ALA: Hold Tight, People.

Heeeey Friends!

Whew, this last week or so has been wicked-mad-cool-sick-nasty-awesome! So in my last few posts, I’ve mentioned that I would be attending the American Library Association (ALA) conference this year in Orlando. If you’ve been following my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in the past week, then you know that the last week or three has been krazy – that’s right, krazy with a K.


“Wow, Justin, it’s taken you awhile to get posts out.”

Yes it has, astute person! However, lets cover what’s been going on the last 3 weeks or so:

  • I went to ALA (more on that later)
  • I’ve been touring libraries throughout Houston looking at RFID technology (more on that later)
  • My library is switching over to a new computer management software – most people know ANY change in software is usually a nightmare (especially for patrons)
  • My summer MBA classes started
  • Building renovations and inventory are imminent
  • I did a podcast interview with Sarah Clark over at Better Library Leaders (more on that next time)
  • It’s summer time in general, AKA the busiest time of the year
han solo falcon

You said it, Han.

Yeah, whew! So before I have to get back into the fray, let’s talk about ALA.

“I’m not familiar with ALA, Justin. Tell me more!”

Well, person who just stumbled onto my site, the ALA conference is pretty much the biggest library conference of the year and is held in different locations all over the US; other places include San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, and other big places that hold such a huge and awesome conference (like Orlando). While I have been to Florida and Texas library conferences (FLA and TLA, respectively), I have never been to an ALA conference.

Let’s start with I knew going in:

  • Conferences are awesome.
  • You get to make new friends. Yay, meeting new people, making new connections, getting to see new perspectives.
  • Free travel and hotel. Getting paid to drive somewhere and live away from home for a few days is a fun little adventure. Driving to TLA or FLA is always exciting!
  • Lots of learning. Sessions, round tables, presentations, demonstrations, workshops, and all that jazz.
  • Conferences usually have free food. You usually have be quick on your feet before it runs out.
  • Conferences sometimes have free drinks. Sure, I’ll take a mimosa!
  • Conferences have good swag. Stress balls, bracelets, flash drives, pens, and everything else you can find in the Oriental Trading Company catalog. (No disrespect! I love you, OTC.)
  • People try to sell stuff to you left and right. Some are more laid back, others can be a little more pushy, and some care about you as a person.
  • You get paid to do it. Living the dream, people!

So I should expect about the same at ALA, right?

actually no

ALA pretty much takes all the things I like about a conference, and turned them up to 11. Things I learned about ALA:

  • ALA conferences are AMAZING. No wonder everyone is always fighting to go!
  • You make ALL the new friends. I was lucky enough to meet tons of new library peeps, vendors and the like.
  • Travel and housing is super serious. Driving to into Houston for TLA or a 2 hour drive from Gainesville to Orlando for FLA is one thing, but being flown from Texas to Florida and given a hotel room for a week? That’s something else.
  • These guys don’t kid around when it comes to setting up. The exhibit hall at ALA was hustling and bustling getting ready for the opening. I don’t mean vendors with teeny tiny booths, I mean frickin’ forklifts bringing stuff in.

All the gadgets when finally set up are crazy cool! One example is PV Supa’s RFID tagging and book delivery systems.

  • ALA has tons of free food. Pinwheels, cupcakes, egg rolls, ribs, cake. Not just cake, I’m talking white cake that has a vein of cream cheese frosting running through it.

And that was just the first vendor, literally 10 steps inside the hall.

  • ALA has all the drinks. Champagne? Sure, okay. Beer? Oh, cool. Mimosas? Yum. Margaritas? Wow, ya’ll don’t play. When the drinks are right and the music’s playing, you just want to sing and be happy!
  • ALA has some twisted swag. Power banks, signed books, bags, holograms, flashlights, binoculars, headphones, ear buds, jewelry…

Bracelets and flash drives? More like bracelets that ARE flash drives!


Oni Press speaks to my childhood.

When it comes to best ensemble of swag, Ingram won without a doubt. Durable bags? Journals? Power banks? Bottled water? That’s a package deal that’s hard to beat.

“Bottled water? That’s not really swag I would want.”

Florida? In June? The water was a godsend, don’t even argue.

Library webcomic series Unshelved had a booth as well! You may recall my recent post regarding Copyright and Fair Use where I spoke to Angela and learned best practices for sharing their work. On Sunday morning, I got to meet Angela in person and buy one of their many awesome shirts. That star on my shirt? It’s actually Banned Book titles in you look closely!

freedom fighter

Want cool stuff like this? Click here to get it.

  • Top vendors don’t just care about selling you. Jamie Cutlip and the rest of the team over at Ingram make for the best example. Some of you have heard me talk about Jamie before – she’s brilliant, wily, professional, honest, and cares about you as a person. I’ve seen her visit smaller libraries and see how people are doing, even when she knew that their library had no money to buy anything. She appreciates the internal and external relationships between library systems, companies and people, which usually means she’s very connected on the grapevine. (Need juicy info? Want to know about libraries that are hiring? She’ll know who’s hiring before they advertise.) That kind of appreciation is why libraries buy from her when they finally have money.
  • Good vendors know how to make things happen. Jamie and her people invited me to dinner one of the nights, and they always make sure everyone mingles and has a great time. I can’t remember how many times I heard Jamie ask people, “Have you met Justin Brasher, Brash Librarian?” and convincing the restaurant that I’m a super star. (I don’t know about super star, but I’m getting there.) I met plenty of new friends/contacts/future associates. (I’m looking at you, Brian, Suvi…Jim… Rachel…Janice…) To quote Michael Gambon in the film Layer Cake, “The art of good business is being a good middleman.” Thanks for being the best in business, Jamie.
  • Non-library people are totally blown away. The great thing about coming to ALA this year is that it was hosted in Florida! For those who don’t know, I lived in Florida for nearly half my life and most of my family/friends live there. Among the people I got to show the beauty of ALA include one of my best friends Caitlin and my nephew, Trevor. Like most non-library people, they’ve never been to a library conference and expected a bunch of book nerds just standing around. BOO. 

To say the least, I think they were impressed!

Give Trevor a hand, everyone – he’s going into the Marines!

  • I’m still getting paid to be here, but also flown and housed. Driving to into Houston for TLA or a 2 hour drive from Gainesville to Orlando for FLA is one thing, but being flown from Texas to Florida and given a hotel room for a week? That’s something else.

My work put me up in a place with granite counter tops, balcony, and executive hotel services with discount tickets. Tickets to take my nephew to Universal? $140 per person after taxes. Tickets after some sweet talking to the Hilton desk people? $15 per person. As in FIFTEEN. 


$30 > $280 in this case!

“Wait, so you did other things besides library stuff?”

Absolutely! You have to remember, ALA caters to all libraries – academic, public, school, private, etc – which means not everything will be for you. OH, a workshop on cataloging trends and changes in academic libraries? That would be awesome…if I worked in cataloging, or academic libraries for that matter. Some days are more heavy on the academic stuff, and some are more geared towards public library things. Sunday wasn’t a super-heavy public library day, so I decided to take my nephew that day.

I also had the pleasure of seeing my friend Meredith Myers, though most of you know her as The Standup Librarian if you’ve followed my adventures! We were lucky enough to find a place that combined my love of video games and a good beer into one place: Player 1 Video Game Bar. From 80s arcade games to 90s shooter games to new stuff like Playstation 4 and Xbox One, it had all the games you could ever ask for (if that’s your kind of thing.)


With all the fun said and done, I finally said goodbye to family and flew back home with all my extra prizes from ALA. Yes, ALL the prizes.


Feeling differently about library conventions now? Ready to fight your coworkers for a spot at next year’s ALA? I want to hear your opinions! Don’t forget to stop by Better Library Leaders, Ingram and Standup Librarian’s places on your way out!

Next time on BL: Could be RFID, could be MBA stuff, we’ll see.

Have a great week everyone,

Justin Brasher, Brash Librarian



This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s