First-Timer's Guide to the 2017 Annual Meeting

The SAA Annual Meeting is an exciting opportunity to make connections, learn, and have fun! With so much to do, attending your first large conference can be a daunting experience. SAA’s Students and New Archives Professionals Section (SNAP) compiled this guide to assist first-time conference attendees in making their time at the Annual Meeting as productive and stress-free as possible. Read on to learn how you can make the most of your first SAA Annual Meeting!

Planning for the Conference
When You Arrive 
Conference Sessions & Meetings
Attending Conference Events 
Networking at the Conference
Tips and Tricks for Introverts 
Helpful Links / Extra Reading 

See the right sidebar for more resources to help you make the most of your first SAA Annual Meeting!


What Should I Bring? 

Business casual attire: Presenters will dress up and you will need to decide for yourself how formally you want to present yourself to fellow attendees. Casual slacks are appropriate. Keep in mind that the meeting site may well be over-air conditioned. 

Comfortable shoes: This is not the time to break in new shoes. Bring your favorite stand-bys for a dressier look and keep the heels low to minimize blisters and foot pain from all the walking you’ll be doing.

Business cards: You will be meeting a lot of archivists, so be prepared to help them remember you by handing out your business card. Keep your business cards (if you choose to bring them) in an easily accessible place. A good place to stash your business cards is behind your name tag in the plastic sleeve. An alternative to business cards for students and those not employed in an archives are personal cards with your name, basic contact information (phone, semi-professional email), and your personal webpage or LinkedIn profile.

Copies of your résumé: Be sure to take advantage of SAA’s job board and free résumé/cover letter assistance in the Career Center at the Annual Meeting. See “Networking Cafe” for information about posting your résumé onsite or consulting with a volunteer career counselor. You’ll also find free handouts on résumés and cover letters as well as other resources in the Career Center.

Tote bag: You’ll be carrying a lot of stuff: a notepad/tablet, the Onsite Program (unless you opted out of receiving the print publication when you registered), handouts, snacks, a sweater for overly air conditioned rooms, an umbrella, etc. In the interest of being “green” and containing costs, SAA does not provide a conference tote bag, so be sure to bring your own.

Chargers / travel outlet: Obviously you will have your computer, phone, and notepad/tablet chargers with you, but they will do you no good when there is only one outlet in the session and three people need to charge something. A power strip will keep your gear charged and will make you everyone’s favorite attendee. Here is a nice compact travel outlet.

Snacks and a water bottle: The conference organizers provide some food and beverages (e.g., at the Expo Hall Opening on Thursday evening, at the Expo Hall lunch on Friday, and at the All-Attendee Reception on Wednesday evening), but you will want to supplement that. Keep a water bottle with you. (Session rooms usually have pitchers or dispensers where you can refill your bottle.) If you’re trying to limit your food budget, find a grocery store on your first night in town and stock up on fruit, granola bars, or energy bars—items that are portable and filling to sustain you through the day.

A Plan: Have a written schedule of the sessions you want to attend, as well as any social events such as lunch or a tour. It comes in handy when someone asks what session you are going to next or to see if you have time to take a walk. The conference schedule will be available online so plan ahead and save yourself time when you arrive. Your schedule can change, but if you have a structure before you arrive, you won’t be scrambling to get yourself organized.

This blog post on conference tips and tricks from The Daring Librarian has helped some first-timers plan for the SAA Annual Meeting.

It’s never too early to start networking! Take a look at the Networking section to learn how you can start making new connections even before you arrive in Portland.

Seeing Portland 

Half the fun of attending a professional conference is visiting a new place! The Host Committee for the 2017 Annual Meeting has a helpful blog with plenty of ideas for experiencing Portland in your free time. Check it out!

Be sure to monitor Twitter during the conference because informal impromptu meet-ups often are organized via Twitter (“Who wants to have a pool party tonight?”) with the hashtag #saa17.


Follow the conference Twitter hashtag (#saa17) and keep an ear out for session-specific hashtags (ex: #saa301). This will let you follow multiple sessions at once as well as provide plenty of entertainment!

Walk around the hotel and its neighborhood the day before or early in the conference. It is useful to remember how close the nearest coffee/pharmacy/copy shop/deli are when you’re in a rush during the conference. This is also a great way to prepare to recommend quick places for spontaneous lunches! (Please note: As in any downtown area, please be mindful of your surroundings and resist any impulse to walk or exercise alone at night.)

If you need caffeine to get yourself going in the morning, try to scope out java joints when you arrive and plot for alternatives. (There's usually a gridlock at the only Starbucks in the hotel—though the line can be an excellent place for networking.)

Alcoholic drinks will be available at certain events. It’s almost always cash bars, so plan accordingly if you plan to partake.


Choosing Conference Sessions

Sometimes selecting which of the numerous education sessions to attend requires striking a balance between what you are obligated to attend and what you would really like to attend. 

Remember: The conference schedule is very full and interesting activities will overlap. It’s okay not to attend everything; the important thing is to avoid burn out by not over-scheduling yourself. This is your time, so spend it the way you want to. (Note: Included in the registration fee, all conference goers will have access to MP3 downloads of all recorded sessions after the conference!)

It’s a good idea to go to a session when:

  • Your boss or professor is presenting and s/he has hinted that s/he would really appreciate having a friendly face in the audience.
  • The session is about your field (e.g., a museum archives session when you work in a museum archives).
  • You are facing a particular challenge at work and there is a session that appears to address that issue (especially applicable if your employer is picking up the tab for the trip).

After you’ve figured out what you should attend, filling your remaining time slots can be really fun. Read through the sessions available during your open time blocks to see if any of them sound interesting or will include a presentation by a “rock star,” mentor, or favorite archivist or records administrator. Keep a list of these available sessions, but don’t stress about definitively picking one over another until the time comes. You will end up chatting with other attendees about pending sessions and they may lean toward one or the other or even suggest one you had not considered. Another strategy is to find (or recruit) a buddy to attend a different session in the same time slot and then meet up afterward to share notes and go over the sessions.

Attending Conference Sessions

Conference sessions are a great way to learn more about current professional trends and explore your particular archival interests. There are seven session blocks throughout the conference with 10 or 11 sessions each. Look through the schedule early to pick out the most interesting sessions to you or coordinate so you can attend a variety of topics.

If a session has a question-and-answer portion, raise your hand until someone recognizes you. Keep your question short, so there is time for as many questions as possible. If you are comfortable, you may want to briefly identify yourself and your institutional affiliation (“Alex Smith, Super-Cool Archives”). There may not be a microphone so be prepared to speak up and project your question to the entire room. If you’re too shy to share your question with the audience, many speakers will wait around after their session to talk one-on-one with interested attendees.

If you’re tweeting about sessions for your own future use or to share with friends, it is helpful to include the session number in your tweet, e.g. #saa202.

Do not feel obligated to attend the entire session. Only interested in the first speaker? Plan ahead and sit toward the back of the room. Just be as quick and quiet as you can as you slip out the door. If you do plan to attend the entire session, please move toward the front and middle of the room.

It’s okay to skip a session block if the topics to be presented aren’t of interest to you. This is a great time to take a break, visit the Bookstore or Networking Café, schedule one-on-one networking, or do some sightseeing.

Section Meetings 

All conference registrants are welcome to attend any SAA section meeting. Section meetings are a great way to learn about the many different opportunities in SAA and the field and to meet other professionals who share your interests or work in institutions in which you are interested. Because sections have their own leadership structures, volunteering within them is a good way to get involved and develop your leadership “chops” within SAA. Only section members may vote on matters brought before the group. For more about sections, see Section IX. of the SAA Governance Manual.

The Student and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) Section will meet in Portland on Wednesday, July 26, from 2:30 pm to 3:45 pm. All first-timers, especially students and new professionals, are encouraged to attend the SNAP meeting to learn about archival opportunities and meet new professionals.

SAA Appointed Group Meetings

All SAA members are welcome to attend Council, board, committee, working group, and task force meetings. If you find yourself in town early (before Wednesday afternoon), consider attending a meeting of interest. Please announce yourself to the chair upon entering the meeting room and take a seat on the perimeter of the room. It is the chair’s prerogative to acknowledge those who wish to speak, and the chair may call for an executive session should a confidential matter be considered. If an executive session is called, excuse yourself from the room.

Meetings for Students

Student Poster and Paper Presentations: Graduate students have two opportunities to present their work. Three student paper presentations were selected from among many outstanding proposals by the Student Program Subcommittee of the 2017 Program Committee for presentation as Session 508 (Friday, July 28, 2:00–3:00 pm). Graduate student poster presentations will be on display during Exhibit Hall hours on Thursday, July 27, and Friday, July 28.

Student Chapter Leaders Meeting: This meeting brings together the leaders of SAA’s student chapters for a casual exchange of ideas about managing their chapters, raising funds, and engaging students. (Wednesday, July 26, 4:00–5:15 pm)


Mixers and Alumni Parties (Friday, July 28, 6:00–10:00 pm)

SAA provides a specific time for alumni mixers and parties during the Annual Meeting schedule. This is a great opportunity to mingle with your fellow alumni and particularly to meet new people. You already have something in common—you went to the same school! Light appetizers typically are provided, so it can also be a nice chance to refuel while you network. The parties are planned by each individual school rather than by SAA, so each takes on its own unique character. Often the mixers are held at the conference hotel, but they may occur at a bar, restaurant, or other location in the city. If you are wondering what to expect, it can be helpful to ask alumni who have attended in prior years. Because the venue and amount of food can vary from year to year, try to be ready for anything.

See the “Other Events of Note” page in the Onsite Program for a list of alumni mixers and their locations (when that information was provided in advance).

The Alumni Mixers are a fun way to socialize and catch up with current and former classmates, professors, and other alumni, and are particularly helpful if you are on the job market. You will have the chance to hear from others about where they have landed a position, pick up tips and tricks for job hunting, and possibly even work your shared education background toward helping you land an interview or introduction. 

Think of the Alumni Mixer as a quick and relatively easy way to find your home at SAA. You will be surprised how many people who are alumni of your school have similar interests—be it processing, reference, appraisal, or whatever aspect of the archival profession really gets your heart racing!

Annual Membership (Business) Meeting (Friday, July 28, 3:15–4:15 pm)

At this meeting, SAA’s executive director (Nancy Beaumont) reports on the “state of the association,” the chair of the Nominating Committee and the Treasurer provide reports, retiring Council members are recognized, and the incoming SAA President makes brief remarks.

Until 2011, all proposals regarding SAA constitution and bylaws amendments and dues changes were discussed and voted on by the members present at this meeting. In August 2011, the members voted to adopt Council-recommended changes in voting methods. Now all proposed changes in the constitution, bylaws, and dues are presented for discussion during the Membership/Business meeting, but all such matters are then put to an all-member referendum to ensure that no one is disenfranchised by virtue of not being able to attend the meeting.

No actions can be taken at the Membership/Business meeting unless a quorum (of at least 100 SAA members in good standing) is present. Your attendee badge (on which your membership status is indicated) is required for admission into the member seating area. Students and new members are especially encouraged to attend the meeting as a way to become more familiar with SAA’s governance practices. It’s also a great networking opportunity!

More information about the Annual Membership/Business Meeting—including general procedures that are followed—can be found in the Governance Manual and in the Onsite Program.

Write Away! Breakfast (Friday, July 28, 7:30–8:30 am)

In addition to Expo Hall breaks, consider attending SAA’s Write Away! Breakfast, at which The American Archivist Editor Greg Hunter, Publications Editor Chris Prom, and Publishing Director Teresa Brinati will talk with you about contributing to SAA publications. This session is a wonderful opportunity to introduce yourself to the editors, get on an email list to begin suggesting possible book or website review ideas, or simply see how publishing works at SAA. Recently published SAA authors will be there, and you can also introduce yourself and exchange business cards.


Find a Conference Mentor (or Several)

A conference mentor is someone who has attended at least one conference and generally knows what to expect from the week. If you've been to one conference, be a guide to a first-timer. Or if you think someone you just met should definitely meet one of your bosses or professors, be the "matchmaker." It's a wonderful service—and it makes you feel like you enhanced someone else's experience.

Navigator Program (Deadline to request a navigator: July 1)

A more formal way to find a conference mentor is to participate in the SAA Navigator Program, which matches conference veterans with first-time attendees. This informal outreach effort helps newcomers make the most of their time at the conference. Navigators share their experience, advise you on sessions and special events that are likely to suit your interests, and facilitate networking with other attendees. Navigators typically contact participants prior to the meeting and are encouraged to answer questions by email in advance. They will also arrange to meet you in person at the conference. All attendees are welcome to request a navigator or volunteer to serve in this important role. For more information, email You’ll be contacted in mid-July and matched with a partner.

New Member/First-Timer Coffee Break (Thursday, July 27, 8:00–8:45 am)

Join representatives of SAA’s Membership Committee, Key Contact Program, Council, and staff for a casual conversation about how to make the most of your time at the conference and SAA membership. Join us for coffee in the Networking Café and Bookstore to get your day started.

Lunch Buddy Program (Various days and times throughout the week)

Launched in 2012 by SAA’s Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) Section, the Lunch Buddy program helps students, new archivists, and first-time Annual Meeting attendees to network with colleagues and mentors across SAA. Meet-ups are arranged by a volunteer coordinator who will serve as the point of contact, select the time and place, and identify an optional theme or topic for discussion. Anyone may coordinate or attend a Lunch Buddy meet-up, regardless of experience in the profession or meeting attendance. Please see SNAP's open Google Drive spreadsheet to volunteer as a coordinator, sign-up as an attendee for an existing meet-up, or learn more about the program. 

Networking Tips

Conference connections can turn into excellent contacts when you begin your next job search. The conference includes several built-in networking opportunities, including:

  • SNAP Roundtable Meeting (Wednesday, July 26, 2:30–3:45 pm),
  • All-Attendee Reception (Wednesday, July 26, 7:00–8:30 pm),
  • New Member/First-Timer Coffee Break (Thursday, July 27, 8:00–8:45 am),
  • Expo Hall Opening (Thursday, July 27, 5:30–7:00 pm), 
  • Expo Hall Lunch (Friday, July 28, 12:30–1:45 pm),
  • Mixers and Alumni Parties (Friday, July 28, 6:00–10:00 pm), and
  • Write Away! Breakfast (Friday, July 28, 7:30–8:30 am).

These times are great opportunities to meet new people while remaining generally anonymous. Here are some tips to make your networking more comfortable and effective.

If you are in an LIS program, it’s a good idea to talk beforehand with your professors and your friends in the program to see who is going to the conference. Be sure to connect with your professors and peers while you are there, as they can introduce you to their colleagues. If you are out of school, try to find others going to the conference who might be able to introduce you to other archivists. But resist the urge to remain glued to your friends the entire week. Many professionals would like to reach out to new conference goers, but can find approaching a whole group intimidating. (Yes, networking fears can work both ways!)

If you happen to be in a group in which you know a number of people who may not know each other, take a minute to make sure everyone is introduced. Simply sharing a name and institution can often start conversations. This is helpful for those of us who struggle to start or carry conversations. As the connector, you will be known by more people and you get to stand in on the conversations and add points when you feel comfortable.

As you are standing in line at the buffet, try striking up a conversation with the person in front of you by saying something as simple as “How are you enjoying the conference?” or “What session did you just come from?” These can be quick conversations, or they may open up the possibility for a longer one after you’ve both gotten your food. (This is not the time to ask for a job or ask if the archivist knows of any job openings.)

Even if you don’t want anything to eat, get a drink so you have something to hold in your hand. It’s often easier to approach people or stand by yourself if you have something to do to cover those conversational pauses, like taking a sip of soda, etc. Be sure to keep one hand free so that you can still shake hands with each person you meet.

SAA typically provides both “high boys” (high tables with no chairs) and standard tables and chairs in the Expo Hall and at receptions. High boys are nice because you can move in and then duck out if the conversation or group of people is not comfortable for you. Sitting down with a group of strangers is tougher. Find a table where people aren’t talking too much—that might mean that they don’t all know each other and you can lead the conversation (or just listen in).

Don’t forget your business cards! Figuring out when in the conversation to drop “the B bomb” can be tricky. One easy way is to try to steer the conversation toward a discussion of the other person’s current projects. (Archivists may tend to be introverted, but we still love to talk about ourselves and our institutions.) Once you’ve heard about a soon-to-be-released digital archive or new acquisition, for example, you can say something like, “That’s really interesting. I would love to know how it turns out. Do you have a business card with you so I can follow up once the site launches?” This may seem forced, but I have used it many times and people usually are flattered that you care enough about their work to follow up. This exchange can be easier if you approach presenters after a session or at a poster presentation. You’ve heard about the project and can ask a question or make a comment one-on-one, rather than in front of the bigger audience. Then, ask for their card. If you have a minute, make a note on the back of the card to remind yourself how you met them. In the whirlwind of the conference, this is a good way to make sure you keep your contacts straight.

If going up to strangers seems too daunting, try to participate in a discussion during an SAA section meeting or ask a question at the end of a session. You will begin to get your face and name out in the community, and that can be helpful down the road.

Consider tweeting from the conference using the #saa17 hashtag, which allows you to connect with others at the conference and participate in the backchannel discussion. (Remember: All attendees staying in the conference hotels will have free wireless access in their sleeping rooms and throughout the convention center.)

Once you return home, take a look on LinkedIn or Twitter for the people you met. If you connect in the days immediately following the conference, they will probably still remember you and accept your invitation to connect.

No matter what venue you choose for networking, remember that you cannot meet everyone who goes to the SAA conference. Some seasoned professionals treat conferences like reunions and don’t stray far from the colleagues whom they see only once a year. But many experienced, "famous" archivists love meeting newer SAA members. If there is someone whose ideas interest you, do introduce yourself and discuss their ideas—or yours! SAA is still small enough that you can count on seeing these folks at receptions and in the halls. It’s okay if you meet just a few new people each year and then go back to your friends or your hotel room to recharge. What’s important is to make the effort where you can.


There is nothing that says introverts cannot enjoy large events and conferences—it simply takes different tactics and strategies than those used by extroverts. Extroverts, after all, need other people in order to keep their energy levels up. Leave an extrovert alone for too long and s/he will start to wilt. Introverts, on the other hand, start out with an ample energy supply at the beginning of events and need quiet time away from the crowd of Unknowns to recharge it. It takes planning and mental fortitude, but the rewards can be well worth it. You can leave the conference feeling satisfied that you did so much and that you made real, solid connections with complete strangers.

  1. It isn’t you, it’s your dopamine levels. Remember: there is biochemical stuff controlling what happens to your energy levels in interpersonal situations. So don’t feel bad when you feel anxious or when your ability to participate in sessions and events starts to flag.
  2. Manage your expectations. You know you’re not going to morph into a social diva, so set realistic goals. You can decide to: make a connection with at least one other attendee or go to one lunch and/or one dinner with a pick-up group. Push your boundaries but don’t try to break them.
  3. Know your limits. Do not schedule something for every hour, every day. That is a one-way ticket to passing out in the airport on your way home. If you need to create a full schedule to feel fulfilled, schedule yourself some breaks.
  4. Schedule breaks and find a quiet place to retreat. Whether it’s your hotel room at midday, a walk outside, or that out-of-the-way nook in the Convention Center, find someplace where you can sit, relax, have a snack, and recharge your mental energies. Sitting in the back row of a session is almost as good as heading back to your room. Extra points if there is a power outlet to charge your phone, tablet, or computer.
  5. Keep your hands busy! Get a glass of water or a plate of hors d'oeuvres, or just hold your notebook and pen at the ready. Holding something in your hands during social periods means you will not stress about what to do with them. But do be prepared to initiate or respond to a handshake!
  6. Have your business card in easy reach. When you make a connection with someone during a snack or buffet session, make the formal exchange of business cards quick and easy by having your card within easy reach. Tip: Each morning tuck 5 or 6 cards behind your name badge in the plastic badge holder and have some extras in your pocket or purse.
  7. Practice your spiel. Have your elevator speech ready and practice out loud or in your head: “Hi, I’m Susy Q *shake hands*. I work at [totally famous archive] where I primarily work on [very awesome stuff]. And since you asked, [here is our latest development/current project and/or challenge].”
  8. You don’t have to talk. You can’t go wrong with just introducing yourself and asking “So where do you work?” This works even better in groups.
  9. Let them come to you. A slow stroll, a slight smile, and eye contact are all the extroverts at the conference need to come say “Hi!”
  10. It’s okay to get overwhelmed. You know the signs, the feeling of dread and exhaustion. Once you hit that point, retreat. You will not gain anything but negative feelings by staying, so make your goodbyes, exchange contact information, and leave.
  11. You are not here to cling. If you’re lucky, you will find at least one person who clicks—definitely exchange contact information and go to lunch with her or him. But don’t make it your one and only conference contact; that will drain both of you. Try to schedule a few social get togethers—drinks, breaks, lunch—with different people to add networking opportunities and variety. If you are comfortable with a new group and they are planning lunch, invite yourself along. You are not alone. You will see yourself in the wide-eyed gaze of many attendees. You are not the only person feeling intimidated and overwhelmed. Experienced attendees want to help first-timers, so take advantage of sitting at a table with strangers by breaking the ice.
  12. Consider structured activities. If unstructured events seem too daunting, consider volunteering for an SAA service project or going on one of the repository tours. In addition to being a built-in activity, the groups will be much smaller and the environment will provide more manageable ways to connect. The New Member/First-Timer Coffee Break is also a bit more structured than the alumni mixers.
  13. Volunteer. While standing up and asking questions in a room with a hundred people might be too overwhelming, sometimes volunteering to take minutes or report on a small group is just the way to get involved in a section meeting. In small group breakout sessions, volunteer to take the minutes and ask for someone else to report out. It promotes a bit of camaraderie right from the get-go with the added bonus of not having to speak in public.  


Conference Guides:

How to be Awesome at Going to Library Conferences

Daring Conference Packing Tips and Tricks

More Tips for Introverts:

The Power of Introverts: A Manifesto for Quiet Brilliance

Brains of Introverts Reveal Why They Prefer Being Alone

The Introvert’s Guide to Conference Season

Forbes’ An Introvert's Guide to Networking

Classes, Clubs, and Conferences: An Introvert’s Guide to Networking

An Introvert’s Guide to Standing Out at Conferences

An Introvert's Guide to Networking

An Introvert’s Guide to Surviving GDC

Surviving a high-energy conference: A guide for introverts

Authors, Contributors, and Editors

Thank you to the following individuals for their contributions to this Guide: Lori Birrell, Rebecca Goldman, Kathy Marquis, Kristen Merryman, Sarah Powell, Rachel Grove Rohrbaugh, Rebecca Stephens, Eira Tansey, Elizabeth Scott, Larissa Woo, and Nancy Beaumont.

If you have suggestions for making this Guide more useful in the future, please forward them to Thanks!

Annual Meeting referenced: 

SAA thanks the following Sponsors for their generous support!