This is the last in a series of posts about my experience of IFLA WLIC 2016. Other posts can be found here.
I've been back from Columbus for just over a month now and it feels like I'm finally catching up with everything I missed when I was away. Now is also a good time to think back and reflect on what I learnt at IFLA and how I'm applying it at work.
Firstly I want to say that everything you have read/heard about large international conferences is true - they are completely overwhelming. I don't necessarily mean this in a bad way but one thing I learnt was not to underestimate the importance of taking time out if you need it. I tried to go to EVERYTHING as I'm well aware this could be my only chance to attend an event like this. Thinking back I should have built more time into my schedule for downtime from the start. The days were really long with sessions lasting from 8.30am to 6.00pm and I was often hopping from one to another meaning that lunch was constantly eaten on the go (if at all!). I'm quite introverted so I need that bit of quiet time to recharge and I should have included this in my planning.
Another thing I learnt was that it is indeed perfectly normal to switch sessions. Each session was about two hours long and made up of several 15/20 minute presentations so there was a natural pause in proceedings if you wanted to get to another session. It took me a few days to work up the nerve to switch sessions but I'm glad I did as I wound up going to some great sessions I would otherwise have missed. It's not rude in any way, it's just about learning as much as you can. I'm still not sure that the practice will ever take off here in the UK but at least if it does I'll be prepared!
I've talked to a lot of colleagues (both in person and online) since I've been back and they've all been curious about the experience of attending such a big conference. It's one thing to read about people attending events like this but another to have someone you know describing it to you. Everyone has been curious about different aspects of the conference (the opening ceremony in particular!) and it has been really great to share my experience with them. Hopefully I've helped to demystify the whole conference thing a bit and other people will think of applying to attend in the future.
One really useful thing to come out of the conference is the contacts I made. I did some 'pre-conference networking' online before I went and then met with various people at the actual conference. This turned out to be really useful as we were able to talk through plans and issues and get things off the ground. Having this personal contact has really helped to move the projects forward and I think they are in a much better place than they would have been had we just talked online. I also met lots of new people of course and it was a great way to expand my network.
Talking to people from around the world and listening to their presentations I found it very reassuring that we are all facing similar problems. One thing I particularly wanted to explore was the problem of staff engagement with professional development and many of the sessions I attended gave me some really good tips. Chats in the lunch line or at the vendor exhibition were also really helpful. I have to say that it was in situations like this where the elevator pitch we had to practice as part of the CILIP Leadership Programme really came in handy! It stopped a lot of awkward pauses and led to lots of interesting conversations.
I've also been putting a lot of what I learnt into action since I got back. There will be times when I'm sitting in a meeting or having a brainstorming session and I find myself saying "I saw this thing at IFLA....". Many of the sessions I attended were really inspiring and I came away with lots of ideas of things to try. I have my previous blog posts to refer back to but I also filled a notebook with notes which are sure to come in handy! So many libraries around the world are doing really innovative things and having a chance to ask about them in person was a real bonus. I've also passed ideas onto colleagues where appropriate and I know they've found that helpful.
So this concludes my IFLA experience (on this blog at least). If you want to know more there will be a conference report on the CILIP website and a piece in Update very soon. IFLA 2017 is being held in Wroclaw, Poland and although nothing is certain it's possible I might get a chance to attend again to show off the fruits of collaborations started at IFLA 2016. I hope that these posts have been helpful in giving a flavor of the conference experience, including planning and preparation. If people take away nothing else from these posts I would just like to encourage everyone to apply when you see bursaries offered. The worst answer you will get is no but I promise you that if you get a yes it will be SO worth it!!