March has gone by so fast, and that’s definitely in part because of the ACRL 2023 conference. I was extremely grateful to have my registration paid for by the Congress of Academic Library Directors (CALD) of Maryland. Truthfully, I almost didn’t go; less than 12 hours before I needed to leave for Pittsburgh, I was at the Pet ER with my pup. She’d been sick in the days leading up to the conference, but thankfully, that visit helped her turn a corner and I felt okay leaving her with dogsitters (but with a car rental website pulled up and ready on my phone in case I had to come back).
It might go without saying, but I certainly wasn’t at my best during those days. Traveling can already throw me for a loop, but it was intensified with worry for my dog. I was checking my petcam whenever my dogsitters weren’t there, and more than once I found that I needed to just go up to the rooftop terrace of the convention center and sit for a while. My coworkers said I seemed quite chill, given all that had happened, but that’s how my personal brand of anxiety manifests; it’s calm, cool, and collected on the outside and a bit of a storm on the inside.
Maybe you expected this post to be more of a conference report, and I will definitely shout out some of the work I saw later, but I start with this to normalize the mental health struggles that can come with conference attendance. How disruptive to life and routine they can be. On the first full day of the conference, there was a community chat at 8:30am entitled, “Anxious People Unite” led by Heidi Burkhardt. It was so, so nice to be in a room of librarians who understand the impact anxiety can have (and for me to have the opportunity to just… rant a bit about the absolute struggle in getting to the conference!). I think I would have been even more spacey and out of it during ACRL if not for this chat, because in addition to letting the anxiety out, we all shared coping tips and strategies.
This was my first time at ACRL, so I didn’t know what to fully expect. I’d only ever attended AWP (Association of Writers and Writers’ Programs) in the past, which is ginormous, and I didn’t really know anyone. It was different in Pittsburgh. I got to catch up with some of my graduating cohort, since we’re all now scattered across the country (academia, am I right?) as well as other folks from UIUC and GVSU. My work with ACRLog also allowed me to meet some new people too. I think browsing the poster sessions was my favorite part; of course, engaging with the authors was intellectually stimulating in its own right, but it was also nice to hear the conversations happening around me. It can be a struggle to explain a job in academia to those outside of it and knowing that everyone here had that baseline understanding was lovely. I was excited to bring some of the concepts back to my home library, like the posters about shortening database descriptions for their student audiences and a seed library.
I went to many great sessions though, such as Meg Galasso’s contributed paper Fatness and the Future of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Librarianship and Ali Krzton’s contributed paper Welcome to the Machine: Ir/Responsible Use of Machine Learning in Research Recommendation Tools. I won’t describe them here since the papers are available to read, but both sessions were extremely enlightening and informative. I also attended a Visual Literacy focused roundtable, where I learned a great deal about the concept as well as some good tips and tricks from the other librarians present. Particularly, an activity where the point is to have a “failed” search – such as searching the color “nude” to see the results that come up. I think it’s good for students to see how search engines and databases can fail; search persistence is something I’m always trying to get across in my instruction sessions. We can then go a step further beyond persistence to ask deeper questions about the results.
Overall, I am glad I went. As my title suggests, I’m trying to push beyond my ambitious overachiever thought processes and acknowledge that this time, just getting there was the accomplishment. Life got in the way, as it is wont to do, but I think I made the best of the brain power I did have. I found that once I was in the convention center, I was busy and distracted enough that I wasn’t focusing as much on the anxiety about my dog. She is fine now, for anyone wondering; it was just one of those “worst timing ever” situations.
So if you also encountered struggle in attending ACRL 2023, just know you aren’t alone in that.