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.

Your ACRL Conference Planning Team

An enormous amount of work goes into planning the ACRL National Conference. No sooner does one end then the cycle of planning starts again for the next one. At ALA the 2011 conference planning committee had its first official meetings. We first met with members of the 2009 planning group for a debriefing session. Then we moved on to our first major task of identifying the conference themes and trying to come up with catchy names for them. Whereas the Seattle conference had five themes the Philadelphia conference will likely have seven. We think that will make it easier for those submitting proposals to more easily find a theme into which their idea fits.

At the end of the day loads of ACRL members will be involved in making the conference a success, from the many members of the planning committees to everyone who presents and participates. But the backbone of the conference is really three people. The chair of the conference committee and two ACRL staff members who somehow help us clueless members to pull this whole thing off. Here is your conference team for 2011:

Your ACRL 2011 Conference Team

On the far left is Margot Conahan, ACRL’s manager of professional development, to the far right you have Tory Ondrla, ACRL conference supervisor, and in the center is Pam Snelson, Library Director at Franklin & Marshall College – and the Chair of the Conference Planning Committee for 2011. Together these three will lead the conference planning committee in organizing another memorable ACRL conference.

9 Out Of 10 Academic Librarians Surveyed Liked The Seattle Conference

Did you have the opportunity to attend both the 2007 Baltimore ACRL conference and the 2009 Seattle ACRL conference? If so, which did you like better? I did get to both and I really wouldn’t compare the two. I think each conference needs to stand on its own. You have different cities, a different crowd, different themes, different speakers, etc. With so many differences a comparison could be difficult and not all that informative. It’s likely something worked better at one than the other, but every conference is going to have its ups and downs and it all balances out in the end. Yet, when I reviewed the results of ACRL’s comprehensive attendee survey for the 2009 Seattle conference, I was surprised to see a number of comments directed towards comparing the two, and a number of them expressed a preference for the Baltimore conference.

That said, the reactions to and comments about the ACRL Seattle conference were overwhelmingly positive. I was especially pleased to see that many of the newer-to-the-profession first-time attendees indicated how much they enjoyed the conference and that they intended to register for Philadelphia in 2011. Here are just a few of the highlights from the official survey questions:

* 94% indicated they’d recommend the conference to their colleagues

* 87% indicated the most important reason to attend is “keep up with the profession”

* The top response to the question “what is the most valuable part of the conference” was “connecting with colleagues”

* Ranked from “most important” to “least important” here’s what attendees said they found valuable: panel sessions; keynote speakers; poster sessions; contributed papers; cyber zed shed

* 55% of attendees reported that their institutions paid 95% or more of their conference expenses

* When asked what are the top issues for academic librarians the most frequent responses were: keeping up with technology; managing change and innovation; dealing with budget issues

* When asked what are the top issues for the academic library profession the most frequent responses were: technology change; demonstrating the library’s impact; maintaining relevance; managing change and innovation; declining support for libraries

* There was an increase in the number of attendees between ages 21-30 to 13.5% of all attendees (up from 10% in Baltimore); the majority of the attendees (41%) were 51 or above.

* For those of you waiting for librarians to retire only 8% indicated they’d retire in the next 5 years; 15% indicated they planned to retire in 5-9 years.

There were tons of comments, far too many to even summarize here. Again, I’d say the bulk were positive and reflected great enthusiasm for the conference, the Seattle location and the “green” initiative. Here is a sampling from the comments:

* We need to cut program dead weight; we cannot ask people to pay to come to boring and irrelevant speakers

* The content was consistently very good; the scheduling to avoid conflicts was a blessing and everything was easy to get to

* Too many session on instruction and reference; I want more sessions on management issues

* Still the best conference for academic librarians

* I want to be provoked by something new and creative

* I come from a very small private institution and didn’t feel like I could connect with those from large research universities

* Too much flat and outdated content; we need the latest and greatest in Philly

* Too many posters and not enough sessions

* Too many sessions and not enough posters

Well those last two comments give you an idea of what ACRL is up against in trying to figure out how to improve things for the 2011 conference. For everything that some folks loved there were other respondents who disliked that same aspect of the conference. I was interested to see a number of comments suggesting that ACRL should model the conference on EDUCAUSE. There’s no question that the annual EDUCAUSE is a great conference, but I think ACRL already has a similar structure and in fact offers more programming variety and innovative activity such as the cyber zed shed. What to do? Here are a few random observations and thoughts:

* Consider reducing the number of contributed papers and increasing opportunities for birds of a feather sessions. There were more than a few comments that indicated the topics are out of date by the time the conference rolls around; that’s not unexpected when proposals for papers and panels are due a year before the conference. You could debate that the contributed papers are the least interactive and dullest part of the conference. This is not good for a conference where the top reasons to attend are “connect with colleagues” and “keeping up”. Can we give this conference more of an “unconference” feel where attendees could identify the topics they want to talk about and then have BoaF sessions generated shortly before the start of the conference? Attendees want to connect with their colleagues, and they want to be involved. This could be a way to do both. What gets lost? Opportunities to list conference paper presentations on CVs. Then again, doesn’t ACRL have some responsibility to promote scholarly research at the conference through the delivery of contributed papers. Or is there another way to do that? We may have a conflict between tradition and changing attendee expectations that needs resolution for Philly 2011.

* Attendees seem to like the format of the cyber zed shed – concise 20 minute “browseable” presentations (many comments indicated the need for a bigger room for this part of the conference) – that don’t demand much time and allow them to take in a greater number of sessions while at the conference. Is there a way to create a conference that shifts to more of these shorter format presentations? I don’t think we should entirely lose programs that need more time for in depth exploration of topics, but attendees could benefit from the ability to take in more content in shorter bursts. It could also create opportunities for more people to participate as presenters.

* The flip side of shorter sessions would be to consider doing away with the three-hour workshops; that is the one content area where I noticed more negative comments than positive ones. You’d think these programs would offer the most opportunity for interaction and sharing ideas with colleagues but the comments indicated too many slides, talking head presenters and colleagues who seemed more interested in getting continuing education credits than talking with each other. Why not offer the workshops as virtual programs that ACRL can make available throughout the year so those needing continuing education credit can get it when they need it. Re-thinking the conference means figuring out what to eliminate as well as what to add.

I’m going to wrap it up here. As a member of the conference planning committee for 2011 I know there will be much discussion about how we can improve the conference. These evaluations provide great food for thought, but innovative ideas can come from anywhere so please share yours with members of the Philadelphia planning committee (or send them to me – bells at – if you like and I’ll pass them on). I’ll just finish with these three items:

* Do you think “cyber zed shed” is a name in need of a change? Several respondents commented that they hated the name. Do you have a suggestion for something better (the complainers of course never have a suggestion for anything better)? What about “Tech Tips in 20”?

* Who do you think would make a great keynote speaker? I’m co-chairing that committee so please feel free to send your suggestions directly to me.

* Who wants to own up to recommending we have the conference in Kansas City? Oh yeah, and who said they wanted more handouts!!!