ALA and Instruction - The Surface

By Alyse Ergood

I was uncertain of what to expect from ALA as a first-time conference attendee. Although I had attended other conferences in the past, such as ACRL and LOEX of the West, none of them were as large as ALA. Admittedly, ALA is daunting. To better prepare myself for this experience, I planned out my entire conference experience. My goal was to be able to attend some sessions in Chicago that would be beneficial for me, my patrons, and my library. Furthermore, I wanted to make the most of my conference experience. My conference plans included attending presentations and some poster sessions on instruction and assessment. In reality I ended up attending many poster sessions and presentations on instruction, online library tutorials, and embedded librarianship.

I was intrigued to find not one, but two poster sessions about “Flipping the Classroom” for library instruction. Flipping the classroom means sending out assignments and online tutorials to a class and instructor prior to meeting for a one- time, library instruction session. By sending this information beforehand, the instructing librarian will be able to use class time for an active learning assignment. Active learning assignments may include annotated bibliographies, subject searching, group research, and many other topics. Both posters illustrated how the technique was being used at two academic libraries. At the first library, the librarian was embedded in a particular class, working closely with the course professor, while also serving as the instruction librarian of that course. An embedded librarian may even develop course research assignments for their course. The second academic librarian was not embedded, but was teaching “one-shot” library sessions and incorporating the “flipped classroom” approach into these sessions. One-shot sessions are taught only one time a semester to particular classes, and generally last fifty minutes to an hour and fifteen minutes. “Flipping the classroom” appeals to me because it maximizes the learning and research time for students; thereby better preparing them to be successful in college. I believe that the students need multiple experiences over time performing research in order to become adept at it. The research on library instruction supports this, claiming that undergraduates need more than one research class a semester in order for what they learn to actually stick with them.

Like many ALA presentations, the poster sessions had presenters who explained their research, experiences, and techniques. In addition, the presenters were there to answer questions from all participants regardless of how many times the same questions were asked. The poster sessions allowed me to have one-on-one sessions with a variety of presenters. I felt this deepened my overall learning and conference experience. Admittedly, I was biased about poster sessions and believed they required less preparation, less planning, and overall less work. I have been proven wrong. I now recognize how much time and resources go into planning, creating, and presenting a poster session.

In addition to the poster sessions, I also attended some well-developed panel and group sessions on instruction and librarianship. One of the sessions included the unveiling of a free online learning forum called DigitalLearn which provides users with a variety of online learning tools including discussion groups, digital literacy materials and websites, and online trainings. Since the site is just being developed, there were mostly introductory computer class trainings and a few small discussion groups. There is a lot of potential for Digitallearn’s development and its reach. Once again, the site is free and open to all users. It offers resources for both learners and teachers. The session presentation covered everything from how the program’s inception to how to get personally involved by donating scripts and other digital learning materials to the project. After the session, I was able to talk with one of the panel presenters and found out that I could submit materials to her that day.

Some additional sessions I attended were on embedded librarianship and going outside of the library for instruction. The sessions stressed that if librarians and libraries wanted to remain relevant, they must leave the library building. By leaving the library they can meet their users where they are, whether online or face-to-face. Furthermore, the sessions emphasized doing instruction outside of the library building. It was suggested that instruction sessions could take place anywhere a librarian and students were together. Such areas included after school activities, clubs, and other places across the school campus. I found this session to affirm what I know to be true: the profession of librarianship is evolving. This is especially true for reference librarianship.

In one panel session, an academic librarian shared how she became embedded in a residence hall learning community. She shared how she persevered in getting embedded by eating her lunch in the residence hall for almost a year before students started to notice her. Once students and resident hall assistants noticed her their curiosity was piqued. She explained that she is now part of the learning community within the residence hall. It was motivating to hear that her persistence paid off. As a result of attending this particular session, I feel inspired to try to get embedded in one of my subject specialty online courses. Being an embedded librarian will be both challenging and rewarding.

I could not have predicted how much knowledge I would gain at ALA Annual. I left Chicago feeling more educated and refreshed after a wonderful conference experience. I feel that I can share my knowledge in my library instruction sessions, reference department projects, and with colleagues in reference and instruction librarianship. In particular, I feel that my first ALA Conference experience went exceptionally well.