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Hack Your Next Open Source Conference

By Rogan Hamby, Data and Project Analyst at Equinox Open Library Initiative

In the Koha and Evergreen communities the topic of conference attendance invariably pops up when discussing community participation. However, when asked why someone should attend a conference the stock answers are vague and often boilerplate like “to put faces to names.” Conference participation can be extremely rewarding but to get the most out of it you have to take an active role. So, here are five things you can get out of an Evergreen, Koha (or other) conference, plus one tip on how to make it happen for each.

  1. Get feedback. Every library becomes an echo chamber to some degree. Take time before the conference to identify a few improvement opportunities and look for places to ask questions about it. A Q&A session after a presentation on a relevant topic is the perfect time.
  2. Learn. This may seem obvious but not only does a conference lower barriers to transmitting information but there will be people sharing all around you all the time. Create a schedule of presentations you want to attend and prioritize them so that if one doesn’t work out you can leave for another.  If you know a presenter and feel comfortable contacting them you may also be able to reach out to them with questions in advance to make sure it is a good fit for you.
  3. Networking. Not everyone you meet is going to be a future friend but everyone is potentially a useful connection. Carry something with you, a notepad or a smartphone, and make notes about who you meet and what you chatted with them about.  This will help cement the person in your mind and you gain experts you can reach out to in the future.  
  4. Discover the newest work. Keeping track of development can be a big time investment and not one that everyone can make.  A conference is a great opportunity to learn about features and bug fixes recently added or in the pipeline.  To prepare for this make sure you know what version of your ILS you are on and when you are likely to upgrade.  
  5. Share your own ideas and work.  There is an old adage that everyone should teach because you learn more from teaching than being a student. There is a lot of truth to that but also sharing makes you someone else’s contact which can be valuable.  Start by planning something low key like a lightning talk.

None of this is easy. A lot of these benefits take advantage of being in person rather than being limited by electronic communication. This means that if you are an introvert you will expend a lot of energy during the conference day.  Remember to take care of yourself in the evenings and avoid group events if you need time to recharge. And this brings us to a bonus tip. Ultimately conferences are work events. However, if you participate you are likely to make some new friends and in future years it won’t take as much energy and you can get even more out of it.

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