What’s on the mind of an academic librarian going to the ACRL conference for the first time? Hearing some interesting speakers. Networking and meeting new colleagues. Having a good time. No doubt it’s all of these, but in the back of their minds I get the impression that first timers who are on the tenure track tend to focus on how attending the conference can help them make progress on the road to tenure. How is that you ask?
Just prior to the ACRL conference I received the results of a survey that ACRL did with the first-time attendees. Over 350 of them responded to the survey. They were asked a series of questions about different conference activities and outcomes, and how important each was (very, somewhat, not very, not at all). The results showed that the most important topics for the first timers were “how to publish with ACRL (books, articles)”, “how to get appointed to a sections committee” and “how to get appointed to an ACRL division committee”. Those activities were clearly the three that most of us strongly associate with obtaining tenure (publication and professional service). For example, 76% indicated publishing was very or somewhat important and 65% indicated committee appointment was very or somewhat important. By comparison, “how to become an ACRL blogger” was very or somewhat important to only 46% of the respondents. When it comes to getting tenure, blogging – no matter how insightful or brilliant – is of little significance. And despite the importance of legislative advocacy, only 36% indicated that it was very or somewhat important.
While I don’t have any scientific analysis to support my observation that the first-timers’ sense of what’s really important at the ACRL conference is shaped largely by the stress of achieving tenure, the results of this survey would certainly appear to suggest the silent hand of tenure is at work. I would encourage all first-time attendees to engage in conference activity with gusto, and do the things that really bring personal professional satisfaction. Don’t worry so much about doing the things that you think will look good in a tenure dossier. I know some of you will say this is easy advice for me to give since I’m not on the tenure track. But this is one more indication that academic library administrators need to work on broadening the scope of what counts as scholarship for academic librarians.
Perhaps next time the survey will ask how important it is to have a good time at the Saturday night all-conference reception.