AALL Annual Meeting and Conference 2015: A Newbie’s Journey

Photo of Clanitra Stewart-DB-14-web
Clanitra Stewart Nejdl

Being a novice at something can create at least some degree of apprehension. Someone who, for example, has never piloted a plane would probably be pretty nervous about his or her first takeoff. And it goes without saying that a singer’s first concert ever likely creates at least one or two beads of sweat. In my case, apprehension hit me while preparing to attend my first American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Annual Meeting and Conference.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. I was extremely excited about the prospect of meeting and learning from so many of the knowledgeable and talented veteran law librarians I read about in publications like AALL Spectrum and Law Library Journal. My wonderful colleagues only heightened that excitement when they warmly shared with me their stories of AALL conferences past.

My apprehension simply came from the prospect of interacting with so many of them in such a short amount of time while being, to be blunt, a bit of an introvert. Additionally, the 2014-2015 academic year was my first as a law librarian, so I admit that being relatively new to the field made me feel somewhat intimidated. Stated plainly, my pre-Meeting mindset could be summed up by a rather simple formula: Introversion + Intimidation – Experience = Plain Old Apprehension.

Fortunately, I have never been one to let my fears hold me back. So, on July 17, 2015, I set off from DeKalb, IL for Philadelphia, PA with a small amount of luggage and a very full itinerary. As part of my planning for the Annual Meeting, I had not only consulted my colleagues, but also read several columns and tips from former Annual Meeting neophytes. I knew from this collective wisdom that my best bet for a successful first Annual Meeting was to attend CONELL, to select conference sessions carefully, to pace myself, and to take some time to enjoy what Philadelphia has to offer its visitors. Over four days, I followed this advice carefully. As a result, there were quite a few parts of my first Annual Meeting that I will never forget.


By far, the highlight of my Annual Meeting experience was participating in CONELL. CONELL Committee Chair Emily Janoski-Haehlen and her dedicated team of volunteers created a fun and educational environment in which we newer law librarians could meet the AALL President and Executive Board, learn about publishing opportunities in the AALL Spectrum and the Law Library Journal, consider leadership and mentorship possibilities, discover AALL Special Interest Sections and Caucuses to join, and get to know each other through quick speed networking activities. A few of us even got the rare opportunity to meet a couple of very famous prairie dogs.

After the morning sessions concluded, the “CONELL Class of 2015” gathered for lunch and then ventured into the city for the Colonial Philadelphia Experience tour. For an event that lasted only one day, CONELL provided a surprising number of notable experiences.

Educational Programs

One drawback of any professional conference is that no attendee can attend all of the educational programs available. This was definitely the case at the 2015 Annual Meeting. Each day provided several hours of timely and relevant educational programs that covered diverse topics including cataloging, library management, collection development, reference and research services, and legal research instruction.

Unfortunately, many of my own personal “must attend” programs were scheduled at the same time. Although it was difficult to decide, I opted to attend the one educational program in each time slot that seemed the most critical to attend in person. However, my disappointment at being unable to attend the conflicting programs was tempered by the knowledge that I could virtually attend them later by listening to the AALL 2015 session recordings (available at http://www.aallnet.org/conference/education/2015recordings).

The Exhibit Hall

To be sure, the most intense part of my Annual Meeting experience was visiting the Exhibit Hall of the Philadelphia Convention Center. In the Exhibit Hall, a seemingly countless number of vendors showcased their legal information products and services while giving away everything from pens and lanyards to iPads and gift cards.

My plan had been to visit the limited number of vendors I was familiar with to learn about new developments in their products, and then to broaden my knowledge base by visiting a few unfamiliar vendors. However, upon entering the Exhibit Hall, I quickly found myself caught in thrall of unique displays, comfy couches, multiple-part presentations, and an adorable giant cheetah.

Over the course of the four days, I spent each break between educational programs drifting from booth to booth, eyes glazed, and bag growing heavier with law librarian “swag.” By the end of the Annual Meeting, I had seen numerous product demos, learned about many types of legal information services, and gathered more pens, stress balls, magnets, and flash drives than I could reasonably hope to use in the entirety of my career.

Philadelphia Sights and Cuisine

In those very few hours in which Annual Meeting activities and events were not scheduled, I forced myself to leave the comfort of the air-conditioned hotel to experience some of the city. Bus tours were readily available outside of the hotel, and my husband and I took the opportunity to see the city from a double-decker bus.

Quick stops allowed us to run up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art à la Rocky Balboa, photograph a cast of Rodin’s The Thinker, see Benjamin Franklin’s grave, and gaze out onto the Delaware River via Penn’s Landing. Adding to the delights offered by the city, local venues like Reading Terminal Market and Campo’s Deli provided a variety of delicious fare including Philly cheesesteaks, Soul food, gourmet candy, and crêpes. To my surprise, there was even a Maggiano’s Little Italy across the street from the hotel!

Needless to say, my original apprehension was unwarranted. The 2015 AALL Annual Meeting and Conference allowed me to meet many welcoming and kind law librarians, as well as learn much more about the nuts and bolts of our profession. If every Annual Meeting is as wonderful as this one, then I definitely can’t wait for AALL 2016 in Chicago.