Tag Archives: acrl conference

“Just…why?”: Coming to terms with ambiguity, resilience, and acceptance

As a former electronic resources librarian, along with what I’ll call my own unique set of life experiences, I’ve found the practice of radical acceptance has served me well.  Acceptance as an ongoing practice is not optimism or permissiveness, but healthily recognizing how and when to let go, and knowing that acceptance is not the same as approval.  This practice comes in handy, especially in life’s lemon-giving moments. I’ve mentioned a few  from the technical side of library work in previous posts.  Certainly the current sociopolitical climate is not at a loss for examples of this either.

When these “Seriously?” moments occur in my job, I am reminded of another idea, comfort with ambiguity, which frequently appears as a desirable skill in job advertisements, along with its companion resilience.  Both have been on my mind since attending a recent ACRL presentation,  Resilience, Grit, and Other Lies: Academic Libraries and the Myth of Resiliency.  As ubiquitous as both ambiguity and resilience are in my field, this presentation reminded me how poorly defined, misunderstood, and problematic they are when idealized professionally.  So I was thinking about how to unpack this concept related to my own academic librarianship and how a personal practice of acceptance (without approval) might play a helpful role.

It seems in the everyday ambiguity, as well as ambivalent with the same root, often describe something squishier.  For example, ambivalent is often misused to describe someone who is passively undecided or not invested in a particular outcome, rather than actually feeling multiple different ways about a thing. Similarly, ambiguity is often synonymous with an amorphous state of confusion than specific set of circumstances that make a solution unclear.

While inexactness and its synonyms might reflect this murky spirit, isn’t ambiguity really only inexact because it can’t be just one thing?  The fact that it can still be exactly many things is what I find interesting and overlooked in the experience of ambiguity.  Recognizing the possibility of multiple interpretations as specific, distinct avenues for action is especially important for efficiency and service in e-resources management.

Here’s a very basic example working with and a technical problem solving of e-resource access, which I repeatedly encountered when working with publishers’ technical support:

Me: Hi, My name is [me] from [my institution]. We have a current subscription to [your journal] but we’re not able access content online.

Tech Support:  What’s your institution’s [subscriber number, IP address, and other details]?

Me: *gives details*

Tech Support:  OK, it should be working now.

And that was it.  No explanation, no assurance it would not happen again, no way to plan workflow to prevent this very regular disruption.  Good problem solvers who thrive on the details of the problems and the solutions will no doubt feel frustrated and confused by this.  But the situation is no more a mystery than it is comfortable.  There likely is an exact cause for this problem. It’s just the cause is likely multiplicitous, complex, and in most cases less important than the fact that the problem is now fixed. So we move on.  In responding to the given ambiguous situation, we must accept the priorities of the current moment rather than the past or future.  This mindfulness of the present moment is a key part of the practice of acceptance.

Change may the new normal, but comfortable with ambiguity?

I think these tendencies show up in e-resources librarianship in particular because positions of this type developed from those which focused on the exacting and predictable realm of attention to detail.  Certainly the evolution of libraries content and services necessitates characterizing those details as now really messy and inexact.  But position descriptions mistakenly place this ambiguity in the context of a personal quality when it is really a quality of the environment.  To use such a problematic word, and to prefer people who are comfortable in that state, doesn’t say anything about how people should actually respond in these situations.  Expecting comfort in ambiguity falsely sets people up to stay in that state longer than may be necessary.

And this is where the problem of resilience comes in.  As the ACRL presentation I mentioned notes, research shows resilience often normalizes oppression of marginalized groups.  Systemically, I wonder how resilience hinders innovation, preventing us from answering the question “what can we stop doing?”.


So since, as a colleague once reminded me, the privileged have to be uncomfortable to recognize oppression, it is useful to discard a preference for comfort in the face of ambiguity.  Resilience or grit may help us more than comfort, as long as it is focused in the direction of action.  It should not be the normal or preferred quality of an individual professionally.

The idea of resilience as oppression also reminded me of another “What fresh h*!! is this?” experience working as an elementary music teacher.  At one of the two inner-city schools I was assigned, the music room was the stage in the gym’s auditorium. A burlap-like stage curtain was the only barrier between my music classes and the screaming, sneaker-squeaking, ball-bouncing, whistle-blowing activity of PE.  I often preface my sharing of this experience with disbelief that this was a reality to describe – it seemed so obviously nonsensical and in need of a solution.  So, I once spent a week’s planning periods reworking the entire school schedule so that all teachers still got their planning period during elective classes, but in a way that PE and music didn’t overlap.  Working out those complexities was frustrating and certainly not comfortable.  At the same time, I was driven to resist normalizing the resilience expected of the situation.  I knew this was more than a personal preference of the [should-be librarian] music teacher than the institution was leading me to believe.  Before leaving this job, I don’t think I ever gave these alternatives to my principal, but succeeded in getting a new curtain for the stage. When I noted to the principal that the change didn’t block sound as I’d hoped, I’ll never forget her response.

“Why do you care, since you won’t be here any longer?”

On one hand her response demonstrated everything that’s wrong with institutional resiliency.  At the same time I can also see it as an honest statement of my own realm of control.  When work and life inevitably boil down to “Just…what? Why is this normal?”, a practice of acceptance means neither normalizing nor pursuing crazy to find resolution.

The circus has left town

Image CC BY 2.0 with attribution:  matthew_pennell “The circus has left town”

If there is a proactive path through ambiguity or resilience, then I believe the skill we’re really after is how to recognize, reassess, and negotiate our power to influence and control.  This requires a constant give and take of our experience of that control as anxiety or relief.  It means exactly both action and letting go and not necessarily having to choose between the two.  When requiring choice, it means knowing how not to wrestle very long in the choosing.

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.

ACRL 2011: Walking The Talk

If you attended ACRL 2011 I hope you enjoyed it. I just completed the evaluation (be sure to complete it if you attended), and gave the conference high marks (disclosure: I co-chaired the keynotes committee). One of the things I really like about the ACRL conference is that it constantly evolves. A number of new initiatives were introduced this year. Some risks were taken, and some new things worked better than others. A few of the standbys may not be working as well as they used to. But it’s the way we want our own academic libraries to function – taking risks to try new things for the benefit of the end user – or in this case – you – the conference attendee. We have speakers who encourage us to take risks in the name of change. We read it in our literature. Be an innovator. It’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. You know the talk. Well, for me, the message of ACRL 2011 is that we need to walk the talk – and that’s just what ACRL did.

Take the choice of Clinton Kelly as the final keynote speaker. Not everyone agrees that this was a wise choice. For their final keynoter big library conferences usually go for NPR personalities, distinguished authors or highly recognized library advocates – especially if they are Hollywood personalities. Kelly is none of those. He’s the star of a TLC reality show. Not just any show but one with a strong message about personal change. Kelly shared seven rules for change, and spent more time on Q&A than most speakers. Maybe you liked it, maybe you didn’t. The point is that ACRL didn’t play it safe. They took a risk, and based on the reaction in the audience I’d say it was a risk well worth taking that paid off by giving attendees a great end to the conference.

Take the conference bag for example. For the years 2009 and 2007 ACRL conferences I’ve featured photos of the ACRL conference bag. Guess what? There is no ACRL conference bag in 2011. While I personally miss the bag – well not having it – just being able to critique it and provide a photo for you – I support the decision not to have one. The conference factsheet indicates that the members indicated that the bag just wasn’t necessary. We all have plenty of these bags. If you come to the conference and you really, really need a bag for your stuff, you can always find a vendor at the exhibits giving them away. And we all know librarians prefer to score exhibit hall swag anyway.

What else was new/different/risky? For example:

* Reduced time allowed for contributed papers from two 30-minute slots to three 20-minute slots. On the upside more librarians got to give a paper which is great. On the downside (experienced personally) it is tough to summarize months of research in 12 minutes – but constraints should bring out our creative side. Also on the upside, if the speaker is not so great, it won’t last long. I vote a thumbs up for this change. A risk worth taking.

* Introduction of the IdeaPower Unconference. I only got to one of these but it was packed. My take is that these are lightning talks with Q&A at the end. Sometimes I wasn’t exactly sure what the idea was, although I could tell it was about a project someone tried at their library. Whatever you thought of the presentations, it did give more attendees a chance to participate and present, and from what I heard this was really popular and well received. So this one gets a thumbs up too – not all that risky but it could have bombed.

* Moving the Cyber Zed Shed out of the Shed and into an actual conference room. While I understand the rationale for this – in 2007 and 2009 the CZS was packed to the gills – moving it to a regular room just seemed to take some of the wind out of the CZS sail. Maybe it was that it just didn’t have the “alternate conference” vibe that it used to. I’m going to give this a thumbs down. Either move it back into the exhibit hall or some weird spot or put it to rest. If you can’t get in because the area is small, well, there’s always another program. Again, not a huge risk but a change well worth trying.

*Heavy promotion of conference tweeting. This is not all that risky or groundbreaking these days. Seems like every library conference is judging itself by the volume of tweets it generates – and I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. Seems like we were just trying to encourage live blogging – but I think there are hardly any blog posts about the conference at all – and I think that’s our loss. I read that the conference generated approximately 8,500 tweets. I did attend two sessions where presenters asked attendees to tweet back responses relevant to the presentation. In at least one of them an attendee protested that he didn’t have a twitter account, and therefore couldn’t participate.

I guess my thinking on this is that if everyone is tweeting about the presentations during the presentations – is anyone really paying attention to what the presenters are saying. I know all the tweeters will say they multi-task well and can tweet and listen. Not me. I was tweeting when asked to, and I know for a fact that I missed something the presenter said because other people were chuckling and I had no clue. There’s no way I would even have attempted to tweet during Jaron Lanier’s keynote – I didn’t want to miss a word he said. Yet other folks were tweeting a plenty. I’m sure they missed something. A presentation of mine didn’t get much tweeting action. I don’t know what that means. Maybe I gave nothing to tweet about. Maybe I kept the audience so engaged that they didn’t want to stop and tweet. I hope it’s the latter. Anyway, I think I’ll do more listening and less tweeting – to me you start tweeting when you are bored and need a distraction to keep yourself engaged. Next time, let’s have a conference with such great speakers that the number of tweets actually goes down. So I turn my thumb sideways on this one. Great for those who like it, but forgettable for those who would rather listen to the talks without distraction or who don’t have a twitter account. Who the heck even knows how we’ll be communicating electronically in 2013.

Speaking of 2013, ACRL 2013 will be in Indianapolis – an up and coming city with a vibrant downtown (I was just there two weeks ago so I know). Will they go with “Start Your Engine – Racing to Our Future” as the Conference theme (Indy 500 – get it). Who knows? One thing I do know is that ACRL is the type of conference that doesn’t rest on its laurels. There will be changes. There will be evolution. Risks will be taken. You can count on it.

Q & A With The Librarians Who Made That Winning Video

While I can’t say enough about the importance of video as a communication and learning tool, I’m hardly enamored with most librarian videos – especially the ones that involve lip synching to pop tunes. That’s why I was particularly impressed by the creativity and craftsmanship demonstrated by the now well known video that won top prize in the ACRL 2011 Video Contest, the Strozier Rap Video.

The Florida State University Libraries Strozier Library team did a great job with their video, and I wanted to learn more from them. So I sent them a few questions and they were kind enough to answer them. Here’s the interview with:
Michelle Demeter, Academic Partnerships Librarian
Job Jaime, Technology Center Coordinator
Suzanne Byke, Undergraduate Outreach Librarian

Where did the idea for the video come from?

We are fans of Lazy Sunday from SNL! Based on the criteria for the video we felt that modifying the Lazy Sunday video would create a really cool, fun ACRL promotion.

What video equipment did you use?

The video was recorded using a Sony HDC-3 camcorder, Sony Vegas for video editing and a basic lighting kit. For audio, we used Audacity audio editing software. We used both Adobe Flash and Photoshop for animation. All of the equipment and software is available from Strozier Library to the Florida State University community. We also provide assistance using all of the software to any student, faculty or staff at FSU.

Was this your first library video or have you made others?

As a team, this was our first video. The library does have many videos that have been created by individual members of the team. Check out the Club Stroz video which was created by two undergraduates that now work on promotion for our Undergraduate Commons.

How long did it take to create the video?

Here are approximate times: writing the rap 3 hours, filming 7 hours, sound recording 1.5 hours, animation 3 hours, sound and video editing 9 hours, and endless laughter watching it! We took many takes. Between the perfectionist director and our inability to rap on cue, we took more takes than we can count…but we had FUN!

What suggestions do you have for other librarians who want to make cool videos?

A creative idea, or stealing from pop culture, and a team of awesomely talented audio/video geeks that are willing to give up their free time to help you!

What’s your take on lipsyncing to pop songs in videos?

Seriously, it’s harder than it looks! You need to have a sense of humor when singing or rapping if it’s not your thing and don’t give up your day job until you get a record contract. You also can’t let the comments on YouTube crush your dream, haha!

So, would you do it again?

You betcha! While it was a lot of work, it was definitely worth it! We were so happy with the final result!

Thanks Strozier Team. If we need some suggestions for our next library video we know who to call.

Titles Do Make A Difference

Not your job title – the title of that paper you’d like to get published or conference proposal you want to submit. Now that ACRL has announced the call for papers, panels and more for the 2011 15th National Conference in Philadelphia, many academic librarians will begin thinking about submitting proposals. I believe the 2009 ACRL conference had one of the all-time lowest acceptance rates for papers and panels, and I expect that 2011 will be just as if not more competitive. So you need an edge. Here’s my advice for you. Don’t underestimate the importance of the title you choose for your submission.

Do proposals with catchy titles really get selected more frequently than those with bland titles? I don’t know. I do know that as you review the 2009 program you will see that many of the papers and panels that were accepted have catchy titles that effectively connect into the conference theme or locale. For example, “Assessment Baristas: Can We Start a Rubric for You?” Seattle. Starbucks. Baristas. That title taps into the locale quite nicely. Admit it. That’s sure beats something like “Creating Rubrics for Information Literacy Assessment.” Comparing the title of proposals that get accepted to those that get rejected and analyzing their “catchiness” factor would definitely make for an interesting research paper. BTW, take note of the (mostly) catchy titles for the conference tracks. As you read the 2011 call for participation you see there are references to the interdependence theme and a host of references to colonial and revolutionary times in Philadelphia. How might you work this into the title of your proposal?

Why catchy titles? Try imagining the guy or gal on the committee that selects papers or panels. This colleague is facing a stack of 200 or 250 papers. It’s critically important to capture that person’s attention right away, perhaps within 10 or 15 seconds – maybe even less. Failure to grab the reviewer’s attention immediately can be the difference between making the cut and being cut. Sorry if that sounds somewhat superficial and anti-scholarly. I’m sure we’d like our reviewers to focus solely on the content and judge proposals strictly on quality factors, but these folks are only human and a great title is going to get more attention than a boring one. And to some extent I think most of us would prefer a conference program with titles that catch our attention, demonstrate creative thinking and compel us to want to attend. Given the choice between two programs of relatively equal interest and potential quality, I think the one with the catchy titles is going to win out most of the time. While there’s no precise formula for coming up with a catchy title for your presentation, here are some ideas that might help:

1. Right at the top of the list is contemplating the themes and the location. Try to work one, the other or both into your title. For the Seattle conference two colleagues and I did a talk about user experience. Seattle has one of the world’s most popular user experiences – the Pike Place fish market. So we worked that into our title, “If Fish Markets Can Do It Then So Can We”. For the 15th annual conference in Philadelphia the revolution and independence – and interdependence – themes are ones to consider. If you’re not that familiar with the city, browse some visitor websites for inspiration.

2. Don’t settle on a single title. Keep writing down title ideas as you get them or when inspiration strikes. Start out with a dull title if you feel like you can’t come up with anything at first. For example, if all you can think of at first is something like “Promoting Active Learning in Your Information Literacy Session” (yawwwn!) you can morph that over time to “Revolt Against Boring Instruction Sessions: Create Interdependence in the Instruction Room with Active Learning”. That still needs some work. Just don’t wait till the last minute. And when you keep writing down your title ideas you may have several that, after some mixing and matching, will result in a truly catchy title.

3. Tap into your inner creativity but don’t force it too much. If you are trying to figure out how to work Rocky, revolution and cheesteak into the title of your proposal for the Philly conference then you might be trying too hard. You can actually overdo this catchy title thing. My suggestion is to run your ideas past a few colleagues to see if you might be going overboard. With some practice you will get it right.

Coming up with a catchier title, one that avoids the predictable, boring and cliched, may give you an edge. Just remember that winning proposals also have substance behind the sizzle the title promises. Getting the reviewer’s attention is just the first step. Then you’ve got to deliver the goods and sell the decision makers on your great idea for a program. The title is only the front door. You want the reviewer to step through it and spend some time with your proposal. I came up with three ideas for developing catchy (or avoiding bad) titles. How about sharing some of your tips.