The Season is Here: Conference Do’s and Don’ts

Conference season is upon us! With LOEX and ALA coming up, a lot of us are gearing up to travel and/or present at these conferences. Even with school coming to an end, conferences will certainly keep us librarians busy for the months to come.

The first library conference I attended was during my last semester as a library student. I attended Midwinter Chicago 2015 in order to go to the ALA Job Placement Center. The experience was one I remember very well. I was able to attend with some of my library school classmates and was able to have my resume looked at by another librarian. My main goal was preparing myself for the job search, but I do wish that I had networked more. Back then, I was a bit more shy and felt a little uneasy about interacting with people I did not know.

For a lot of you, this is not your first time attending a conference. For others, it is your first time. Everyone has different goals when it comes to attending conferences. It may be for networking, job hunting, committee work, or you might be presenting. While this post is mostly geared towards first-timers, it is my hope that everyone can get something out of this.

  • Let’s begin with the basics, what do I pack? Conferences are usually 3 or 4 days, at the most. You usually do not need much, but if you’re like me, you overpack. No, you do not need 3 pairs of sandals or 3 “going out” dresses. I am still working on my packing skills, but I find that I usually take one pair of jeans, 2 “work” dresses, 2 business casual tops, one pair of flats, and one cardigan.  As soon as I perfect my packing skills, I will let you know.
  • Check the conference website for transportation directions or accommodations. Make sure you make the proper arrangements and know how to arrive at your final location. Do not leave it at the last minute, because you’ll be left scrambling at the airport or bus station (like me).
  • Before arriving, research the location. If the conference is in a big city, is there a museum or place that you’d like to visit? My favorite conference places are college campuses. I like to look at a map of where I am staying and also the necessary commodities that may be in the area (like the libraries and the school spirit shop).
  • If you have a tablet, leave the laptop at home. I usually take one overnight bag with me and find that the laptop takes more space than it should.  I am in the process of purchasing an iPad and portable keyboard, so that should alleviate some of the bulkiness.
  • Carry a small tote bag with you. Mine has the following: pen, small notebook, hand sanitizer, cell phone, conference packet/schedule, cell phone charger, water bottle, tissues, and a lot of snacks.
  • Take your own coffee mug. Most conferences tend to have coffee breaks, but I like to use my own mug because one could always use more coffee.
  • If it’s your first time, ask yourself, what is your goal? Is it to go to specific presentations? Is it to network? Is it to research something? Organize your schedule. Before arriving to the conference, have a copy of the schedule and choose which sessions you would like to attend. I find that doing this helps me have a calm and productive conference experience
  • If you attend a conference with friends or colleagues, remember to not only talk to librarians you do not know, but sit with them. Have lunch with a new group and get to know them. Food and new friends, what’s better?
  • Don’t forget those business cards! Always keep a couple handy, not only while you’re at the conference, but during dinners or happy hours.
  • Presentation jitters? Take some time before your presentation and go to your hotel room and practice either by yourself or with a friend. Or just take a couple moments to relax and meditate. 
  • Go to a presentation/workshop that is out of your element. I think we tend to attend presentations that are relevant to our job duties or research, and that’s to be expected. However, I like to go to at least one presentation that has nothing to do with my every day duties or research interests, It’s always enlightening to learn something new.
  • Conferences can be draining, so if you feel tired, rest! As always, to prevent burnout, get some rest the night before or try to pace yourself throughout the conference.

What are your tips for conference success? Share below in the comment section.

 

Building OER Momentum with a Mini-Grant Program

At my institution, we’ve been talking more about open education in the past year. Open access has long been on our agenda, but open education is such a large umbrella. We’ve begun to bring other open education-related work to the fore.

I wrote about open pedagogy in the context of information literacy in a blog post this past fall, while reflecting on Jim Groom’s visit to our campus for our Domain of One’s Own launch. Earlier this semester, Robin DeRosa came to campus to help us grow the conversation around open pedagogy and open educational resources (OER). My colleague, Lora Taub-Pervizpour, shared some curated articles and videos in two great posts (here and here) as our community prepared for Robin’s visit. These conversations have helped us focus in on our motivations for deepening our OER work. Helping to reduce financial burdens/barriers for our students by lowering textbook/course materials costs is a significant motivator for our OER interest, as is often the case. But the pedagogical opportunities OER can help to create are particularly energizing for our community, so deeply invested in teaching. (Check out David Wiley’s recent posts “How is Open Pedagogy Different?” and “When Opens Collide” for some interesting discussion on open pedagogy.)

As open education efforts on our campus continue, my colleagues and I are planning to launch a small grant initiative to help build momentum. We are imagining these stipends as a way to support faculty/instructors interested in adopting, adapting, and creating OER for their courses. We are also excited about the pedagogical possibilities that OER work might offer, so I’m particularly enthusiastic about the option we’re including to support the development of assignments in which students collaborate in the OER work of the course.

We’re developing the application guidelines and evaluation criteria for this grant initiative now. A few searches easily turn up helpful examples of such initiatives at a range of institution types: American University, Bucknell University, College of William & Mary, Davidson College, Old Dominion University, University of Kansas, and Utah State University, to name a few. These have been helpful in informing how we’re shaping and framing our application and outreach process. But I’m particularly eager to hear reflections on the successes, challenges, and outcomes of the work from those who have already taken a lap around this track. I recently revisited Sarah Crissinger’s thoughtful and helpful reflections on her OER work with faculty (part 1, part 2, part 3). Yet I’m eager for more and find myself wondering about your thoughts. I expect many of you have experience administering OER-related initiatives with similar goals. If so, how have you framed your program? What have you found to be important to your success? What barriers have you encountered? Or perhaps you are someone who has participated in this kind of initiative (or would like to). If so, what kinds of guidelines or support were (or would be) most useful? I would love to hear about your experiences and thoughts in the comments.

A Collective Kind of Conference

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Mollie Peuler, eLearning Librarian at Central Piedmont Community College.

I recently attended my first Collective Conference in Knoxville, TN and found the two-day conference a valuable and—dare I say—fun experience.

If you’ve not heard of the Collective, the event promotes itself as a non-traditional conference with an emphasis on hands-on learning. Consequently, it features a lot more practical ideas and applications and not as much theory and abstraction as at a more traditional conference. When talking to my supervisor about attending this conference, she (genuinely!) exclaimed, “Oh, please go and bring back all of the cool ideas!” Yes, you heard that right—cool. How often do you hear about a scholarly conference being cool? Legitimately, the Collective is cool. Here’s why.

Networking

Ahhhhh networking. Even if you’re not actively job searching, it’s always a good idea to connect with other library professionals and share ideas and experiences. From start to finish the networking and camaraderie was so natural at Collective—it wasn’t forced, or a soul-sucking drag, or tedious. In part, this was because networking wasn’t simply a block of time or something you had to force yourself to do between sessions or in the line at the lunch buffet. Rather, cooperative work and time for getting to know colleagues was thoughtfully woven into every aspect of the event. Almost every session I attended involved sitting at a round table with other librarians and working out problems together or creating videos as a group or some other interactive activity. The fact that we were collaborating allowed for natural and meaningful interactions between attendees.

Technology and Design

A large portion of the sessions I attended were related to technology and/or design. This isn’t surprising; these types of sessions appeal to me as an eLearning Librarian. Even so, the offerings of the Collective were very fresh and highly relevant to attendees with an interest in both instructional technology and instructional design. And if you’re not interested in these areas, there were plenty of other sessions on social media, space planning, and digital scholarship, to name a few. A few highlights:

360 Degree Videos Made Easy
360 degree videos, also known as immersive videos, are video recordings that can be simultaneously viewed in every direction. In the past I had been intimidated by the technology, but Pete Schreiner from North Carolina State University libraries provided a hands-on workshop featuring a quick overview of 360 video resources including what software to download, best practices documents, and story board templates. The introduction to 360 was quick but thorough. Attendees then broke out into small groups using provided cameras, software, and laptops to create our own 360 videos. It was a lot of fun! I can’t wait to dive in deeper and create my own 360 videos for my library.

Give Your eLearning Objects the Beauty Treatment in a Flash
Juliene McLaughlin and Melanie Parlette-Stewart from the University of Guelph packed SO much into the one-hour session. I am the type of person that ruminates for far too long on design decisions. I want everything to be perfect, and I’m not naturally a quick decision maker. This session introduced a quick and collaborative design and brainstorming method for creating and/or redesigning learning objects such as videos and infographics. Three minutes may not seem like a lot of time to come up with 6 design ideas, but it forced me out of my comfort zone.

Knowledge, Reputation, & Image: Crafting & Communicating a Professional Brand
I believe Ashleigh Coren and Chanelle Pickens, from West Virginia University, began their session by stating that they were not experts, but that they simply were sharing “what worked for them.” This type of rhetoric was weaved throughout the conference: the idea of trying something new and sharing what was learned. This session inspired me to finally create the online professional website I’ve been meaning to work on for some time. Using journaling and short writing activities, attendees were able to brainstorm and practice creating artist’s statements. I kept my notes and know these activities will come in handy when I get to that point in my own professional website process.

Value

It can be difficult to budget in one more conference; after all most of us have limited professional development budgets. This conference is worth adding to your list. I’m not sure about other previous years, but the 2017 conference was $80 for two days. In addition to two days of outstanding learning opportunities, a few meals were also included as well as a vendor event with a complimentary drink and some fabulous conference swag. What stands out the most to me is the offsite catered dinner. The Collective crew provided transportation (in a multi-colored love bus!) to the venue where there was live music, a delicious catered creole dinner, and bar that included two drinks for each attendee. It was a fabulous opportunity to continue conversations from the conference during the day.

Location

If I HAD to pick one challenge of the conference, I would say that due to the constant collaboration and engagement, you may find yourself tired and in need of a recharge before conference end. Fear not—Knoxville provides plenty of opportunity for this. While I enjoyed grabbing lunch and hanging out with other conference attendees, when I reached my point of needing to unwind I very much appreciated wondering the streets of Market Square on a lunch hour. There are plenty of shops, restaurants, and bars all within walking distance. A few of my favorites include Union Ave Books, Chesapeake’s Seafood House, and Juice Bar Market Square.

Final Thoughts

This was the third iteration of the Collective Conference, and other attendees that have attended each year tell me that it has gotten even better each year. I’m hoping to attend next year, but for now I’m looking forward to applying the skills and knowledge I gained to my professional work. I’m currently working with a team of librarians to build an online learning module that will eventually be embedded within BlackBoard, and I’ve already been able to apply the Universal Design for Learning Principals and the Simplicity Design Cycle tool that I learned about from one of the sessions.

As I write this blog post, I realize it’s actually a challenge to fully describe the Collective experience. I suppose all I can say is, if you’re interested in a conference that is a coming together of the coolest and most cutting edge librarians planned by a team of librarians who thought through every detail from start to finish, I highly recommend the Collective.

A Revised Model for First Year Seminar IL Integration

In December I wrote about possible changes to our librarians’ involvement in our college’s first year and transfer liberal arts seminar. As victims of our success, our instruction model has become unsustainable. Teaching and support of this course leaves us with little mental energy for our other teaching and librarian responsibilities, which is problematic when those of us who teach have multiple liaison departments to support, not to mention our own research interests and library projects. We could, of course, teach this seminar and nothing else, but there is so much opportunity for course-integrated instruction and embedded librarianship at the major/minor level of study, that focusing only on the first year/transfer seminar would be a huge disservice to students and the college curriculum.

We’re in a transition period. I’m planning to take a sabbatical in August, the faculty member overseeing the seminar program is changing, and we may have a visiting librarian working with us in the fall. We’ve also been working much more closely with our colleagues in the Writing Center this year, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for years now, as they are, in a word, AWESOME. It’s the perfect opportunity to try something new with our seminar involvement, and that’s exactly what we’ll be doing.

Instead of assigning librarian liaisons to each of the seminars, who then teach a minimum of two classes per seminar, we’re adopting the “train the trainer” approach that our colleagues in the Writing Center were wise enough to push through last year. We’re leading workshops for both faculty and seminar peer mentors (upperclass students who take the class and provide academic and social support to new students). And we’re doing this jointly, with the Writing Center, which I am so glad is finally happening. I think it makes a lot of sense, and will hopefully encourage faculty to better interconnect our college’s four core liberal arts skills–writing, oral expression, information literacy, critical thinking–rather than viewing them as discrete concepts. Our hope is that with these workshops, and a supporting Seminar Toolkit (in a libguide, of course), faculty and peer mentors will have a better understanding of writing and information literacy as a developmental process rather than a checklist. The toolkit will contain learning activities, sample assignments, and lesson plans from the librarians, Writing Center faculty, and faculty who have taught seminar in past years. There is so much overlap between teaching writing and teaching information literacy, and I’m glad that we’re finding ways to approach our faculty peers together.

I’m particularly excited about teaching and working with the seminar peer mentors. They’re bright, engaged students who the first year and transfer students really look up to and respect. They have a lot of social capital that we aren’t using to maximum benefit, and better still, they have a relationship with the seminar students. Peer teaching and learning was a major theme of my ACRL 2017 conference, and I was able to find some well-developed examples of peer learning programs in practice.

  • Danielle Salomon, Casey Shapiro, Reed Buck, Annie Pho, and Marc Levis-Fitzgerald have an excellent conference paper on the Embedded Peer Specialists program at UCLA, which, in their words, “combines the academic context of academic librarianship with the scalability of peer learning services.”
  • Rachel Gammons, Alexander Carroll, and Lindsay Inge wrote about the Research and Teaching Fellowship at the University of Maryland, a 3-semester teacher training program for MLIS students in which fellows in their third semester provide mentorship and training to incoming junior fellows.
  • Rosan Mitola, John Watts, and Erin Rinto presented alongside student Peer Research Coaches Kameron Joyner, Jason Meza, and Katia Uriarte about the peer-assisted learning program at the UNLV Libraries and extensive Peer Research Coach training program.

One thing these presenters and writers all seemed to stress (which is something I’ll need to keep in mind) is that this peer-assisted learning/ train the trainer approach won’t really mean less work. It takes a lot of time, planning, and emotional / mental energy to empower student-teachers (because really, that’s what they are) and ensure their continued development and growth. But all of the librarians involved in these programs seem to agree that the benefits–a more empowered student cohort, wider educational reach, meaningful interaction with smaller groups of students–are substantial. I am feeling very much indebted to these colleagues who presented at ACRL 2017 and hope that I’ll be able to share successes and failures from my own attempts at figuring out a new way to involve the library in our first year and transfer seminar program.

My Peeps, My Conference #acrl2017

Feeling so fortunate for the opportunity to attend ACRL in Baltimore, especially to meet my fellow ACRLoggers face-to-face!   With a plethora of conferences and development opportunities, it can be hard to justify attendance at a conference most people perceive as out of scope for a technical services librarian.  In a technical service-focused session I attended,  one librarian introduced herself by qualifying for the audience that her primary library association was ALCTS (Association of Library Collections and Technical Services).  I too have found some excellent development resources in the ALCTS community and established some professional scholarship there.  But  I’ve never felt my particular brand of technical services quite fit here.   This librarian’s certainty in her professional community had me pondering my ACRL conference experience and what sets it apart. [cue: David Byrne*]

How did I get here?
What is my conference?
Who is my community?

Most colleagues think I’m crazy, but I love ALA!  The community and the conference.  I love the size.  I love the ability to experience perspectives from all different kinds of libraries and all different parts of a library.  I love the chance to talk to vendors and (now, as a parent) the abundance of affordable souvenirs.  As a librarian responsible for budget matters, though, the timing of this conference becomes problematic, as it usually falls during our fiscal close.  So, although its provides good service opportunities, and the broadest professional network, this is not usually my conference.

NASIG (former acronym for North American Serials Interest Group) was probably the first specifically-focused professional community that really spoke my language.  I could dive deeper into world of serials librarianship, vendors, and systems in order to solve real work problems.  Similarly, as I became an e-resources librarian, ER&L was (and continues to be) one of my favorite professional communities for those same reasons.  Besides the added perk of being in beautiful Austin, TX each year, it also offers that user experience focus I am always seeking as a bridge from technical to public services. Both these communities see themselves as part of something bigger, despite the specialized name and audience they tend to attract.  Even so, the familiarity of a such specialized-focused conferences can at times be a crutch for broadening my perspective.

Hard as it may be to justify to my peeps here at home, I’m pretty sure my conference, my community is ACRL.  I say that not just because I blog here, and it’s more than just because I work in an academic library.  I do confess, it is in part resonant with Carla Hayden (ACRL Keynote and Librarian of Congress) declaring: “You all have the hippest conferences!”

ACRL Baltimore was only my second ACRL conference.  I first feel in love with ACRL 2015 in Portland, realizing it has a similar and unmistakeable “part of something big” feel as ALA, but with a greater chance of running into people I actually know.  I like ACRL because the language of research and academia is both familiar and challenging; the user focus I crave is meaningful and accessible; and I am often stretched in other areas, like leadership, political advocacy, and transforming shame into action.  I think (also like ER&L) I appreciate how this community of librarians challenge the norm.  As StevenB wrote of 2011’s conference, ACRL takes risks. Carla Hayden also recognized this, noting with appreciation that the conference was kept in Baltimore given all that was happening within this community.

ACRL librarians seem risk takers in their own right. They want to make a difference in what is otherwise perceived as an unchanging, institutionalized academia.  This year’s call for proposals asked for representation from the technical services perspective, perhaps challenging the perception that ACRL is overly-focused on scholarly communication and instruction.  Part of justifying my own attendance alongside all the other faculty who more obviously call this their conference their home means giving fresh eyes to how these issues matter in technical services and visa versa.

My strongest takeaways from this year’s conference were not scholarly community and instruction, but data analysis and visualization.  Opening keynote speaker, David McCandless, provided interactive, fun, complex, and thought-provoking data visualizations.  He explained why information is beautiful and also necessary at this particular time in our society.  I was surprised that this beauty, even in the most concerning analyses, felt primarily (and strangely) soothing.  That sense of calm resonates with McCandless’ assertion that visualizations allow you to simultaneously absorb and understand massive amounts of information, rather than become overwhelmed by it.  McCandless spoke our language when illustrating how easy and accessible the starting point is to such complex beauty — it begins with questions.  What do I want to know? What data might tell me about that?  What can it reveal?  Building on this keynote, I attended other sessions on communicating real value with data.   More than just making pictures from data we are asked to collect, I saw how concerted, beautiful design in visualization allows us to ask new questions.

I found “my peeps” are the ones always asking and welcoming questions.  ACRL allowed us to inquire a lot about equity and inclusion in our academic spaces.  Sessions and speakers offered perspective on this from the lens of scholarly access, to how we meet diverse instruction needs, to how we understand biases in our own scholarship, to service to our patrons, and in our personal and professional relationships.  Roxanne Gay, gave an amazing keynote and Q&A session to challenge my thinking on this.  Others, especially (I worried about) those chastised by #acrl2017 twitter afterwards, will hopefully see that challenge themselves and remain open to keep seeking too.

While uncomfortable, sure, that chastising (and don’t miss this other recap  too) demonstrates how the ACRL community challenges not just the institutional norm, but each other, individually.  I just find that refreshing.  It is a reminder that we definitely aren’t perfect, but we are always, must always be learning.

We do honor and openly appreciate each other publicly as well!  “Your peeps” was how final keynote speaker Carla Hayden acknowledged the various applause and shout-outs librarians received in the Q&A portion of her keynote.   So refreshingly approachable and energizing, her keynote challenged me to be more aware, to remember to explore the “more to everyone’s story”.  How she described the key factors motivating her to accept the position as Librarian of Congress reminded me of the necessity for transformation, while remaining true to ourselves and our service mission as librarians.

There is so much more to share from this conference — on technical services and public services interdependencies, on interlibrary loan and SciHub, and on important leadership and organizational management issues related to resilience, gender, and innovation. Watch for another post (either here or or on my own blog ) on these soon!

*Corrected misspelling with sincere apologies to the singer and his fans for the editorial slight.