Since I work part-time as a librarian and do not get support for attending conferences, I am very selective regarding which conferences I attend. I work at a community college library and live near Baltimore; therefore, I decided to attend my first ACRL conference, "Sailing into the Future - Charting our Destiny," on March 29th-April 1st.
Highlights of the Conference
The fact that John Waters was one of the speakers made the conference even more compelling. He did not disappoint. Since much of the discussion during the conference revolved around increasing library use and marketing the value of libraries, part of his speech discussed ideas for making the library more attractive (e.g. mark all of the "best" parts of the books, one librarian gets naked for 2 minutes). As expected, he was funny and interesting. Although he has taken a different career path than librarians have chosen, he had some sage advice and a reminder that a sense of humor is always important, no matter what you are doing.
There were a number of invited papers. I was unable to attend all of them, but I did catch David Silver on "Digital Media, Learning, and Libraries: Web 2.0, Learning 2.0, and Libraries 2.0." Clearly, from the attendance at his talk, David Silver, a professor of media studies, has a name in the library field. He presented concrete reports on methods he is utilizing to get his students into the library and offered a number of creative ideas of how blogs and libraries can be used to engage students. You can see what some of his students are doing at http://usfblogtastic.blogspot.com/. He spoke about AEIOU, Already Existing Information Optimally Uploaded. His view is that information is being lost because it is not being presented in sense-making formats. He encouraged everyone to blog, although you may feel you have no time and no money; so much information is already out there, but it needs a voice, it needs to be made public to create new forms of knowledge.
The conference offered a number of half-day workshops during the conference. Advance sign-up was required for them and they seemed to be quite popular. I chose to attend "Keeping Libraries in the Flow: Being Relevant in the World of Amazoogle." This had 100 participants and we focused on what it will take to keep libraries thriving in the years ahead. We sat in groups and shared our experiences and ideas. We discussed what works well in our libraries, what one thing our library is doing that is valuable, what is the worst thing our library is doing, and what we need to stop doing during the next five years. Although there were a lot of participants, this session worked well.
My favorite feature of the conference was the Cyber Zed Shed, which exhibited innovative uses of technology in libraries. These presentations attracted a large group and there were many more attendees than available seats. All of these were interesting to me, but I especially liked the presentation by Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe on embedding library toolbars in web browsers, as well as Priscilla Finley's on using Firefox extensions to reveal library holdings and Char Booth's about using video IM. At the time of this article, the Palinet website offers podcasts of all of the Cyber Zed Shed presentations at http://www.palinet.org/lts_techupdates_podcasts.aspx#Tech.
Things to Know about Attending an ACRL Conference
This year, it was possible to attend the conference "virtually." Attendees of the physical conference also were given access to the virtual conference. One of the benefits of the virtual conference is the ability to view materials after the conference, although if you can, you should also look at the conference materials before you arrive.
The placement services for job-seekers were limited. As a participant of the conference, you could have your resume reviewed. Also, you could sign up on the ALA Joblist site and indicate that you would be at the conference. Subsequently, interested employers could contact you and arrange a meeting during the conference. None of the sessions focused on job-seeking. I would have been interested in a session on Academic employment that discussed what is really important for those hoping to become an Academic Librarian. Do you need a second language, as some of the job listings indicate? Is a second Master's worth pursuing or would you be better off taking some technical training or focusing on educational skills?
One thing that surprised me was the large number of Poster Sessions and Submitted Papers. This seems like a reasonable opportunity to become involved in the profession and something that you might want to consider if you work in the academic field. Many of the poster sessions focused on information literacy, library marketing and outreach. A poster session that particularly caught my eye was one that utilized Google Maps and GIS as part of a Freshman Library Instruction. The Mapping the Afghan Experience in the US ( http://gis.uta.edu/afghan) project focused on the experience of Afghans in the U.S. and included the book The Kite Runner, the use of Census data, and business listings from databases such as ReferenceUSA.
If you want to attend a workshop, select early and sign-up as soon as workshop registration opens. Attend the Cyber Zed Shed exhibits. I would guess that this forum will continue for awhile. It is a way to get inspiring overviews of how other libraries are experimenting with technology.
Are there going to be Academic Librarians in the future? The answer seems to be a resounding 'Yes.' But the conference made it clear that it will require dedication, flexibility and creativity on the part of librarians to ensure that "sailing into the future" is smooth.