On Saturday I attended the Colorado Teen Literature Conference, and it was the first-ever conference I attended. As both a blogger and a library science graduate student, I wanted to learn as much as I could without also losing my mind. Conferences are big, scary, wonderful things, and one of the coolest aspects of the CO Teen Literature Conference is that teens are actually invited! I know! They got to eat and everything. So without further ado, I present to you the five most important things I learned at the conference — strategies I will most certainly be using for the next conference I attend.
- Bring a Friend, but Know You Will Split Up.
My good friend is also a graduate student and has attended conferences previously, and I’m glad she and I were able to support each other amidst the insanity — and also that I had someone to eat breakfast and lunch with. But I attended a session on teen literature about the Middle East while she was in a session about travel writing. Sometimes you’re going to have different interests, and that’s okay. Just text each other about meeting for lunch and you will be fine on your own.
- Authors Are People. As someone who takes a vested interest in celebrities, this one is particularly hard for me to grasp. But at a conference, you will most likely meet, or at least stand next to, authors who have just recently had sushi with Selena Gomez. (Jay Asher, I’m looking at you!) I was replenishing my coffee and found myself next to Lauren Oliver. I swallowed my fear and told her I liked her keynote speech, and that I grew up in a town that neighbors her own childhood home. Just like that, Lauren and I became besties! Okay, not really. But I did learn that it was totally cool to approach her, and to unabashedly stand in line to get Jay Asher’s autograph, pictured here.
- Not All Workshops Are Created Equal. The first workshop I attended was supposed to be about book talking. A few minutes in, the man leading it handed us a notecard and told us to write down our spirit animals. My friend and I looked at each other and, when there was a break to mingle, left for another session. I felt guilty, yes, but I did not regret my choice. You only have one day to attend sessions, and as long as you can find a respectful and appropriate time, quietly ducking out of a session that turns out to be very different from what you expected is fine.
- Buy Books, but Don’t Buy All the Books. The conference took place on a university campus, and the campus bookstore was sponsoring a delightful table filled with delightful books for teens. I picked up Jay Asher’s most recent novel, The Future Of Us, co-written with Carolyn Mackler (I wanted something for him to sign!) and the latest Lemony Snicket, Who Could That Be At this Hour? I had to hold myself back from getting a zillion more books, but the fact is that you will be walking around all day, and a bag full of 27 paperbacks will be heavy.
- It’s Not Just for Librarians and Authors. As a librarian-in-training, I’m inclined to believe that the people most interested in literature conferences are either fellow librarians or authors. But at the conference I met teachers, professors, researchers, vendors, teenagers, and just interested, engaged citizens. Conferences are a fantastic mix of people from all walks of life, and especially fun if the target audience (teens, in this case) are actually invited. The teens in my sessions tended to ask the most provocative questions, and they were certainly the most excited to be at the conference. Plus, I bet they were the reason the breakfast and lunch tables had free candy! It was a true win-win.
Conferences are as exhausting and fun as you think they are, and it’s important that you come in with an open (but critical) mind. You’ll leave knowing a lot more than you did when you came in, and you’ll probably learn from unexpected places. You won’t be able to do and see everything you want to, but you will be able to come away with a ton of new ideas, already looking forward to 2014’s conference!
— Chelsea Condren, currently reading The Diviners by Libba Bray
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