Monthly Archives: May 2010

Reflections on Service

By now I’m sure everyone’s seen Thomas Benton’s article in praise of academic librarians in last week’s Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s getting a lot of link love in the blogosphere, and was in the top five most viewed and emailed articles on the Chron’s website early this week. I love being a librarian and reading positive things about librarianship, and I enjoyed reading Benton’s piece. The whole article’s worth a read but a few sentences near the beginning sum it up nicely:

[M]ore than any other class of professionals in higher education, librarians possess a comprehensive understanding of the scholarly ecosystem. They know what’s going on across the disciplines, among professors and administrators as well as students. No less important, they are often the most informed people when it comes to technological change–its limits as well as its advantages.

The article’s comments were mostly positive, too, but scanning through them there was one in particular that caught my eye. The commenter suggests that faculty and administrators value librarians because of the work we do for them which, in this commenter’s mind, equates librarians with “glorified research assistants.”

One of the reasons this comment struck me is that it speaks to something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Librarianship is a service-oriented profession — service to our patrons, whether faculty, students, or staff, is a core value for many academic librarians. We want faculty and students to ask us questions about library and research resources.

However, sometimes it can be a fine line to walk between facilitating access to and use of library resources, and slipping into an assistant role as mentioned by the Chron commenter. Does our goal to assist with research in our institutions ever cross the line to acting as a research assistant? What does “service” really mean in an academic library?

ACRL 2011 National Conference Update – Paper/Panel Submissions

Just in! Some data on the number of submissions for the contributed paper and panel sessions (plus workshops and preconferences) for ACRL’s National Conference in Philadelphia in 2011. As you might expect – the number of submissions (mostly) continues to increase.

Here’s the data:

Contributed Papers

Number of submissions – 238
Number that can be accepted – 66
Acceptance rate 28%

Panel Sessions

Number of submissions – 202
Number that can be accepted – 44
Acceptance rate 22%


Number of submissions – 11
Number that can be accepted – 6
Acceptance rate 55%


Number of submissions – 50
Number that can be accepted – 12
Acceptance rate 24%

Comparative Numbers for ACRL 2009

Contributed Papers – 230 submissions; 44 accepted; 19% acceptance rate

Panel Sessions – 169 submissions; 35 accepted; 21% acceptance rate

Preconferences – 15 submissions; 6 accepted; 40% acceptance rate

Workshops – 47 submissions; 11 accepted; 23% acceptance rate

ACRL has responded to a major request from the membership – provide more academic librarians with an opportunity to present at national conference. ACRL is making this possible by increasing the number of papers from 44 to 66 so that will increase the acceptance rate nearly 10 points (thanks to a stable number of submissions) over 2009. The trade-off is that each paper presentation is just 20 minutes, so there are now three papers, not two, at every session. Even with 9 additional panel sessions, owing to a substantial increase in the number of submissions, the acceptance rate is pretty much the same. Looks like those who submitted a preconference proposal will have the best shot at acceptance. But overall more of you will be presenting at ACRL!

Good luck to all those who submitted a proposal. I hope you came up with a snappy title (see more on that here).

And in the event your proposal is rejected, keep in mind that the submission deadline for poster sessions, cyber zed shed, roundtables and virtual conference sessions is November 1, 2010. So there will still be plenty of time to submit a proposal. There are a bunch of other innovations being planned for the conference – and you’ve probably now found out who the keynoters are – so I hope you’ll be planning to come to Philadelphia in 2011.

One Idea Can Make A Difference

A few weeks ago I had the great honor of serving as the Emcee for the TEDxNJLibs conference held at the Princeton Public Library in New Jersey. You probably know all about TED and the famous talks. You may be less familiar with TEDx which seeks to replicate the vibe and excitement of the annual TED event. Putting on a TEDx conference in no easy undertaking. From finding the right speakers to planning out the one-day program, this is an enormous amount of work. The payoff is treating the attendees to a great day of inspiring and amazing speakers. The Library Garden gang did an amazing job organizing the event. Last year I attended their Pres4Lib unconference which was great, and I wondered if they could top it. Going for the TEDx was a brilliant move, and yes, they did top themselves.

The main thing you should know is that TEDxNJLibs was really not about librarianship. The theme was community and culture, and like all TED events it featured a diverse collection of speakers who brought different perspectives to the theme. And just like TED events, the speakers shared stories of courage, caring and inspiration. As a celebration of culture it also featured great music and good food. It was a really well-balanced program that got me thinking. One of the commonalities that ran through the talks was, for me at least, the idea of choosing to act to make a difference in the community and lives of others. Whether it was Sam Daley-Harris’ effort to use microfinance to eradicate world hunger and poverty, or Salman Ahmad’s mission to share music to promote peace, the speakers demonstrated that a single good idea, well executed, can make a difference.

I do want to share one illustrative story because it’s a good one, but also because it involved the community library. Mimi Omiecinski moved to Princeton, New Jersey in June 2006, with absolutely no plans to start a small business. But that’s exactly what she did. The epitome of the local entrepreneur, Mimi started a local walking tour company in Princeton, New Jersey. Mimi’s business, like any new one, was slow to catch on with the community and visitors. But then she had an idea – a great one. According to an interview with a local paper Mimi recalled:

A few years ago, I started my bike tour business, and I literally couldn’t even give away the bikes. So I started the walking tours (Princeton Tour Company), and figured I’d study up on Albert Einstein for a tour. So I Googled him, and found out he was born on March 14 — 3/14. Pi, of course, is 3.14159 … That was my “oh my god” moment.

Many of have that “oh my god” moment but we either let it drift off or perhaps we do make a note of it, but then we ultimately never get past the idea stage. But Mimi took hold of her idea and became its champion. Out of her “aha” moment grew Princeton Pi Day, celebrated of course on March 14. Taking personal responsibility for the idea, Mimi enlisted businesses and others in the community to participate with special events and items that would cost $3.14. A real stroke of genius was collaborating with the Princeton Public Library. The Library put together a mix of Einstein and Pi-related activities (Einstein look alike contest, contest to recall the most numbers in Pi, pie throwing, etc.), and funds raised by Mimi’s tours would be contributed to the Library. Mimi’s one simple idea and her commitment to it made all the difference for the community, its people, and the Library.

The “one idea can make a difference” is a theme that others have explored. Malcolm Gladwell discussed in his book The Tipping Point. He referred to it as “creating an epidemic”:

The virtue of an epidemic, after all, is that just a little input is enough to get it started, and it can spread very, very quickly. That makes it something of obvious and enormous interest to everyone from educators trying to reach students, to businesses trying to spread the word about their product, or for that matter to anyone who’s trying to create a change with limited resources.

Had I not been asked to emcee, I probably would still have attended TEDxNJLIBS. I knew it would be a fun and informative event, and one of the great things about TED is that is you can easily expose yourself to new ideas and new mysteries. Doing so is one way to keep learning and putting yourself in a position to get those ideas that can lead to innovations that make a difference. I learned one other important lesson from the TEDx speakers. Having a great idea is important, and coming up with a plan to implement it is the start to creating change. The other important ingredient is the “WHY”.

As in “why am I doing this?” I don’t doubt that Mimi wanted to jump start her tour business, but I think there was more to Pi Day than that. As I listened to her tell the story I sensed she really wanted to do something to bring the community together for a shared experience. She believed it would make the community a better place, and the community members believed in her – and shared the vision for what Pi Day could offer. The next time you have an idea try to do more than capture it on paper. Share it with colleagues. Play with it. Come up with some prototypes for it. If there’s a positive response, take it to the next level. But always keep the “why” question front and center. If you strongly believe in the WHY – if it is more about doing something for the community and is less about how it advances your career – then it should be easy to articulate for yourself and demonstrate to others the WHY behind your great idea. Start there and you will make a difference.

Addendum: You can view the video of Mimi’s TEDxNJLIBS presentation here.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Sign of the Times

Here’s an interesting new blog started by the Chronicle, “Campus Cuts“. Too depressing maybe? On the other hand, when posts to this blog grow few and far between that will be a good sign. If you do need some cheering up stay away from the Chronicle and just stick with this.

Something is Just Wrong About This

I know it’s great to do marketing for libraries and to toot your horn and all that stuff. But is there such a thing as an inappropriate gesture? When I saw this press release from Capella University it just sort of rubbed me the wrong way. I think it’s great that the librarians there created a useful tutorial and decided to share it with others by submitting it to ACRL’s PRIMO repository of learning objects by and for librarians (and anyone else who can find a good use for them). But then issuing a press release that makes it sound like your library just won the equivalent of an Oscar or a gold medal at the Olympics – that just seems, well, not right. Sorry, but I can’t quite picture any non-profit higher education institution putting out a press release like this. Maybe you think they should. You could ask, “Why don’t more higher education institutions value their libraries and the work of their librarians the way that Capella does?” That’s a good question- unless you regard Capella’s press release as making a mountain out of a molehill for the sole purpose of getting any sort of attention from anyone. I applaud those who have their learning object accepted for addition to PRIMO, but is it an amazing feat worthy of an institutional press release? I don’t think so but maybe I’m just cynical. Here’s the odd thing though. If Capella is so proud of the online tutorial and their library – why doesn’t their press release link to either of them – or PRIMO. All the links are to – you guessed it – Capella University.

It Pays To Be Social Before Your Presentation

It used to be that you would just get to your presentation, set things up, give the talk, share some handouts, get done and then move on to the next thing. That won’t do anymore, especially if you want to get the audience to care about your topic – before you even talk about it.

The way to go now is to make your presentation “more social” according to a post over at Mashable. There are five things you can do to achieve this higher state of social connectedness. Consider discussing your presentation and sharing it on Facebook and Twitter in advance of the talk; invite your friends to comment on and critique your presentation. Be sure to give those tweeting in your audience sound bites that they can tweet easily. And you certainly keep it going after the talk by tapping into your network and delivering more content about your talk. I did question this particular piece of advice though:

Make sure you can see comments on the backchannel as they come in. While that can make for some complicated multi-tasking –- delivering a presentation, inviting interactive polls, and monitoring real-time backchannel comments at once –- it’s crucial for presenters to see what’s being said about them.

Perhaps you are a great multitasker, but for myself, I don’t think I could manage concentrating on my presentation plus what’s being said on social networks. And what if, like me, much of your presentation is getting away from the lectern and just talking. Are you supposed to run back to your computer to keep checking the backchannel? Seems rather awkward.

I have sensed that an indicator of a successful presentation these days is the number of librarians who become your Twitter follower within 48 hours of your presentation. I suppose that the way to gain even more followers is to be social before, after and during the program.

Making Conferencing Comfortable

Editor’s Note: ACRLog is hosting a team of ALA Emerging Leaders. Each month one of our Emerging Leaders will contribute a guest post, and each will focus on some aspect of gearing up for the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. Next up in the series is a personal reflection on being mentored at the ALA Conference by Rachel Slough, MLIS Candidate, 2010, Indiana University. Rachel’s co-author for this post is Sarah Wenzel, Bibiliographer for English & Romance Literatures at the University of Chicago Regenstein Library

One of the first things I did when I started my MLIS program was join ALA because I was told it was “the thing to do.” I didn’t exactly know what this meant, except that this was supposed to be important for my professional future. I was eager to attend my first annual conference last summer to get a better idea of what ALA is and does. In the months between the start of classes and the start of conference, I learned about ALA and became particularly excited about the opportunities to connect students and early professionals with experienced experts.

As the conference grew closer, I grew more nervous. I read about various events and sections, attended an ACRL 101 On-Point chat and talked with several of my librarian mentors. But I still had questions. Would I get lost? Would I be able to find sessions that were relevant and interesting? In all the enormity of the conference and the organization, would I be able to find a place where I felt like I belonged?

I was thrilled to find out that the New Member Round Table offers an Annual Conference Mentoring program, which pairs a first time attendee with a “seasoned” conference-goer to help ensure that the first conference experience will be a positive one. I took advantage of it, and was happy I did.

My conference mentor, and the NMRT Conference Mentoring program, played a large role in helping quell my nerves and make me want to become active with ALA as soon as I could. I was paired with Sarah Wenzel, and I received Sarah’s contact information several weeks before conference. We talked and emailed before the conference and also met once there. She introduced me to her colleagues, and invited me to join her at ALA division meetings. As a student, it was exciting to meet a professional librarian beyond my home institution who clearly loves the field and who is eager to mentor in-coming colleagues. As a first-time attendee, having a mentor gave me the guidance to navigate the ALA structure, confidence to seek out my own niche, and security in feeling that I was welcomed. Throughout the conference, I was delighted to discover how nice librarians are, and how eager many are to answer questions and to discern what I’m really asking. Having a conference mentor helped me to feel comfortable and welcomed both into ALA and the profession.

Participating in the NMRT Conference Mentor program has benefits for mentors as well. When I determined that I would be writing this post as part of my Emerging Leader project, I asked Sarah for her perspective on what it’s like on the other end.

Sarah Wenzel: This was the first time that I’d formally mentored a colleague, and I was glad for the chance to give back to the profession after all of the mentoring that I’ve received over the years. Most heartening to me was the chance to talk to someone enthusiastic and energetic as she discovered the joys (and, sadly, the logistical frustrations) of an ALA conference. Sharing my conference strategies with Rachel, who has slightly different professional interests than I, gave me the opportunity to think outside of my “home” section and to consider other areas than the WESS related activities that often frame my conference attendance. I was also reminded again of how closed and un-welcoming, despite our best efforts, our structures can seem. The need to make sections, committees and discussion groups more transparent and to reach out to new members once again became real to me.

In the same way that teaching is the best way to learn something or to force yourself to think about what you do in new ways, mentoring allows you to reexamine your assumptions and explore different aspects of the profession.

Seeing the perspective of someone who hasn’t attended ALA before refreshed my enthusiasm for the conference, and gave me a sense of re-discovering both the conference and the organization. Not least, I also have added a terrific new contact and colleague to my network of resources.

For those interested in participating in this year’s program as a mentee or mentor, Applications are due May 15.