When most librarians are asked what most motivates them to attend a library conference, I believe two responses rise to the top of the list: (1) the opportunity to meet with colleagues and (2) acquiring practical information that can be applied on the job. I tend to agree, although I’m not opposed to occasionally spending time in a session where a more theoretical paper or two is being delivered. Those sessions may challenge my assumptions or my ability to stay awake. I actually cannot recall too many library conferences I’ve attended that were primarily a series of research paper presentations. Based on a post by Dean Dad who authors the blog “Confessions of a Community College Dean” over at Inside Higher Education we may be fortunate for this.
Dean Dad, conference blogging from the League for Innovation, writes to share how pleased he is that this conference, like many of our library conferences, is eminently practical. He compares this to his own disciplinary conference, described as “a mechanism for the production and allocation of prestige.â€ As a community college administrator, this Dean shares his disdain for the elitist atmosphere that pervades the research conference. There he says, “The point of each paper wasnâ€™t really to contribute to a discussion; it was primarily to carve out a niche for the author.”
While practice-oriented programs are great learning opportunities, there certainly is a place for the research conference as well. Academic librarians continue to put the “science” in library science, and there is a need for a forum where that information can be shared. Perhaps another dimension where we differ from our faculty colleagues is in the nature of our research and our conferences. While the faculty identify more strongly with their disciplines, the majority of academic librarians consider themselves members of a professional practice. Library science is not so much our discipline as it is something we learned about in an LIS program. Academic librarians, more so than public or corporate librarians, will identify with the discipline of their subject specialty though I suspect few actually deliver research papers at a disciplinary-focused conference.
There has been a conversation within ACRL about offering a new program track at ALA conferences that would provide an opportunity for the delivery of peer-review research presentations. I thought that’s what ACRL conferences were for, but apparently some academic librarians believe waiting every other year for that opportunity does a disservice to our profession. It depends on how one views the purpose and value of our national conference. Should we be putting more academic library research into the ALA conference to signify the value of our scholarly roots or are we just looking for ways to give tenure-track librarians more options for beefing up their resumes?
I think that if we put the question to Dean Dad he would advise us to preserve the beauty of our practitioner’s conference. There are plenty of existing outlets for the delivery of scholarly research papers and associated presentations. I like the idea of a conference where librarians from all the different sectors of this profession can get together to hear their professional colleagues and keynote speakers share ideas and strategies for improving our libraries. Every other year strikes me as sufficient for research papers to get their chance to be heard.