Building Relationships Conference Style

In a few days, I will be in one of my happiest places, the National AASL Conference. I have been incredibly fortunate to be able to attend multiple AASL conferences with my first being 10 years ago in Hartford, CT. There truly is something magical about being surrounded by people who understand you. Where every session, vendor, and hallway conversation is focused on the job you do every day!

For so many of us, we are the only one in our buildings, and sometimes our districts, who are school librarians. This means that we often have to seek out our own professional development to continue learning and growing as professionals. So, when we have the opportunity to attend an in person or virtual event focused on school librarianship, we often jump at the opportunity.

While connecting with vendors and attending sessions can lead us to better support our school communities, sometimes the conversations with fellow attendees are just as powerful. The connections we make along the way can lead to lasting relationships that enrich our professional, and sometimes personal, lives.

If you are attending AASL or another school library event this year, go with the goal in mind of also building relationships with colleagues you have never met that may develop into your “conference buddies” or one of your go-to friends for questions or cute cat pictures.

Many years ago, I had the great fortune of sitting next to someone on a bus that was transporting us from the hotel to the venue, and we started talking. Then, our paths kept crossing at different library events. Melissa Thom has been my conference buddy for a long time. We’d connect about our work in our schools and state chapters, and we even bonded over having the same cool shoes. We are no longer just conference buddies, we are friends.

A few years ago, our state school library association invited Amanda Jones as a featured speaker. We had crossed paths a few times on Twitter, but we didn’t really know each other. Throughout the course of the conference, we got to know each other a bit more, and we explored my local zoo before she left town. Our Twitter acquaintanceship developed into a true friendship because of that event, and we are always thrilled when we find out we will be in the same place at the same time. We also send each other cute pictures of our cats when we need a pick-me-up.

Courtney’s cat Momo                      Courtney’s cat Pepper                Amanda’s cat Juno

Not everyone you meet at a conference is going to become your close friend, but you will develop relationships with people you’ve never met or that you don’t communicate with regularly. One of my favorite things about attending our state conferences with a school library focus is that I get to see my school library peeps. While our lives are busy, and we may only connect once or twice a year, I still gain so much from seeing these wonderful people and hearing about their school library lives.

Here are just a few tips to get to know people when attending a conference:

  1. Remember, school librarians are some of the nicest people around. Chances are, if you say “Hi”, you’ll get a “Hi” in return (at the very least).
  2. Say hello and introduce yourself to people. If you are waiting in line in the exhibit hall or for a conference session to start, say “Hi” to the people around you. Introduce yourself and ask the person you met where they library, what they are looking forward to, or what great stuff they’ve been to already.
  3. If you are traveling with friends and run into other people you know, make introductions. Channel your inner Ted Lasso and say what you know about each of them and say, “Congrats you both just met a cool person.”
  4. Enjoy the fact that everyone has to wear a name tag! My brain recognizes faces, but if they are out of context, sometimes I need a little help to connect to names and other general details.
  5. Don’t be afraid to go up to someone you recognize. Say, “Hi! I think I’ve met you before or I recognize you from social media. I just wanted to introduce myself and see how your conference is going.”
  6. Exchange your information with your new school library peeps! Make sure you can reconnect after the conference. If you have cards with your info, be sure to give those out to people you meet. And, if you don’t, no worries! You can always write your email down or exchange social media handles.
  7. Don’t forget to follow-up with folks you want to keep in contact with. While your meeting is fresh in your head, send a quick message before you leave the conference or shortly after your return.

Conferences ARE a great place to learn and grow as professionals, AND they are also a fantastic opportunity to build relationships. As professional events pop up on your calendar, make a plan now to connect with your fellow school librarians.

And, if you happen to run into me at an event, PLEASE, stop and say “Hi!” I would love to hear your library story.



Author: Courtney Pentland, AASL President 2023-2024

Categories: AASL National Conference

Tags: ,

1 reply

  1. Thanks for this advice Courtney! Looking forward to my first AASL conference in a few days.

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