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.

The Quirky Side of Seattle

If your institution’s travel budget for this fiscal year has not been decimated and you still plan to go to ACRL’s 14th National Conference in Seattle – I’m going and I hope you’ll be there too – the New York Times Travel Section has a great article all about “the other side” of Seattle. It covers lots of places to go and things to see that you won’t find just walking back and forth from your hotel to the convention center. From the article:

Ballard and Fremont, once cities in their own right, are now Seattle neighborhoods of a particularly independent-minded kind. They’re close together, though not contiguous, and if you travel to either of them today, you’ll encounter a unique character that still resists complete assimilation — Nordic and proudly maritime in Ballard; arty and free-spirited in Fremont. Each is undergoing a kind of 21st-century renaissance, with shops and restaurants moving in, and a new, often young crowd arriving to live or just to play. But in either one, you can still lose yourself so thoroughly that you will barely even remember you’re in the same town as the Space Needle.

What’s really kind of nice is that for the sections on places to eat, see, etc., if you look at the comments you can see that the locals have chimed in with lots of “go check out this restaurant in Ballard that just opened” information that that will not be found in the standard Seattle travel guides. Of course I know that all you super-dedicated academic librarians will be spending the bulk of your time in the programs, making deals with vendors and otherwise formulating strategic plans in your interest groups. But if you do get plan to save a little free time to explore Seattle you should definitely print out and keep this NYT travel article in your conference bag.

How Dare They Reject My Conference Proposal

Academic librarians are the type of folks who will suffer in silence when dealing with a conference rejection. At best we may share our disappointment with a colleague or two or perhaps our supervisor, but in general (and yes, this is a generalization) I suspect that few academic librarians would make a public stink about how their great proposal for a paper or panel was somehow not accepted – and even go to great lengths to point out the failings of a conference that rejected their proposal. ACRL recently sent out its acceptance/rejection notices for the 14th annual conference in Seattle. It appears the competition was greater than ever for a presentation slot, with an approximate 20% acceptance rate. But can you imagine me using my blog to rant about getting rejected or even going so far as to publish my proposal here for you to tell me how great it is and how could it possibly have been rejected – and further telling you how sorry you will be to not be hearing me present it at the conference. “What could the fools on those review committees have been thinking” I would expect you to write as a comment to my post. Well, that’s just not our style. We take it on the chin and just keep on going.

So you can imagine that I was pretty surprised to see an entire thread, in a sector of the faculty blogoverse, by bloggers who took their conference rejections public – and even used their rejections as an opportunity to criticize the conference organizers for having lowered their standards by accepting proposals of lesser quality than their own. It started here with a post at Collins vs. Blog. The author of the post, , shares his/her thoughts about the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) and points to other bloggers who are similarly lamenting about the rejection of their proposals. Some of these other bloggers went so far as to post their actual proposals for others to discuss. A number of the commenters also went on to discuss their rejected proposals giving various reasons for why they think that happened – along with additional critiques of the selection process.

Now, before you jump to the conclusion that this all just a bunch of whining, bitching and all that sour grapes stuff, take some time and read some of these posts. The conference organizers may not take kindly to it, but the conversation appears to point to some ways in which the conference and the proposal selection process might be improved. Some of these suggestions appear to point to valid concerns about what might be a selection process that has inherent flaws. I suppose that my main concern about the use of blogging to complain about getting rejected and criticizing the selection process is that the conference organizers might be unhappy with me and that might affect my future opportunities with the association and its programs. I’m sure they are open to suggestions for improving the process, but is publicly blogging one’s complaints and criticisms the right way to go about creating positive change? Probably not.

I’ve served on ACRL national conference selection committees. It’s not an easy job. Let’s remember that the people who serve on these committees are academic librarians just like you and me, and that they are volunteering their time – and it takes a lot of time to go through 250 proposals knowing you can only select 40 or so of them. That’s not to say that the selection criteria and process used to make the decisions couldn’t be subject to occasional review to determine if improvements are possible. For example, a common complaint about ACRL presentations is that they can lack quality. The reviewers can only base their decisions on what they read; they have no idea if the proposal authors can put together a high quality, informative and engaging presentation. The only way to do that would be to know who submitted the proposal and determine their past presenting experience. Of course, that would eliminate the blind review process that makes ACRL National our profession’s premier scholarly conference.

It’s unfortunate that so many proposals, many of them good ones I’m sure, are rejected. But that’s the nature of the game we choose to play when we submit our proposals for ACRL conferences. I would still encourage readers to develop and submit their proposals even knowing the odds of acceptance are slim. It is good to go through the creative process of completing the application, and once you have started on that road there is no telling where it may lead – even if your proposal is rejected. One year my proposal for a paper presentation and then a poster session was double rejected. Ow! Guess what. That paper idea went on to become an article published in College & Research Libraries. Back then we didn’t have blogs to complain about getting rejected. The best revenge, I guess, was simply proving to myself that I had an idea of value that the conference reviewers just didn’t recognize.