I love attending conferences - for all sorts of reasons. As a solo librarian, my job can be quite isolating and issues can get out of perspective. It's easy to start feeling you are the only person in the library world having to deal with such things. Talking to other staff you work with only helps up to a point because they don't quite have the same grasp of the situation; besides, they are often so busy dealing with their own problems and the school day is so pressured, that's there no time to really have a proper conversation. School librarians are very supportive and active online but there's only so much that can be conveyed or said in writing ... so much easier to sit late into the evening with a glass or two of wine and put the world to rights! So that actual physical meeting and networking amongst colleagues is a big plus.
Then there's the CPD aspect of a conference; the keynote speakers who fire you with enthusiasm, the workshops, even the informal talking about ideas and what other people do. Add to that, the exhibitors where you can see and discuss related products and forthcoming resources.
And for me, another factor is the chance to get away from the pressures of the job for a couple of days. That's not to say conferences are chilled occasions, they are usually extremely busy and I end up going home from them exhausted - fired with renewed motivated and my head full of ideas but exhausted! Probably because I never switch off at them, after all, they're full of librarians which means it's "shop talk" from breakfast until we part ways coming out of the lift at the end of the evening and I confess that when I've been on a three day (or longer conference) I've sneaked off to my room for a quiet hour to just sit and read, or to sort through all my papers and notes, and get my head in order.
There are a lot of conferences librarians can attend. I try and get to the School Library Association conference (held every year) and the CILIP School Libraries Group conference (held bi-annually). And I usually pay for myself ... school training budgets are so small these days and much of it happens in-house with teachers delivering the training that it's unlikely I would be given the money to go. I'm fortunate in that my school allow me the time off to attend as I know many librarians whose schools do not let them go to anything during term time; they even have problems getting out of school for a couple of hours to participate in local school library meetings. Very short-sighted but indicative of the attitude that all we do is sit behind our desks and issue books.
I have been extremely lucky during my time as CILIP President to be invited to speak at several conferences so took the opportunity to participate in them. These have included the CILIP Public and Mobile Libraries Group conference, Academic and Research Librarians conference and Youth Libraries Group conference, the ASCEL (Association of Senior Children's and Education Librarians) conference as well as the CILIP conferences for the devolved nations. Slight conference overload! However, these have all been fantastic chances to meet people outside the arena of school librarianship and to discuss the issues that they face within their sectors. I have also been surprised at how many of the workshops were extremely relevant to school librarians and how much we have to deal with very similar concerns within our respective jobs. The wider focus of the exhibitors also added to the enjoyment of the event.
I'm not going to focus on just one conference for this blog. But I do tend to do the same thing for anything I attend. I like to be prepared so investigate any speakers and people delivering workshops (often before I make my choice as to which to attend). I research any topics that I'm unfamiliar with so I can make an informed choice although my final decision tends to be based on a combination of projects I'm working on at school as well as personal interests. What I do find though is that, usually by the time the conference arrives, my focus has often changed and different workshops suddenly have more appeal than the ones I've chosen! I make notes from the sessions and prefer to do this by hand, I find I concentrate more "on the moment" when I have got a screen in front of me. My notes also tend not to be linear but to have asterisks, arrows, under-linings, etc. all over them. I keep the conference papers and my notes in a file for future reference.
The final thing I try to do is to think of one activity that I can take from a conference and put into immediate effect. I always come back with way too many ideas, my head buzzing with stuff I want to do, projects I want to instigate ... and I know from experience that once you get back to the day job that tends to take over and all those great ideas get pushed onto the back burner. So my advice is to just choose one thing and do it. At least then you'll feel that you've achieved something from the conference and that it's made a difference.