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Laura Payne, Of Baker & MacKenzie LLP, writes about her experiences of the BIALL Conference 2009.

I headed for Manchester on the Thursday morning, not quite knowing what to expect.  I hadn't been to this city before, let alone a three-day conference by myself.  There were many reasons why I was keen to attend Locks and Keys.  As part-time student currently working towards a Master's in Library and Information Studies, I am always keen to gather as much varied experience as possible.  Having heard many good things about previous BIALL conferences, I felt that this would be a good opportunity to network and talk people from a range of legal library backgrounds.

Although I was looking forward to meeting many new people, I appreciate that attending a conference alone is likely to be a daunting prospect for many new delegates.  Therefore the aim of this piece is not simply to create a review of the proceedings, but to provide some additional tips to show future attendees in the same situation that it's simply not that scary.

After arriving in Manchester I made my way to University Place.  The plan was to visit the exhibition first, however, after being presented with an enormous bag of food, these plans were put briefly on hold.  Definitely a positive sign to be handed such a hefty picnic upon arrival!  So with food pile barely dented and surplus stashed away for later, I made my way around the stalls.  The exhibition presented a great opportunity to investigate new sources of information and to finally meet a number of suppliers face-to-face, having previously only been in contact by phone and email.

Following the exhibition I attended my first Parallel Session, Marketing Your Skills.   Nicola offered some useful advice on obtaining an internal promotion, tips for internal interviews, and how to harness Web 2.0 applications to increase and demonstrate professional awareness.  In all this was a useful session and my first real opportunity to meet with other delegates.

Thursday evening began with the BIALL 40th Anniversary Dinner and Halsbury's  Awards at the Imperial War Museum North - an architecturally stunning building which made an unique venue for the dinner.  I met up with a few people from earlier in the day and we joined a table occupied by a number of other friendly folks.  In addition the food was excellent and the '40s band a glamorous treat.  At the end of the evening we made our way back to the city to continue socialising into the small hours of the morning...

James Grey was greeted by a number of sleepy librarians on Friday morning for The Digital Information Supply Chain, where he spoke about the issues surrounding access to legal information as publishers move increasingly towards electronic formats.  He provided a number of interesting figures regarding the sale of eBook readers, demonstrating the not only the research appeal of digital resources, but increased public lean towards the technology.  This was followed by Laurence Bebington's Sign on the Dotted Line Please and James Mullan's Should We Be More Social?.  Both of these were intriguing sessions, with Laurence presenting key issues in legal licensing and James discussing how law librarians can harness Web 2.0 technologies for both work and networking purposes. 

The BIALL Annual Dinner followed in the form of a Black and White Ball at the Midland Hotel.  This event comprised of more friendly and familiar faces, glamorous outfits and networking, plus the BIALL awards, raffle and Abba-filled disco.  Whereas the Anniversary Dinner the previous night was the less formal of the two events, socially the Annual Dinner was a more relaxed affair.  By this time people had moved on from the initial meeting stage and were chatting away like old friends. 

The next morning began with The Patriot Act to the Terrorism Act, which was followed by Paul Duller's Information Handling and Information Risk.  This highly entertaining session was filled with pictorial examples of good and bad information management (tidy archive boxes (good) pigeon carcasses (bad)).  It was then time to catch the train back to London, with a bag full of freebies and a head filled with legal information.  I felt the three days had been a huge success - from setting out with little idea what to expect, to a wallet filled with business cards and email addresses.  I found everyone to be extremely friendly and a number of people at a similar point in their careers with whom to swap vocational notes and socialise.  Many thanks to CLIG for providing the bursary and the opportunity to attend such an interesting and relevant event.

See?  It's not that scary after all.  However, below are some useful tips for future new delegates also attending alone:

Tip 1: Take maps!  The route from your hotel to the conference centre and a map of the local area are particularly useful if you have some time to explore.

Tip 2: Take a decent size pile of business cards to enter into all the competitions run by exhibitors.  There is a LOT of champagne to be won.

Tip 3: Grab freebies early as the best promo items disappear the fastest!  My personal stash consisted of numerous bags of sweets (also useful for making friends!), piles of post-it notes and a much coveted laptop mouse.  Just remember you have to carry it all home...

Tip 4: If possible, stay in a BIALL recommended hotel.  If transportation to the evening's events has been arranged then these buildings may be the pickup points.  You will save yourself the trouble of locating coaches in all your finery and potentially find other delegates to chat to whilst waiting in the lobby!

And finally, tip 5: Remember that there are countless others in your situation.  Whether they have come as a solo delegate or are simply attending a seminar alone; if you see an empty seat next to someone, ask if you can sit there!  It's a great way to strike up a conversation and you will soon find that you have gathered up a number of like-minded people.

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