A Guide To The “New Normal” For Academic Libraries

I was able to attend only the first half of the ACRL program at which the just released ACRL 2009 Strategic Thinking Guide for Academic Librarians in the New Economy was introduced and discussed. Four panelists representing different perspectives within the profession reacted to the new report. If you want to read more about the panel session at ACRL you can do that here and here.

Not quite an environmental scan the authors state they were going for something a bit different:

In the wake of dramatic economic developments, government action, and a flood of higher education trends reports, we felt that a strategic thinking guide would better complement the current literature. This guide considers three important drivers in the current environment and poses questions to stimulate conversations and action in your libraries and on your campuses. Along the way, we point to the work of higher education associations, private foundations, government agencies, and individual experts for further assisted reading.

What are these three drivers? Nothing that will come as a total surprise:

Driver #1: The Economy and Higher Education – you can’t read a higher education news publication or engage in a conversation with a colleague without the economic meltdown finding its way into the discussion. According to the guide the big question for libraries is “how will we afford it?” But how can we not afford to develop new organizational structures and services that will lead to “student success and faculty productivity” as the report puts it.

Driver #2: Students – No one is quite sure what our student population will look like in the fall. Even now some public universities are expecting many more students who’d normally be going to pricier private schools. The report identifies a number of student trends, and asks how we can prepare to serve a new generation of learners who are quite different from their predecessors on campus.

Driver #3: Technology – For academic libraries, a rapidly changing technology landscape seems more like the old normal than the new normal. But our need to adapt is driven by advances such as cloud computing and smartphone communication. Not surprisingly this section has more points to make than the other two. But the bottom line for academic libraries is how are we going to leverage all of these technologies in ways that enable us to connect with students and faculty, and make it easier for them to use our technology.

The new normal is a concept that signals that everything we’ve taken for granted over the last 20 years is being melted down, re-thought and cast into a new reality. The old rules are broken and new ones must replace them. And most of all individual expections have to be set to a new and lower standard. We read extensively about the need for change in academic libraries, and perhaps ACRL’s new strategic thinking guide will serve as catalyst for discussions among colleagues about what changes will enable academic libraries to be meaningful, sustainable and viable in the new economy.

Green Conference Bag Is A Letdown

I’m all for a green conference – save energy, water, re-usable materials – but I have to say that the conference bag was just not up to past standards. In a way I feel bad for all those first-time attendees because they will never know the golden years of ACRL conference bags. Here’s what we got in Seattle:

ACRL2009 Conference Bag
ACRL2009 Conference Bag

This bag is described as being made from 51% recycled material. I’m all for recycled material. This bag might work for a fast 15-items or less trip to the grocery store, but it fails to meet the needs of a hard-driving conference attendee. No zippers. No internal pockets. No key holder. No back pocket for papers and maps. No cool internal hidden pocket where you’ll leave something and forget it until the next conference (Oh wow – so that’s where I put that). No water bottle holder (plastic BPA free re-usable bottle of course). In all, it just doesn’t cut it as a conference bag.

Lest I sound ungrateful or anti-green movement please know that I’m an outstanding recycler of past conference bags. In fact, I only need one good one and I’ll just keep using it over and over again. In fact I went to Seattle with my ACRL 10th National Conference bag which I think is the all-time hands-down champion of ACRL conference bags (see the photo in the post).

Here’s my suggestion for how we can really save money and resources at the 15th National Conference. Provide an option on the registration form where attendees can indicate if they want a bag or not (e.g., Option 1 – I must have an environmentally-friendly bag; Option 2 – Never mind – I’ll bring my own). That way ACRL knows exactly how many bags to produce and bring and only those who want it get one (easily noted on their badge). End result – no wasted bags that end up in the trash.

ACRL provided two other environmentally-friendly supplies for conference goers. One was a mug made of corn plastic. I guess that will eventually find its way into the jungle of unused mugs in one of my kitchen cabinets. The other one is already a permanent fixture in my shower. ACRL provided a nifty little shower timer that lets you know when four minutes have expired.

ACRL2009 Shower Timer
ACRL2009 Shower Timer

According to Mary Ellen Davis, ACRL Executive Director, the average American takes an eight-minute shower. So we were given a tool to help save Seattle a whole lot of water during the conference. I used it everyday and never spent more than 3 minutes showering. I thought the thing wasn’t working right so I timed it with a stopwatch when I got home. It’s exactly 4 minutes. The real test will be when the kids come home for visits. If I can get them to take 4-minute showers I will be forever in debt to ACRL.

And even if you didn’t use the ACRL bag or the ACRL shower timer you still could eat an ACRL cookie:

ACRL2009 Cookie from the All Conference Reception

Winds Of Change At ACRL Conference

ACRL is down to its last few hours of activity. As usual it’s been a whirlwind experience. I finally did discover the link to the ACRL Conference blog. Take a look to read more about the conference and the presentations.

I can’t quite put my finger on it but the conference definitely has a different vibe this time. There are many new faces. Approximately one-third of the people here are first-time attendees. I’m hesitant to say this has added a younger demographic to the conference because some of the first-timers I’ve met are more traditional midlife career changers who are new to the profession. And while I don’t have the demographics I’m betting that the median age of the conference population is way down. Perhaps it is best to simply say this might be a watershed conference for academic librarianship because it brings with it the emergence of academic librarianship’s next generation.

In addition to the conference blog I’ve been taking a look at Twitter activity from the attendees – not all first-timers to be sure – but this is definitely one example of how the next generation is experiencing the conference and bringing a new dimension to the proceedings. Just looking at the stream of comments during the events you can get a picture of which programs are attracting the Twitter crowd. For example, in the 4:00 pm Saturday slot you can see there was lots of ongoing discussion about the paper presentations on LibGuides and student use of web 2.0 tools. What about the other programs in that time slot? Nothing.

I was chatting with a new-to-the-profession first timer, and asking how she liked the conference so far. It was clear that the new generation has little patience for speakers who simply throw up slides and talk for 20 or 30 minutes without paying attention to the audience. They want interactivity. They want to be a part of the program, and they want it to be a conversation not a lecture. That’s why they create their own conversation on Twitter. Is this a good thing for the conference? I don’t know.

To its credit ACRL continues to look for new ways to keep the conference timely, vibrant and relevant to its members – and the Cyber Zed Shed, the Virtual Conference and a conference hashtag for Twitter are all good signs. But the Philly 2011 planners have a real challenge ahead of them, and I hope they will pay attention to what’s transpired here in Seattle. It’s clear that ACRL needs to acknowledge the new generation, and give thought to how this conference needs to change to accommodate new academic librarians, new ideas, and new ways of communicating and learning. The winds of change demand a new ACRL Conference experience.

Commenting As A Small Act Of Courage

Today is the first big day of activity here in Seattle for ACRL. The first big piece of news that greeted attendees is that the opening keynote speaker Naomi Klein was ill and would not be at ACRL. But the conference organizers provided an excellent speaker just the same. Rushworth Kidder gave a great talk on what he called our “ethics recession”. He told the audience about the importance of making moral courage an important part of our daily lives, and that the lack of it can lead to the catastrophic outcomes. It was an inspiring talk. I believe that ACRL has engaged quite a few librarians to blog the conference, but when I go to the ACRL conference home page I don’t see a link to the blog. I will try to get that information.

There was some pre-conference buzz about whether ACRL could extend its streak of setting a new attendance record as it has done for the past several conferences. Give the economic downturn and travel freezes at many academic institutions I expected that attendance would indeed be lower than Baltimore. But at yesterday’s opening session ACRL Executive Director Mary Ellen Davis announced that the Seattle conference attendance was higher – but not by much – than Baltimore. But there is a catch. There are actually fewer F2F attendees but the virtual conference attendees increased from 100 for Baltimore to over 300 for Seattle. So when you total both F2F and virtual registrations it appears that streak will extend. I have no doubt that Philly in 2011 will continue the streak. Who doesn’t want to declare their interdependence? The number that caught my attention though is that there are over 1,000 first-time attendees. I have noticed many fresh faces and newer-to-the-profession folks in the crowd. In fact I bumped into one of my former students at the exhibits who just graduated from the LIS program not long ago and is here networking and looking for job opportunities.

I did have one interesting experience to share yesterday. I attended the “ACRL Conference 101” program for the first-time attendees. I staffed the ACRLog table and answered quite a few questions about blogging – and quite a few folks wanted to know how they might blog for ACRLog. I just wanted to use this as an opportunity to remind readers that we are always open to ideas for guest posts – and you can use our “tip sheet” link to get in touch with us. But do keep in mind that we don’t post about upcoming events for the profession. If you want to blog a post about an event you attended if there is something interesting to share – that could be of interest. But the interesting experience came about when one attendee told me how valuable ACRLog was and that many of the posts were inspirational. My reply was along the lines of “well if it inspired you in some way why not share your reflections or thoughts in a comment”. I was surprised by the answer which was “commenting at ACRLog is scary”. I never would have thought that. Perhaps it is because we do post a link to your comment right on our main page – so they are quite public. Given that I share my thoughts here regularly I never would have suspected that it might be a challenge for others to do so.

So all I will say is that if you would like to comment – even if it is just to say – I enjoyed that post or that post got me thinking – that’s all right. Your comment means a great deal to us and it could make a difference to another reader. So while moral courage is critically important to the survival of our society and culture, just making a comment is another type of courage – a small act of courage – that will add to the discourse in our profession and ultimately make it better.

More later on that ACRL conference bag.

What To Wear At ACRL

Sometimes we get interesting tips here at ACRLog. Seems like there is a bit of tweeting going on among first-timers headed to Seattle for ACRL who have a bit of a dilemma. What should people wear to ACRL? Quite a few of the first-time attendees are new or soon-to-be LIS program graduates who are thinking job opportunity. So they need the help of you more experienced academic librarians. What advice would you give to these colleagues? They want to dress to impress, but is it necessary to go all the way and wear the full-out business suit? Or will business casual get the job done? Are jeans, even stylish ones, out of the question? And what about piercings and tattoos? Display them proudly or be thinking “cover it up”?

Personally, I’m going with business casual and that’s what I recommend. I think of ACRL as a business-oriented program, so business casual seems most appropriate. I think we should avoid suits (and definitely no ties!). I don’t have a problem with those who want to dress down a bit, but I’d encourage those who want to make a good first impression to avoid jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers. So what do others think – and we need your suggestions fast. Those suitcases have to be packed and ready to roll in less than 48 hours. Someone out there is counting on your advice so share it in a comment.