Conference Highlights

A few weeks ago I attended the 2012 Library Assessment Conference in Charlottesville, VA. In addition to being a great opportunity to learn more about a huge variety of library assessment activities, LAC12 was also my first experience at a professional library conference.

After three straight days of listening to paper and plenary sessions, perusing posters, and chatting with librarians from around the country, I am just now digesting and synthesizing everything I learned. In addition to the many projects I would like to consider adapting to my library, there were several themes that resonated to me as a new academic librarian.

Try Saying “Yes.” Originally, LAC12 wasn’t even on my radar.  But due to some unexpected staff change-over just a few weeks before the conference, I was asked to attend. Although there were some stressful last-minute travel arrangements, planning for time away from work, and a poster-presentation to get up to speed on, (oh and, as it turned out, Hurricane Sandy to prep for), I decided to say “Yes.” And I’m glad I did. It turned out I learned a lot not only about library assessment activities, but also about being flexible, taking chances, and exploring deeper domains without hesitating to ask questions. While we’re all operating with a limited amount of time and attention, I think in the transition to a new career it’s particularly important not to cut oneself off from unexpected opportunities.

Own the Change. John Lombardi gave an interesting keynote about the transition to the “library cloud” in which he told us to “own the change.” Not only is it important for us to “own” the future of librarianship, but it’s also crucial to remember during any transition, personal or professional. When I started my new job, other librarians advised that it could take 6 months to a year for me to consistently feel like I know what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis. One thing I’ve found to help with the transition from student to professional is simply to “own the change.” I feel lucky to be in a profession and a position that, to a large extent, allows me to shape my future and follow my interests. Finding the edges of my job, exploring my new city and, as one of my fellow FYALE bloggers mentioned, trying to figure out what to do with my new-found spare time are all opportunities to take ownership over the student-to-professional transition.

Collaboration is Key. One comment I received on my previous post is that collaboration is not limited to working with library colleagues, but should also extend to colleagues across campus. While this has been stressed during new faculty sessions on campus and in my work building relationships with faculty in my instruction and subject liaison areas, it also came up over and over again during presentations at LAC12. In each session I attended, at least one presenter mentioned collaborating with someone outside of the library. Have an instruction theory or technique you want to test? Find a faculty member who is interested in shaking up their instruction or classroom activities. Not sure the best way to design your study or run those pesky statistical tests? Contact your computer science, mathematics, social science, etc. department to seek advice and potentially find collaborators. Equally important to remember – collaboration can be key in seeking grant funding. As a new librarian, I’ve found it’s extremely easy to stay busy and never leave the library. This conference helped remind me that forging relationships outside of the library is an important part of my daily job.

Finally, after chatting with my colleagues a bit after the conference, it was clear that we all identified slightly different important “take-aways.” And so I’m curious –  have you recently attended a conference? What were your big take-aways, professional and personal?

The Beauty Of A Practitioner’s Conference

When most librarians are asked what most motivates them to attend a library conference, I believe two responses rise to the top of the list: (1) the opportunity to meet with colleagues and (2) acquiring practical information that can be applied on the job. I tend to agree, although I’m not opposed to occasionally spending time in a session where a more theoretical paper or two is being delivered. Those sessions may challenge my assumptions or my ability to stay awake. I actually cannot recall too many library conferences I’ve attended that were primarily a series of research paper presentations. Based on a post by Dean Dad who authors the blog “Confessions of a Community College Dean” over at Inside Higher Education we may be fortunate for this.

Dean Dad, conference blogging from the League for Innovation, writes to share how pleased he is that this conference, like many of our library conferences, is eminently practical. He compares this to his own disciplinary conference, described as “a mechanism for the production and allocation of prestige.” As a community college administrator, this Dean shares his disdain for the elitist atmosphere that pervades the research conference. There he says, “The point of each paper wasn’t really to contribute to a discussion; it was primarily to carve out a niche for the author.”

While practice-oriented programs are great learning opportunities, there certainly is a place for the research conference as well. Academic librarians continue to put the “science” in library science, and there is a need for a forum where that information can be shared. Perhaps another dimension where we differ from our faculty colleagues is in the nature of our research and our conferences. While the faculty identify more strongly with their disciplines, the majority of academic librarians consider themselves members of a professional practice. Library science is not so much our discipline as it is something we learned about in an LIS program. Academic librarians, more so than public or corporate librarians, will identify with the discipline of their subject specialty though I suspect few actually deliver research papers at a disciplinary-focused conference.

There has been a conversation within ACRL about offering a new program track at ALA conferences that would provide an opportunity for the delivery of peer-review research presentations. I thought that’s what ACRL conferences were for, but apparently some academic librarians believe waiting every other year for that opportunity does a disservice to our profession. It depends on how one views the purpose and value of our national conference. Should we be putting more academic library research into the ALA conference to signify the value of our scholarly roots or are we just looking for ways to give tenure-track librarians more options for beefing up their resumes?

I think that if we put the question to Dean Dad he would advise us to preserve the beauty of our practitioner’s conference. There are plenty of existing outlets for the delivery of scholarly research papers and associated presentations. I like the idea of a conference where librarians from all the different sectors of this profession can get together to hear their professional colleagues and keynote speakers share ideas and strategies for improving our libraries. Every other year strikes me as sufficient for research papers to get their chance to be heard.