What does NLS mean to me?
To me, NLS is a ‘space’ for new librarians to develop their professional identity.
I remember the first library conference I went to, the ALIA Biennial in 2004. It was so big, and it seemed to me that everyone knew each other – I found it really hard to break into existing professional networks. I also found that the program was hard to connect with, and was aimed at people who had progressed much further in their careers than I had. Even the vendors had little interest in talking to someone who didn’t have any budgetary authority.
The first NLS I went to, however, was very different. Almost every paper was relevant or interesting to me, and people were much more open. I didn’t have to apologise for being new or young or junior. Strangers spoke to me. I could ask really basic questions of people, about their presentations or what they did at work, and found that the people I spoke to were just as interested in me as I was in them.
Being in this environment helped me understand the building blocks of our profession; it helped me identify the issues that I felt passionately about; it inspired ideas about where our profession could go. Finally, and importantly, it allowed me to develop a professional network of peers, whose careers I am enjoying watching develop alongside my own.
Why did I get involved in NLS?
By the time I put my hand up for NLS3 I had already been running the NSW branch of the New Graduates Group with my co-convenor Adrianne Harris for about a year. That experience had shown me the value of being actively involved in the profession, and I loved the opportunities I was getting to develop different skills and widen my professional network.
My role as a convenor for NLS3 allowed me to manage a team of volunteers – building my management and leadership skills. It also forced me to better understand how ALIA worked and how conferences worked. Simply put, I got involved in NLS to learn new things, and I was very successful! What I didn’t expect was how much fun it was, and how many people from the organising committee remain my friends to this day (especially after we made them “work” on weekends).
How would I like to see NLS develop?
NLS needs to offer something that delegates can’t get elsewhere. To remain sustainable, NLS needs to be generative – to produce or create something above and beyond the event itself.
I strongly believe that the professional development needs of new librarians are different from those of more experienced members of our profession, and that it’s worth having a space in which those needs can be met. But this also means that NLS has a constantly shifting target market: in most cases delegates will not keep attending NLS after their first one or two events, because they’re no longer new grads and the program is of limited relevance to them. This should be a strength of NLS – it can be a constantly changing, nimble event, that responds to the expectations of a similarly changeable target market. NLS organisers should always be asking themselves “what will meet the needs of our target delegates?” rather than “how was this done before?”
NLS does, however, face sustainability challenges; it will always be difficult for new graduates to justify that kind of intensive professional development, more delegates self-fund their attendance at NLS than at other conferences, and it’s challenging to attract sponsorship dollars when your audience is less likely to have budgetary responsibilities. Two years between conferences makes it difficult to maintain a profile with the aforementioned changing target market.
I think the future for NLS has to be in generating something beyond the event itself to fill in the two year gap. This could be a series of smaller events, a community of practice, some form of publication – or something different entirely. Ideally there would be a way for future and past delegates to engage with the NLS brand on a more regular basis.
I’m very aware that I am no longer the target market for NLS, but it remains important that this ‘space’ is preserved for new librarians. Fundamentally, I would like to see NLS continue as a unique and sustainable event, and a vital training ground for the future leaders of our profession.
Alyson was one of the co-convenors of NLS2006. She’s currently working with the University of NSW Library as Client Services Coordinator, and has a background that spans special and medical libraries, vendor and association work. She has thoroughly enjoyed every NLS she has attended, and wishes NLS were held every year in Sydney, so she could go to the parties without having to justify it to her boss.