An ACRL Research Program At ALA

Academic librarians are churning out research like never before. One problem is that there are too few venues in which that research can be presented. Our profession’s primary outlet for the presentation of research is the ACRL national conference held every other year. But is that too little, too infrequently? As it stands the number of academic librarians seeking to present at ACRL far exceeds the number of slots so the typical acceptance rate for contributed papers stands at about 20 percent. Those who get accepted love it because it raises and maintains the prestige level of acceptance at ACRL national. Those who are rejected are likely to never try again. Is there a way to give those who want to present their research to peers an opportunity to do so?

A possible solution is bubbling up in ACRL, but opinions are divided. Several ACRL sections, the disciplinary-focused ones in particular, are promoting the idea that ACRL should offer a program at each ALA annual conference that would strictly cater to research paper presentations. As it stands current ACRL programs at ALA are topical or theme based, and the speakers are recruited individually. A research paper program would follow the same proposal-peer review-accept or reject model used at the national ACRL conference.

While I like the idea of creating more opportunities for members to present research I’m concerned that ALA may not be the best place to offer such opportunities. ALA already suffers from a severe case of program glut. Can you squeeze another program into your schedule? And how far will this actually go towards creating more presentation opportunities. Perhaps a half-dozen librarians will have a chance to present while dozens more are once again rejected.

I much prefer the development of webcasted research forums. These could be monthly programs that would feature three or so presentations. The ACRL sections interesting in promoting more research presentations could create a review panel from among their members. ACRL already has great expertise in staging web-based conference events. The events will be archived so those that don’t make it to the live program always have a chance to view it. A fee? I’m not sure. Perhaps it could managed without one if the interested chapters used their budgets to fund the programs. Perhaps sponsors could be found.

But let’s be clear about our objectives. If we want to create another low acceptance rate opportunity that caters to tenure-track librarians seeking a high profile mark on their CV, a single program once a year at ALA will do just fine. But if we really want to facilitate the distribution of useful research, to give more (and newer) members better chances to make a presentation to their peers, and we want to do it in a way that makes it easy for members to participate in an anywhere, anytime mode, then a web-based approach seems the superior option. What do you think?

Posted by StevenB

6 thoughts on “An ACRL Research Program At ALA”

  1. I don’t quite understand your point about too few venues. I’m thinking, “well, ASIS&T, SLA, Computers in Libraries…” Or is the point to create something which does not require travel?

  2. It’s true that academic librarians can present research at other conferences – and they do – but in terms of those conferences that are devoted specifically to academic librarianship (which was the focus of my post – though I didn’t explicitly state that) the key conference is ACRL national. Getting accepted there is likely to be more significant for a tenure track academic librarian than presenting at SLA or CIL – and ASIS&T would probably have no interest in research on information literacy or technical services. So if what you want is the most bang for your buck presentation, the options are pretty limited – to my way of thinking.

  3. Being the cynic that I am, I have to ask if such a web-based opportunity would be seen with favor by the tenure committees that those tenure seeking librarians who want a “big” line on the CV have to worry about? While I am all for the better distribution of useful research and all the rest you outline, I don’t see it as useful if librarians participate only to hear their tenure committees say, “that is nice, but you still need to go to ACRL (or whatever the big CV filler is).” Kind of makes me glad I left that hamster wheel behind. Best, and keep on blogging.

  4. I agree with Steven that a research program at ALA will not solve all problems, but here’s what I like about the idea:

    First, I have often hear academic librarians complain that, even with the glut of programs at Annual, they don’t feel like there is enough high-quality programming at the Big ALA meetings. This would provide one opportunity to improve (and the RUSA Reference Research programs are always a popular draw at conference).

    Second, there is enough solid research being proposed that ACRL research programs could be focused. For example, a theme relevant to the Strategic Plan could be proposed, or a theme related to one of the established “research agendas” that ACRL has approved (e.g., Information Literacy and Instruction, Scholarly Communications). This would not be wide open, but it would provide another opportunity, and it would allow ACRL to focus attention on the research agenda for academic librarianship that it has identified (an agenda that, likewise, is not all things to all people).

    Third, it would provide another opportunity for F2F networking at conference. This is not a priority for all, but not everyone feels that a virtual conference presentation meets their needs for personal networking. This would simply provide another opportunity, and I think that more opportunity is good.

    Finally, I think that there is something intrinsically good in the basic idea of “opening up” opportunities for presentation at national meetings.

    That said, Steven is right that this will not redress all ills. An ACRL research program at Midwinter and/or Annual will have to complement the opportunities made available through ACRL National, as well as the opportunities made available through Web-based programs like last year’s Virtual Conference.

    Our most important job, I think, is to promote multiple opportunities (because we can see that the interest is out there) and to articulate clearly how they complement one another, rather than suggesting that one stands to replace the other.

    Another idea: a research theme announced across ACRL, a call for papers, and a call for ACRL Chapters to sponsor paper presentations. I don’t know how it would work, and I know money would be involved, but what if there could be a coordinated body of sponsored programs that occurred at chapter conferences?

    It would require considerable effort to adjust the mind-set of P&T committees (and external reviewers) who don’t know how to equate this sort of presentation (or presentation at a virtual conference) with the traditional “national presentation,” but I think it could be done, and I think it could meet a set of needs that no program that requires one’s presence at any national conference does.

  5. I think Angel nailed it with his “hamster wheel” analogy. If the point is to involve more librarians in sharing more ideas, how important is the prestige of the venue? It seems as if focusing on the prestige factor puts us in the jam the MLA is trying to get out of, locked into a reward system that isn’t really adding to our knowledge but constitutes an artificial accounting system for evaluating careers. Exclusivity (of a prestigious journal or a single conference) is an old-fashioned filter. Face to face networking is not as important as it was before the Internet. (Yes, I’m antediluvian enough to remember how utterly cool it was to join BI-L and have people to talk to! No waiting for a once-a-year conference!)

    As a profession we recognize the price we all pay for the practice of counting publications for tenure and promotion. Of course, I can’t blame pre-tenure librarians for doing what they have to do, but those of us who have tenure should strive to make our evaluations more about the value of the contribution, not the exclusivity of the venue.

    There are tons of places to present. Not all of them require going through a winnowing process that is limited by a few days’ schedule or expensive travel to a distant city. Not all of them have librarians as their sole audience.

    As far as adjusting the mind-set of P&T committees, I’d go a bit further than Scott – not only can be done, it must be done. Let’s do it!

  6. I want to remind those who are doing research that ACRL also publishes research in a number of forms. Obviously C&RL is the most obvious location. However we also have a non-serials publication program and a series within that program called Publications in Librarianship (PIL).
    The proposal form for a monograph (not PIL):
    Information on submitting a proposal for a PIL publication:

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