As someone new to Chicago and new to law librarianship, I was somewhat surprised to find myself, a mere two months into my new job as a reference librarian, jetting back to my home state of Pennsylvania to participate in the 2015 AALL conference.
It would be my very first conference, and I had no idea what to expect—of the programs and workshops or of my fellow librarians. In library school, we had felt the effects of an ongoing tension between researchers and practitioners. We had all been frustrated by endless discussions of the true meaning of information and were tired of climbing the data-knowledge-wisdom pyramid. A classmate had gone to a conference in Vancouver and returned bearing tales of irate practitioners berating researchers over the irresponsibility of small sample sizes. I wondered if those debates were what awaited me in Philadelphia.
My first stop was the Conference of Newer Law Librarians (CONELL). There, at eight in the morning, I met my cohort: numerous academic librarians, private law librarians, government librarians, current students, and recent grads, all of us new to the profession, all of us bursting with enthusiasm. We swapped cards, shared experiences, and confided in one another our confusion about the rainbow of available ribbons. Speed networking was chaos—so many faces and rapid-fire questions and answers, punctuated by the gentle sound of an organizer’s train whistle. I was eager to know how my fellow librarians had gotten to where they were, whether or not they had planned to specialize. Some seemed to have moved in a straight line: They had always known they wanted to be librarians, or more specifically, law librarians; for some, librarianship even ran in the family. Others, like me, had taken more meandering routes, moving from subject to subject or even from one end of the country to the other. We were united in our curiosity about one another. Wandering from booth to booth in the Special Interest Sections Marketplace, I played the CALL member guessing game and greeted a vibrantly colored, life-sized cardboard cutout of Francis Bacon at the Legal History & Rare Books table.
On Sunday, we all gazed starry-eyed at Terry Gross, our keynote speaker, whose talk highlighted the difficulties and splendid rewards of good research and good communication. Perhaps more seasoned librarians recognized elements of their professional lives in her stories about her interviews with Hillary Clinton, Gene Simmons, or Maurice Sendak. (One can only hope that Gene Simmons-esque reference interviews are few and far between.)
Then it was on to the programs—the seminars, panels, lunches, talks, tutorials, and deep dives. I attended fascinating sessions about cross-border arbitration, legal project management, career development, and competitive intelligence (a jovial and entertaining panel delivered in the style of a late-night gameshow) and coding. As a newcomer to the field, I was interested in learning more about best practices in each of these areas: how to interact with clients, how to package and deliver information effectively and in a visually appealing way, how to navigate the increasing number of resources at our disposal to find the best possible information.
It was a whirlwind weekend, the speed and saturation of the experience intensified by a delirium caused by airport delays and an unexpected red-eye flight. The conference was imbued with a spirit of collaboration and exploration. My colleagues, who had attended the Private Law Librarians & Information Professionals SIS’s Innovation Summit along with numerous other sessions, left the conference with their heads and notebooks full of ideas for how we could market and expand our services. A month after AALL, we’re still talking about some of the sessions and how we can continue to implement the ideas we gathered in our day-to-day practices and long-term projects.
As for me, I returned to Chicago both energized and reassured. I’d met so many different kinds of librarians and learned so much about their roles, their projects, and their plans for the future of their libraries, no matter the sector. Together, we are in the midst of great change, facing immense uncertainty and incredible opportunity. After AALL, whatever the future holds for our profession, I know I’m in good company.