Preparing for #ACRL2019

The time has come, our slides and posters are hopefully published online, our bags are (mostly) packed, preconferences are about to begin, and we are ready to be in Cleveland this week. It seems a little wild to me that it’s time for ACRL again. In 2017, this ended up being a pretty pivotal conference for me as a new professional to the field. In 2017, learned a lot in Baltimore, met the ladies who I would co-found The Librarian Parlor with, and met others who I consider good colleagues today. So needless to say, I’m excited to be in Ohio catching up with colleagues, learning about new programs and initiatives, and meeting new librarians.

However, as much as I’m excited about ACRL, I also know this can be an overwhelming conference. There are so many sessions, things to do, and a city to explore. It’s great to have so many choices, but also can feel like too much all at once. With that in mind, I wanted to bring together some tips and tricks for making the most of this conference as well as highlight some great ways to meet new folks.

Sessions

With so many panels, papers, roundtables, posters, and lighting talks, it can be hard to decide on where to go and what to attend. Here are a way fews to think about choosing your sessions:

  • Before the conference, I like to take a look at the schedule, mark any and all sessions I’m interested in, and then choose a few that I will attend, no matter what. These might be sessions my colleagues or friends are presenting at, a topic I’m really interested in, or something I’d like to learn more about. Having a few concrete sessions helps to create an outline for each day and then the rest, is up in the air, and based on how I’m feeling and who I run into.
  • Create some learning outcomes for what you’d like to accomplish and learn about at the conference. Use the learning outcomes to guide what sessions you choose.
  • Experienced conference go-ers recommend choosing one session/activity for the morning, one for the afternoon, and then setting aside some time to meet up with colleagues you do not see on a regular basis.
  • Attend the First-Time Attendee Orientation on Wednesday evening to learn more about ACRL and get a sense of what you might like to attend later in the week.

If you want some guidance on which sessions, we have had a few folks put together some lists of related sessions. These can be great ways to create your own theme to the conference, or find people who are interested in similar areas of librarianship.

Now, I know looking at all those sessions makes you realize there is so much you will miss. It’s important to remember that you won’t make it to everything (and that’s okay). Some recommend attending sessions for things you do not know much about, in order to make the most of your time at ACRL. For all those sessions you miss (or want to know more about), you can review any contributed papers on ACRL’s website, download slides and handouts from the online conference program, and send an email to presenters to learn more. You’ll see what you’ll see at ACRL, but that doesn’t mean the conversation has to stop once you leave Cleveland.  

Twitter & sharing resources

At a conference like #ACRL2019, Twitter can be a great way to learn more about what’s happening, connect with other colleagues, and share resources. Some folks will live tweet the conference, and others will tweet out their slides, surveys to fill out, and questions for the general #ACRL2019 community. It’s definitely worth following the hashtag and contributing tweets. The hashtag can also help you decide what sessions to attend. Along with Twitter, sometimes folks will create digital community notes to gather insight from sessions and share resources. For example, LibParlor has a shared community notes document where we’ll discuss a few sessions throughout the conference. These can also be great documents to return to once the conference is over.

Snacks, hydration, and breaks

Fun fact about me: I’m very pro snacks. I would highly recommend having a few snacks tucked away that you can have throughout the conference. We all know that conferences like ACRL can take a lot out of you. Knowing this, it’s important to take breaks and stay hydrated. Sometimes you just need to go to a quiet corner of the convention center, or take a little walk outside. Trust me, you’ll feel better when you do.

Outside the conference

Personally, I think some of the most memorable times at a conference isn’t necessarily in the sessions themselves, but during all the time before, between, and after sessions. ACRL hosts both an exhibit reception (Wednesday) and a conference reception (Friday, 8 PM, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame), which is high-energy and a nice way to celebrate the end of the conference. Beyond the ACRL reception, there are a variety of other social events. ACRL has organized a dine around for Thursday evening, some iSchools host a get together for their past and current students, and interest groups might put something together near the convention center. All of these events can be opportunities to meet new people, or connect with colleagues. I will shout out two Thursday evening events:

  • WOC + LIB Social Hour: Last week, a great new blog launched to showcase women of color in librarianship. Join co-founders LaQuanda Onyemth and Lorin Jackson to discuss future collaborations with the blog.
  • LibParlor Meet & Greet: Join me and the rest of the LibParlor Editorial Team at ACRL. Learn more about the blog, discuss all things research, and discover ways to get involved!

Other tips

I know I’m not the only person who has put together a list of tips and tricks for making it through conferences like ACRL. Take a dive into these posts here at ACRLog and over at Hack Library School. If you have more tips or questions, feel free to comment below.

Safe travels to all and I hope to see some of you at ACRL. Oh, and with spring weather in Ohio, it’s always a good idea to pack an umbrella!


Featured image by DJ Johnson on Unsplash

Reflections after the Association for Asian Studies Conference

A few weeks ago, I attended the Association for Asian Studies annual conference. This conference has been a staple of my repertoire since I started library school, because along with all the usual scholarly panels, there are also several meetings of librarians. With two years under my belt, I was excited to approach this conference as a professional, voting on CRL global resources projects for the first time, and actually representing an institution instead of just coming along for the ride to observe discussions.

I also wanted to approach this conference thinking about librarianship more broadly and how subject librarians interact both with the world of their subject and the world of librarianship. At least in my areas, I sometimes feel like I’m splintered off from the rest of the library world, focusing on regions outside of the United States and languages other than English, which sometimes bring with them different challenges than what the rest of the profession in the United States might be facing. I wanted to make sure I paid attention to all facets of my librarian identity during this conference.

This year also happened to be the fiftieth anniversary of the Committee on Research Materials on Southeast Asia, which meant an extra celebration and a lot of reflection. Many librarians, including me, presented on some aspect of their work, either highlighting unique collections or discussing collaborative relationships between institutions both in the United States and abroad. We also honored retiring and past members, which was a good history lesson for me: there’s a lot of work that’s been done already for me to build upon. I appreciated this introspective and retrospective time, as it showed me all the things that have been done and helped to inspire me to do things like work harder on building my own library’s collection. I’m now thinking about might make the collection here unique and how I can help in that process.

A good portion of all my meetings also focused on looking outward. Even if we’re dealing with materials from our subject areas, we still encounter the trends seen throughout librarianship. For example, an increasing demand for electronic materials means that we had discussions about everything from digitization initiatives to projects collecting electronic journals from South and Southeast Asia. It was exciting to hear about everything that was going on, and a little intimidating as well. A big lesson from my year so far has been that I need to be involved but that I also need to be selective about my involvement. When I hear about all these initiatives, I want to participate in all of them, if only to learn more about them. There were definitely times during the conference when I had to sit back and remind myself that I can learn from the sidelines, at least for now.

Finally, there were also discussions about more unique concerns for area studies librarians, such as support for cataloging in languages other than English. With problems like this one, which seem so specific to a certain subset of librarians, it might be useful to take a step back and look at librarianship more broadly to see what solutions there might be. One thought that particularly interested me was to work on training librarians within the countries of origin. While we did not follow through on this discussion, it does take me back to broader questions I’ve had recently about collaboration and how collaboration that crosses geographic lines can be accomplished. We’ve managed it in other projects, can we manage it in realms such as cataloging as well? What considerations—such as indigenous systems of organizing information—do we need to take into account? I don’t have the answers yet, but I’m trying my best to crosspollinate what I learn in subject-specific conferences with what I learn in library-specific conferences: I’m very excited to see what new ideas and potential solutions ACRL’s conference will bring.


What sorts of conferences do you regularly attend? How do you leverage information from conferences that aren’t focused on librarianship?

Desperately Seeking Sense-Making

If you know a little about me, you know my practice of librarianship — what I like to call truthbrarianship — desperately seeks to express a deeper connection to the communicative side of our profession, whether that’s information-seeking or information-management.  I’m still working on an alternative word for the latter, but my truth-seeking approach is inspired by Brenda Dervin’s sense-making methodology, work which most famously contributed to the practice of the reference interview.  Dervin also addressed sense-making in information systems and the impact on the democratic principles of librarianship, which are vulnerable to “unexamined assumptions about the nature of information and the nature of communication” (Dervin, 2003, p74).   To examine these assumptions means approaching communication differently than just an act of sending and receiving messages.  Since learning about this methodology in graduate school, I have been working to apply it to internal communication in library organizations.   

Communication theorists still debate whether organizational communication is best measured as a product of organizational structure, or whether communication itself leads to the formation of organizational structures.   Nevertheless, I observe people fairly consistently credit or blame organizational morale and culture on communication.  When/if communication is good, morale is high.  When/if communication is bad, morale is low.  However, this link between communication and culture doesn’t make a bit of sense to those who approach communication primarily as messages.  Because messages can be controlled, communication problems are easily addressed by increasing or better-targeting messages, right?  People who see communication as connection, on the other hand, would rarely get what they need from messages alone, no matter how abundantly or frequently messages are sent, or even if they were received. Since the target, if you will, is connection, its lack is perceived as a more fundamental organizational problem.    

In the absence of clear solutions, I’m left to make peace with perpetually seeking.  But a couple of workplace examples recently paved some hope on this path.   One is a wonderfully challenging development series I’ve started attending, called “Compassionate Communication”. Based on Michael Rosenberg’s book, Non-violent communication: a language of life, the introductory focus of this workshop intentionally distinguishes the use of judgement (problem-solving) and empathy (connection) when communicating, especially when communicating within conflict.  What I like most about the series so far is how it hasn’t discarded rational, judgement-based thinking in communication altogether.  Rather, it shows where this has value and where it doesn’t. With mindfulness and emotional intelligence, the Compassionate Communication: An Introduction course prescribes “translating judgments into observations, emphasizing needs instead of strategies, replacing thoughts with feelings, and changing demands into requests.” Like the reference interview compassionate communication considers that in situations people may not always know how to communicate their needs.  Dialogue offers a way to connect to needs and feelings in order to make meaningful requests.  So far (and I’m only two classes in) it promises to deliver what leaders sometimes struggle to accomplish with planning, hierarchy, and logic alone.

Another sense-making example took place in a recent email exchange about a new and somewhat contentious library policy.  In this scenario, most might have just chalked up the policy decision to “it’s complicated”, accepted it by virtue of hierarchy or expertise, and moved on.  Instead, this administrator and staff each made room to express and examine the different and often hidden circumstances at play.  I consider this kind of sense-making giving transparency to complexity. I have advocated and worked to develop this in my own communication and know the extra work it requires.  In my experience you can either pay the price of that work in confusion, frustration, and ongoing inefficiency, or in the work of communicating through those complexities.  I find only the latter builds trust, and I believe Dervin would say the act of building that trust is what matters most.  

Unfortunately, both approaches are still somewhat rare and sometimes discouraged in library leadership generally, despite similarities to LIS methodologies. Like Dervin’s sense-making, these two examples approach communication with questioning.  In compassionate communication, observations beyond the surface messages lead to more connected requests (aka questions) about what is needed. In the email exchange I observed, it was the willingness of this staff and administrator to first question whether they understood the whole picture and to thoroughly engage in seeking connections between those understandings.  Neutral questioning in the library reference interview demonstrates a shift in the balance of information power to create space for dialogue and understanding.  Shouldn’t that process, which translates to improved communication with users of library services and in the usability of library systems, also apply to our internal communication and information systems in a similar way?  Do we assume an expertise in sense-making with our users, and does this create an expectation that we can or should provide sense for our own needs?   

Left unexamined, such an assumption might result in providing our own messages and dialogues for ourselves. That seems both silly and irresponsible, especially as individuals and organizations seek truthfully to examine practices related to diversity and inclusion. This must mean understanding experiences beyond ourselves and our expertise as librarians. In the most basic sense, attending to these relational aspects of our work will require librarians to see each other as information seekers, balance informational power, and learn how to effectively ask questions of each other. Translating sense-making to organizations calls for us “to listen and to address differences and contests in human beings’ understandings and experiences” (Foreman-Wernet, 2003, p6).  The point is not understanding difference as characteristics or experiences that will define (read: label) how we interpret or listen in communication but connecting these differences toward understanding. Making sense of our internal information needs are necessary not just to solve collective problems, but for making sense of each other as human beings, our relationships in practices, and the ways in which these relationships are always changing.   

When Busy Leads to Block

I had an idea for my post this week, and came to work this morning thinking it would be relatively easy to get the words on the page (type the letters on the screen). I’m working on revisions right now for a chapter for a book about service and identity in academic librarianship and, somewhat ironically, I have a heavier-than-usual college service commitment this semester. I’m super, super, super busy, and have service on my mind, so I thought I’d write a few paragraphs about service outside the library and how that impacts my work inside the library.

Except that whoops, I’ve already done a lot of writing about service here, apparently: this post from almost a decade (!) ago, and another from a couple of years later, and one even more recently after I’d taken my current position a director. Between those posts and the chapter I’m working on, I think I’m fresh out of service-related ideas for this post.

So what now? What do we do with blogger’s block? Perhaps less formal than writer’s block, blogger’s block is most definitely A Real Thing, and I’d guess many folks suffer from it from time to time. I’ve tried various strategies to counter my bouts of blogger’s block in the past:

  • Reading! This is old faithful advice that I’ve found usually works: the more I read, the more I find to write about. I (still!) have an RSS feed of library and higher ed blogs that I follow, and I try to keep up with library and higher ed news media as well.
  • Twitter! Melissa’s post last week was a great primer on the benefits of Twitter, where there’s a robust library and higher ed community sharing and discussing information and news. Despite the very real problems with the platform, I’ve stayed on Twitter because I do find value in being able to interact with friends and colleagues, and to listen and learn from librarians, academics, and others.
  • Research! Often there are aspects of whatever research projects I’m working on that can serve as inspiration for blog posts. I’ve also found that blogging about my research can be useful as a way to work out my initial thoughts and ideas before sharing results in a more formal way at conferences or in publications.
  • A List! I’ve sometimes kept a list of possible topic ideas, many of them half-baked (if that!), and returned to the list periodically to see if anything catches my eye. This strategy works best for ideas that are less time-sensitive (says the person who is just realizing that she hasn’t looked at her list in a while).
  • Work Stuff! Not unexpectedly, the main source of inspiration for my posts here at ACRLog is what’s happening in my job (and associated work responsibilities). Similar to research, sometimes blogging about job-related ideas, questions, or concerns is useful for figuring them out, and I’ve gotten lots of great suggestions from commenters as well.

Right now I think my main problem is that I’ve been too busy to rely on my usual strategies, unfortunately. But listing them out here reminds me that they exist (because my busy brain has a hard time remembering that), so I’ll for sure be in much better shape when it’s time to write my next blog post.

The Benefits of Library Twitter

I first created a Twitter account back in 2008 because I heard that it was going to be A Thing. Back then, I used my account in a similar way I was using Facebook: to connect with people I already knew and talked to everyday. I also used it to chat with the Harry Potter fandom, but that’s a different story. My account sat mostly dormant after 2012 until I became a graduate assistant during library school. My supervisor, an awesome academic librarian, recommended that we jump on Twitter to connect with other library professionals and engage in chats.

I’d never used my personal social media account to enter professional conversations before. I started with #critlib chats, which is how I found librarians with ideas I really liked. I followed them, lurked for a bit, and then eventually started participating in conversations. Three years later, I’m following an awesome, robust network of librarians.

Is this a love letter to all of the wonderful and supportive librarians on Twitter? Kind of. But, for me, library Twitter has been a great source of professional development and collaboration with people who are far away from my geographic area. I wouldn’t know about the amazing work that’s being done if not for this platform.

I’ll also note that I’m not naive enough to think that this is a perfect space. There’s crap people who spout racist, sexist, and homophobic views (both in the library profession and outside of it). There’s people I don’t agree with and that I don’t like. Twitter, as a platform, has been criticized for not moderating its platform against hate. It is, by no means, a neutral space.

That said, there’s a lot of good things that come out of library Twitter that encourage learning, engagement, and entertainment. Here’s all of the ways librarians on Twitter have helped me in my first year as a professional librarian.

Staying connected with the profession

One of my favorite things about library Twitter is that everyone is constantly sharing their work, other people’s work, their ideas, what’s happening at conferences, and everything in between. It’s been a way to find out what important topics are cropping up and what issues we have as a profession. Is there an article that everyone’s talking about? I’ll probably find it on Twitter. Who cancelled Elsevier? I heard about this on Twitter before anywhere else. You can find calls for proposals, opportunities to collaborate on research, and a place to share your own stuff. I also follow conference hashtags, which has allowed me to 1. find out that the conference exists, and 2. know what’s being presented at that conference so I can decide if I want to go in the future. I like that this network exists so that I feel connected to everyone’s work and scholarship.

A place to solicit ideas and get recommendations

Over the past year, I’ve had a couple of ideas that I wasn’t sure how to execute. Enter library Twitter. I’ve asked for help with an instruction idea,

A tweet asking instruction librarians for their activities on creating research questions

wondered what conferences everyone attends,

A tweet asking library folks what conferences they are excited about attending

and asked a variety of other questions as well. People responded! It’s been immensely helpful to have a space where I can ask a question or for feedback outside of my workplace, and then crowdsource the answers. I’ve seen others ask work-related questions or promote their research and surveys, so dialogue between librarians is constantly happening in this space.

It’s not just academic librarians

I can get stuck in my little, academic bubble, so it’s nice to hear from librarians who work in different areas. There can be a lot of crossover between academic and public, federal and academic, or any combination of libraries. That’s easy to forget sometimes. I’m not only interested in where libraries intersect, but also where different types of libraries don’t crossover. There’s unique considerations and issues in each of our spaces. The library folks in areas outside of academia remind me of that.

Twitter chats

I mentioned Twitter chats above. There are a ton of chats out there that happen at a scheduled time with a selected topic. There’s #critlib, #LISProChat, #Medlibs, and a large list of other chats. There’s chats outside of the profession too. To participate, you show up at the scheduled time, follow the hashtag, and answer questions as they emerge from the moderator. It’s a fast-paced way to discuss an important topic. It’s how I’ve found people I want to follow, and I think it’s fun.

The fun stuff

Speaking of fun, library Twitter is fun. I’m going to ACRL next month, which I’ll write about next time, and I’m excited to meet some of the people I’ve talked to on Twitter. There’s also pictures of people’s pets, gifs galore, and fantasy baseball leagues. There’s spaces to rant, share accomplishments, and connect with one another.

At the end of the day, library Twitter is composed of people who are sharing pieces of their lives (the good and the bad). I’m happy to be a part of it.

You can follow me on Twitter @badgersssss