student is that we are getting all the latest theory, the most recent research every day, so the sessions tend to not seem very groundbreaking to me. Yup—Youtube is a thing and live-action tutorials are going to get used more than a long text page of instructions. Thanks for the heads up. No- most library school programs don’t include much in music library education, so get in contact with your music librarian, try to pivot your paper topics to it and attend conferences. Check, thanks, that’s useful. It’s just incredibly frustrating to be watching people read word for word from a piece of paper at a lightening speed in a bundle of evident nerves describe to me how to best perform at an interview. Granted I’m the queen of cynical, but I generally come out of all conferences feeling ridiculously confident about my abilities to do pretty much any of the jobs and knowing that the likelihood of being hired for one within 6 months of graduating is quite small. It’s disheartening.
But, lets be real, the sessions are only part of why I went to MLA, and definitely not the biggest part. I went to meet people. In the grown-up professional world, this is called networking. *insert ironic quote marks here* I met a group of fellow Library students through the MLA Student Group (which I highly recommend to any libstudent interested in music librarianship) all of whom where cool and several of whom are probably going to be friends of mine. We talked about the ways we adapt our programs to suit our needs and laughed at really lame music jokes.
How Beethoven’s stuff is all kept at SJSU because he’s an alum, and how John Cage’s hair is on display at the museum, (can’t you see it? It’s in the empty display case). We vented our frustrations at how we have all these awesome skills and there are so few job openings for entry level positions. We ate Mexican food. And Pizza. And Bubble Tea. And beer. (like I said, priorities) While this may seem like a waste of my time, it wasn’t. I’ve had a lot of people who have been in the profession for years, decades even, say that there are people they met at their first MLA conference that have been friends ever since. They say they’ve kept in contact across the country from different institutions for all the years that they’ve been friends. So as I sat in the sunshine discussing why we hate stupid cutesy songs about fundraising performed to the tune of Oklahoma asking us to contribute to the organization and how this is why no one in the corporate world takes librarians seriously, I thought someday I might write an article or book with one of these people. Someday, I might serve on a committee with these people. Someday one of us could lead this organization. And that is an encouraging thought.
I was also fortunate to know some non-student type people at this conference. Two of the librarians from Interlochen were also there. We had a little Interlochen reunion dinner with the librarians and all the former interns. They were happy to introduce us to their friends from library school and elsewhere in the music library world.
This led to an entertaining evening where we decided to form a new branch of MLA and call it the Margarita Library Association. As professional librarians actively working in the field, with whom I now have shared margaritas and so therefore we are kind of, like, friends-ish, I felt I could ask questions and get real world answers. In case you are wondering, real world answers are based in practical reality, as opposed to Library school answers, which are based on some kind of utopia. I’m pretty sure this is what my boss meant when she advised me to spend a lot of the conference at the bar. Which is the other awesome aspect of this experience. I’ll have to have a whole separate post sometime to talk about how awesome my boss is, but let me tell you briefly that Ruthann McTyre is what is known by my people as The Shit. She’s great. She’s been incredibly supportive to me and generally totally awesome. I feel very lucky for the chance to work with her and be mentored by her. She introduced me to her friends, talked up my skills and was generous in her praise. Like I said, these situations make me feel a bit like Daisy in the Dowager’s presence, but I think I did okay, asked intelligent questions and looked like I had some vague idea of how to behave myself professionally. I don’t expect to be remembered by many people, but maybe they’ll have a small memory of the short red-head in a tie that studied with Ruthann.
The conference ended with a banquet; the student group snagged our own table.This was when I silently thanked my home ec teacher, Titanic and the Samantha books from American Girl for teaching me which fork to use for what.
I was very aware that I slouch too much, but I looked pretty sharp in my dress shirt, vest and tie if I do say so myself. Banquets are a time to celebrate the profession in general and single a few people out for big accomplishments. It’s hard to attend this kind of thing without feeling like you’re part of something. Part of a group that understands each other in a way no one else does. Part of a community that has its own language and own humor. That shares a love for books and music. We’re not just regularly nerdy, we are, like super nerdy. And above everything else we genuinely want to make the world a bigger better place. I clapped proudly when Ruthann was presented with a Thanks-for-being-generally-awesome-and-also-making-MLA-the-US-branch-of-IAML award, and genuinely humbly accepted applause when I was announced as one of the winners of the Freeman Scholar award. For a few minutes there I could get caught up in the feelings. It made me want to go back out into the world and do good, like Mr. Feeney says.
I have no idea where the world and the field will take my new friends or me in the next few months, years or decades. But its nice to know that we’ll always have MLA San Jose 2013.