Last August, I attended my first-ever IFLA WLIC virtual professional conference. As one of the speakers in the session “Why authentic relationships matter with indigenous communities”, I was giddy at the prospect of attending the conference and interacting with fellow speakers, especially under the Indigenous librarianship section. Even though I’m not a member of an Indigenous group in the Philippines or pursuing a related degree, I wanted to experience a virtual conference and be in an environment where books, writing, research, and library advocacy were the focus.
I attended the conference with library colleagues from the University of the Philippines – Diliman Campus, and we had a blast. Spending the days listening to fellow librarians talk about themes such as Indigenous librarianship and Mozart in music libraries; and exploring library projects in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek in Brussels and the Image Permanence Institute, lived up to my expectations. But as with anything in life, I realized after further reflection that I have a lot to learn about the art of virtual conference attending. Here are some areas I learned I need to improve on from my first virtual WLIC conference experience.
The crowds were a bit overwhelming even though it was a virtual conference! I did not realize how packed the conference schedule was. Some days, we were in a zoom presentation at 8 a.m. and left at almost midnight. Sure, there are breaks for Q&A sessions, but it’s really hard when you’re an overachiever to feel like you can skip a session if you need a rest. I felt like I needed to attend every session because I was awarded to be there, but that’s pretty taxing. Maybe at future in person WLIC conferences, I’m going to be a bit more strategic about planning breaks throughout the day, even if it means skipping a session to sit alone in a corner somewhere and refresh.
- Make time for regular life
In addition to needing time to rest amid the crazy conference schedule, I also learned that in the future, I need to make time for certain aspects of my everyday life. For example, I didn’t sleep normally since some sessions started super early or ended late in the evening due to our difference in time zones. I finally made time to rest after it was over and had to prepare for a 30 hour flight from the Philippines to the USA for my graduate studies for Fall 2021. I learned that I can’t just focus solely on the conference; I need to also schedule time to talk to family, work colleagues, and people from my university.
- Session Schedules
I don’t regret spending time on this amazing virtual conference. I do regret not planning ahead more carefully with my preferred sessions. When you attend a virtual conference and have no idea what you want to attend, you end up staring at your computer a lot, scrolling through sessions and topics after topics. Next time I attend a virtual conference I’m going to have a list of a few topics and sessions I want to attend before I click on that zoom link and join.
- Internet Connection
It’s super challenging to join a zoom meeting and connect live for every single session when you’re at a virtual conference. Part of the problem here in my country was that I didn’t have a fast internet connection, especially if the session fell in the morning when a lot of people are also using lots of bandwidth. As a result, I couldn’t attend some of the sessions smoothly due to internet connectivity issues. For future virtual conferences, I’m going to plan out a few locations with good internet connectivity where I can set up beforehand. That said, some of the best parts of the conference were spent at late evenings and super early mornings (10pm until 4am in the morning in my time zone). It was also worth it to have a few snacks and drinks at hand while attending the Q and A sessions; it made hanging out with the attendees and exploring the conference platform even more fun.
Luckily, the platform was user friendly. This is something I actually did explore when I had dry run sessions for my Indigenous librarianship talk and I’m so glad the help desk team made time to teach us to walk around or navigate the platform and get to know it a bit prior to attending the virtual conference.
I’ll admit that I didn’t really talk to a lot of people at the conference. The only people I talked to included my work colleagues, the registration help desk people, the panelists at the Indigenous librarianship session, and some people at Q&A sessions. I recognize how this is not ideal. One of the main opportunities of virtual conferences is to mingle (email, chat), network, and to meet people who can later connect you to your dream job, career, research, etc. But, I had no idea what to expect in this virtual environment. There were a lot of people in various sessions at various times. And I didn’t really have anything to say to anyone other than asking questions during the Q&A or during the dry run and live session with my panelists at the Indigenous library session. That’s not a great excuse though; at future events, I’m going to push myself and set goals to talk to more people.
I did take notes consistently throughout the sessions I attended, and I can’t imagine attending a virtual conference and NOT taking notes. I’m not the best at remembering verbal presentations, so scribbling stuff down helps keep it in my memory. After all, there’s really no point in paying to go to hear people talk about various themes such if you aren’t going to remember any of it a week later.
In conclusion, I enjoyed my first virtual WLIC 2021 conference experience. I could have planned a better experience using the takeaways above, but overall, it was an excellent week, and I learned so much. I’m excited to put these takeaways into action for my next conference in WLIC, hopefully in person, and I can’t wait for next year’s IFLA WLIC 2022
Gianina Angela Celine Cabanilla, University Researcher – University of the Philippines