Winds Of Change At ACRL Conference

ACRL is down to its last few hours of activity. As usual it’s been a whirlwind experience. I finally did discover the link to the ACRL Conference blog. Take a look to read more about the conference and the presentations.

I can’t quite put my finger on it but the conference definitely has a different vibe this time. There are many new faces. Approximately one-third of the people here are first-time attendees. I’m hesitant to say this has added a younger demographic to the conference because some of the first-timers I’ve met are more traditional midlife career changers who are new to the profession. And while I don’t have the demographics I’m betting that the median age of the conference population is way down. Perhaps it is best to simply say this might be a watershed conference for academic librarianship because it brings with it the emergence of academic librarianship’s next generation.

In addition to the conference blog I’ve been taking a look at Twitter activity from the attendees – not all first-timers to be sure – but this is definitely one example of how the next generation is experiencing the conference and bringing a new dimension to the proceedings. Just looking at the stream of comments during the events you can get a picture of which programs are attracting the Twitter crowd. For example, in the 4:00 pm Saturday slot you can see there was lots of ongoing discussion about the paper presentations on LibGuides and student use of web 2.0 tools. What about the other programs in that time slot? Nothing.

I was chatting with a new-to-the-profession first timer, and asking how she liked the conference so far. It was clear that the new generation has little patience for speakers who simply throw up slides and talk for 20 or 30 minutes without paying attention to the audience. They want interactivity. They want to be a part of the program, and they want it to be a conversation not a lecture. That’s why they create their own conversation on Twitter. Is this a good thing for the conference? I don’t know.

To its credit ACRL continues to look for new ways to keep the conference timely, vibrant and relevant to its members – and the Cyber Zed Shed, the Virtual Conference and a conference hashtag for Twitter are all good signs. But the Philly 2011 planners have a real challenge ahead of them, and I hope they will pay attention to what’s transpired here in Seattle. It’s clear that ACRL needs to acknowledge the new generation, and give thought to how this conference needs to change to accommodate new academic librarians, new ideas, and new ways of communicating and learning. The winds of change demand a new ACRL Conference experience.

11 thoughts on “Winds Of Change At ACRL Conference

  1. I wonder if the Seattle location drew a younger/newer crowd than you might see in other cities?

    In any case, Steven, I think you are right that people are looking for something more interactive. I couldn’t make ACRL this year, but for 2011, I would like to see some more flexibility in program design. The roundtables are great, but very small. Is there a way to replicate that model in a larger setting? Then you wouldn’t necessarily want the best presenters but strong facilitators.

  2. I agree with your observations, Steven. The crowd seemed younger, and I think all of us want more interactivity. I think the poster sessions, roundtables, and Cyber Zed Shed were so popular because it allows for experience exchange between librarians. And that provides something tangible or do-able to take back home. I think Joan has a great idea about expanding the roundtables in some way. The Saturday roundtable I attended broke into two circles, because we were too large to fit around the table.

  3. “…asking how she liked the conference so far. It was clear that the new generation has little patience for speakers who simply throw up slides and talk for 20 or 30 minutes…”

    You may be right, but surely a sample of more than one is required to draw such a conclusion?

  4. I wholeheartedly agree that we want more interactive presentation experiences. I was only able to participate in the Virtual Conference this year, and was naively expecting there to be more webcasts available (those presentations with the added benefit of chat for participants integrated with the speaker slides and audio portion). I was very disappointed that there were only four, but maybe this is a big improvement from previous offerings? I didn’t even really feel like I was a “virtual” attendee of the conference, despite getting all the spam messages from vendors too!

  5. This was my first ACRL, although I’ve been to maybe a dozen other national conferences by now (ALA, Internet Librarian, Online, Charleston Conf.) I was surprised by how white the ACRL conference goers tended to be, compared to ALA at least. Does the high ACRL conference registration fee limit participation from HBC librarians, I wonder?

  6. I agree – I would also like more interactivity! While there’s an opportunity for questions/comments at the end of the panel sessions, it’s somewhat intimidating and doesn’t really lead to good discussion. My best experiences from the conference were discussions I had with other librarians doing work similar to mine. They occurred in the poster sessions, because we gathered around similar posters. It seemed like there wasn’t a good venue for general sharing of ideas on a similar topic – aside from the round tables and poster sessions. Some kind of expansion of the round table format would be fantastic!

  7. Re Steve Cramer’s reply: well, give some people a chance, Steve. It’s only March; tanning season hasn’t begun yet.

  8. As one of the first-time ACRL attendees, I definitely want more interactivity in conference programs. Some of the panels and paper presentations had great content, but the format is too rigid to stimulate exchange of ideas. The posters were the best part of the conference for me, and I heard really good things about the roundtables from friends.

  9. I think Steve’s comment deserves a serious response, as well as a tongue in cheek one. I know there were scholarships offered for ACRL attendance, but whether any were targeted to either librarians of color or to HBCs, I don’t know. It might be a good place to do some targeted outreach.

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