Making the Most of Your Professional Conference

SLC editors at ALA

With OELMA and AASL conferences just around the corner, October 18-20 and November 8-11 respectively, and ALA’s midwinter conference close on their heels in February, it’s time to think about how you can make the most of your conferences. At these conferences, you meet a lot of people, learn about exciting developments in library land, and come back exhilarated, ready to try those new ideas and excited about all the new contacts and friends you have made. But maybe you’re also just a bit overwhelmed and your notes on the presentations you attended don’t contain quite as much information as you thought they did, and your administrator is asking you to share what you learned and you know this is a great opportunity to advocate for your library by sharing some of those great ideas but now you’re not exactly sure how to cull through all those ideas so that you’re sure you’re sharing the most important ones. What’s a librarian to do?

For starters, before you head off to that conference, read the following article by Stony Evans, where you’ll find some great tips on how to get the most out of your conferences.


Advocacy in Reach. Summer Conference Getaway

Summer is quickly approaching and, while we must all disconnect and rest, it is also of paramount importance that we seek ways to rejuvenate and grow during our summer break. I encourage you to consider the significance of attending professional library and/or technology conferences during your summer time off. This practice can be an important advocacy action for you and your school library program.

The Value of Professional Conferences

There are many reasons why we should attend conferences: exposure to new books, authors, and technology; learning fresh approaches to our library media practices; and (for me, one of the most important benefits) the face-to-face networking. Librarians often work in isolation, and it is greatly beneficial to connect with other professionals in our field. This can also lead to powerful collaboration programs. One of my colleagues and I have connected at conferences for years. Through this professional relationship, we have developed numerous annual programming sessions to connect our libraries and students via Google Hangouts.

Consider inviting your administrators to attend a library or technology conference with you. Many administrators do not fully comprehend the role of the teacher librarian in the learning community and attending a conference might help them better understand what you do in your daily tasks. It may also help them view your position as one of greater impact in the building. Having time away from school for fellowship and learning with administrators can be a great investment for everyone involved.

Conference Tips

When I attended conferences, I would always come away overwhelmed with information overload, even more so at a national conference. Years ago, however, it was recommended that I should focus on three big takeaways. This has been an excellent practice; I take notes on everything but only focus on three concepts or ideas to bring back to the learning community.

For instance, last summer I attended the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert US Forum in Denver, Colorado. I also attended the DigitalEdAlliance Midsouth Summit in Trumann, Arkansas. Both conferences were just a few weeks apart. Between the two of these conferences, three big items stood out that I knew would have great relevance to our learning community.

First, Minecraft was very interesting as a means of engaging students with gaming and project-based learning in the classroom. Next, there were presentations on Breakout EDU at both conferences. The Breakout sessions revealed powerful problem-solving scenarios for students. Finally, HyperDocs looked like a great way to engage learners with their devices. After sharing this with my administrators, they provided ways for me to present these tools to students and teachers prior to school’s starting. There were many more tools and ideas presented at both conferences, but I could only process these three big concepts to share effectively.

If you are new to national professional development meetings, I also recommend reading conference programs carefully to find just what you need or what sparks your interests. When attending major conferences, it is advisable to have several backup choices during breakout session time slots since popular sessions will fill up fast.

Promote and Share What You Learn

Teacher librarians are in a position to impact their entire learning community with professional development offerings. Consider sharing what you learn immediately through social media and blogging. I have sent out personal emails to teachers and administrators during conference sessions (Sample Email). Imagine how this kind of personalized service might impact a teacher. More importantly, how might an administrator or school board member view you if they receive an email briefly outlining what you have learned along with a note thanking them for investing in your professional development? If you also share how you plan to share these skills with teachers and students, they begin to get an immediate return on their investment.

It takes little time to share these thoughts and ideas. Post to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Present an overview at a school board meeting. Share the new learning and concepts with teachers and students through lunch programs, inviting teachers to the library during their preparation period, classroom visits, and after-school professional development sessions. Consider making short instructional videos to share with teachers. You might even think about having students help you create such products. Start planning to attend a summer professional development conference today!

Read More about Sharing Your Learning Post-Conference

Summer School Library Adventures (Minecraft and HyperDocs)

Breaking Out of Normal Professional Development

Our First Student-Led Breakout EDU

(Originally published in School Library Connection, May 2017.)

Additional Resources for SLC subscribers

Presenting at a conference? Have you considered badging?

Badging a Conference by Kristin Fontichiaro & the Michigan Maker Team

A Conference, A Session, A Badge, Oh My! by Sue Subel and Susan D. Yutzey


Stony Evans, MS, is a teacher librarian at Lakeside High School in Hot Springs, AR. He earned his master’s in library media and information technologies from the University of Central Arkansas. He was selected as AAIM Library Media Specialist of the Year in 2013. Visit his blog at, email him at, or follow him on Twitter @stony12270.

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