07 April 2011

ACRL 2011: A view from a few steps back

So here's the thing about becoming a mom: I haven't been at work for a while. I haven't been reading library blogs or articles. I haven't been keeping up on technology. I haven't been "in the loop". I didn't even know delicious was wrapping up (not happy about that, by the way). So, going into ACRL was a different experience for me. It was a chance to put my head back in the game. But it also offered me a different perspective; to look at our work as academic librarians from a few steps back. To listen to talks with less of an opinion than I normally have because I haven't had my finger on the pulse.

It was different. And enjoyable. But also a bit frustrating. Here's a bit of a breakdown:

The tweeting. Steven Bell just wrote about the efforts of the conference organizers to encourage and support tweeting of the conference over at ACRLog but he makes some really interesting points about tweeting as a plus and a minus. He suggests that people that are tweeting aren't really listening. Sorry, but I disagree. For me, tweeting the sessions I attended really helps me find the nuggets I want to keep and share from a session. Granted, retweeting and responding during sessions can be a distraction. But for me, tweeting the session was the equivalent of taking notes. And ">sharing my notes (posts of said tweets that are forthcoming). But real quick here, I am kind of surprised by Steven's post. Especially given so much emphasis on teaching and instruction at ACRL, as Char Booth well points out.. Over and over we talk about the need for different approaches to instruction because students learn in so many different ways. The same is true for librarians, in the classroom and at conferences.

This brings me to a point of frustration: I heard an awful lot of the same talk as I've heard before. Not everywhere. And there were some pretty exciting new presentation styles, the UNconference and Cyber Zed Shed in particular. But...there were not a lot of surprises in the more formal talks I heard. Is it really a risk to talk about librarians as teachers? Is it really a risk to question how we determine our value? Is it really a risk to talk about engaging students with new media? Sorry, but not really. I feel like those are the same talks we've been having on blogs, in articles, and at conferences for years. And that is frustrating.

My husband, who is a project manager, always is frustrated by people who say they don't like how something was done but offer no suggestions for improvement. I dare not commit that crime here. I would like to make two suggestions, one logistical and one conceptual.

-Logistical: ACRL, please consider rescheduling the call for papers closer to the conference. If you truly want innovation at this conference, I think we need to recognize that trends change. And sometimes quickly. I wonder if we hear the same talks over and over because they are easy to write about a year out from the conference?! I respect and realize the amount of organization that goes into something as massive as ACRL but, please think about whether this could be somewhat remedied. Thank you.

-Conceptual: I wonder if we, and I mean academic librarians, need to ask some different questions than we have been. Instead of asking how we can engage students in the classroom and ending up with answers we already know, perhaps we should think about why students aren't engaged. Instead of asking how we can increase our value, perhaps we should ask ourselves why we have to fight this fight? I am suggesting something perhaps less positive, less congratulatory. But truly educational. I think back to LILAC last year and one of their keynotes, Ralph Catts. He stood up and told a room of librarians what we don't do well. It was hard to hear. But I walked out of that room inspired to improve, not feeling like I am on the right track but really thinking about what track I want to be on, how I might get there, and who I might ask to help me define it or acheive it. That is what I want from my conferences.

I guess that brings me down to it: what do we want from conferences? Is it a space to feel affirmed? Is it a space to see what others have been doing? Is it a space to question? Is it a space to be challenged? Does it need to be all those things? Can it?

I think bringing a keynote like Jaron Lanier is a step in the right direction. Bravo on that one, ACRL, and thanks.

I am not saying I didn't get a great deal from ACRL. I did and I will go again. But, having taken some time away, I saw ACRL a little differently than usual and it made me stop and think. And that's worth sharing, isn't it?


Rachel said...

Thanks for posting this, Sarah. This was my first ACRL, and many of your points resonated for me. I had a great conference, yet also left wondering if I'd missed something. Thanks for expressing this so well.

The Sheck said...

Thanks, Rachel. I appreciate your saying so, especially after a first time at the conference. I hope you still got a lot out of the conference and that you took their survey. I tried to share a lot of my concerns there in the hopes that it impacts our next conference.

stevenb said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on tweeting during conference presentations. I'm not saying it's a bad thing. Heck, I was on the conference committee and we talked about whether we should have a screen for the backchannel in some of the rooms, and I thought that would be interesting to experiment with. I'm just asking some questions here. I'm glad to hear you say it's a learning style that works for you. I like to take notes during a talk as well, and it does help me learn and recall content - and I can go back and check my notes (in print - old school). I just have to wonder, when you are figuring out how to say something in 140 char or less, does that take away from your ability to concentrate on the speaker. Can you say with certainly that it's never been a distraction? I then question the value - when you go back and follow the twitter conversation to see 20 or more of "The speaker just said..." I do agree it's helpful to catch up on a presentation missed. Just curious - how do you feel about students tweeting, updating FB, etc. while you are teaching them? Do you see it as a learning style or a distraction? Do you encourage it?