The best kind of overwhelming- an academic Friend’s first ALA Annual Conference

By Heather Murphy, Associate Director of Advancement for Publications and Public Affairs, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign Library  

Heather Murphy

Heather Murphy

I have been handling communica­tions efforts for the University of Illi­nois at Urbana-Champaign Library for more than six years. Lots of my library colleagues attend the ALA Annual Conference on a regular basis and I was always curious as to whether I would ever get a chance to go one day. I wanted to know…were there marketing-related sessions I could benefit from?

Shrinking budgets do not make it easy to attend everything of interest. So, earlier this year when I heard about the United for Libraries/SAGE Aca­demic Friend Conference Grant, I de­cided to apply. In April, I was excited — and honored — to learn I had been selected to receive the grant to attend the largest library conference in the world.

I was given full access to United for Libraries programs and events. I was surprised to learn that there was such a robust program revolving around Friends of the Library groups. The entire day of “Nuts and Bolts for Friends, Trustees, and Foundations” programming was excellent; I was able to absorb a great deal of information and meet others who are involved with overseeing a Friends group — or are part of one. I enjoyed hearing dif­ferent perspectives and the examples that were shared about what was happening at other libraries were truly inspiring. I was also thrilled to discover there are electronic discussion lists I can subscribe to for the different groups (Friends, Trustees, Foundations) so that I can continue learning post-conference.

In addition to the larger “Nuts and Bolts” programming, I was impressed with a smaller gathering the follow­ing day for Friends and development officers from academic libraries. This group led a focused discussion; the experience and knowledge around the table was substantial. We talked about the importance of by­laws, MOUs, gift policies, and other components of a successful Friends program. I was so energized by the discussion that I reached out to several individuals there who are lead­ing Friends groups when I returned to the office.

I am so grateful for the warm welcome and support I received from Jillian Kalonick and Beth Nawalinski from United for Libraries and Camille Gamboa from SAGE Publications. They made the entire experience mem­orable. I was invited to attend several special events, including the Gala Au­thor Tea sponsored by ReferenceUSA, and The Laugh’s On Us sponsored by SAGE (at which I was seated next to stand-up comedian and author Paula Poundstone). Much to my delight, I was able to take home signed copies of books by all of the authors and come­dians at these two events.

I knew the ALA Annual Confer­ence was big, but nothing could pre­pare me for the number of sessions offered and the sheer size of the exhibit hall. It was overwhelming, but in the very best way. I had no idea there were going to be so many authors. Getting to meet one of my favorite children’s book authors Mo Willems and Parks and Recreation actor Nick Offerman is something I won’t soon forget. Hav­ing an autographed copy of Offerman’s book, Paddle Your Own Canoe, is extra meaningful to me, as he is a Uni­versity of Illinois alumnus.

One morning I attended a session on effective library marketing with social media. I was very interested in the topic since I manage our library’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. It was valuable for me to hear what one of the top public libraries in the country is doing via social media, and how it manages an amazing amount of content.

I sat in on my first Ignite Session and found I thoroughly enjoyed this fast-paced presentation format. I was able to take back new knowledge about crowdfunding to my develop­ment office.

I thoroughly enjoyed all of the con­nections I made during the conference; there was such a sense of camaraderie. I came away with lots of new ideas… and a much heavier suitcase. I would not have been able to experience any of it without this generous funding. I am thankful to United for Libraries and SAGE for the opportunity to further my professional development.

We are now accepting applications for the 2016 United for Libraries/SAGE Academic Friend Conference Grants. Learn more here.

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