By Phoebe Ayers, MLIS day
This April, along with John Glover, Deborah Raftus, and nearly 3000 other academic librarians, including several from UW, I attended the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) 12th annual national conference in Minneapolis, MN. I had not considered attending until I went to a presentation by Betsy Wilson, director of UW libraries, who encouraged aspiring academic librarians to attend. Since I place myself in that camp, I considered and went, and I am so glad I did.
A consistent theme I heard among the people I met and talked to was "ACRL is the best of the conferences." It is small enough (compared to, say, ALA national) that you can actually get to meet and talk with people, but large enough (with record attendance this year) that a diversity of opinions, ages, types of librarians, and of new and returning attendees is present. Although this is a large, national conference that only meets every two years, there is a sense that things actually get done here. For academic or wanna-be academic librarians, it was wonderful - all the sessions were relevant, and every person I talked to seemed to have an interesting perspective on issues that I had been thinking about, from science librarianship to how to get a job. It was also amazingly easy to network. For instance, through attending the science and technology interest group dinner, I happened to sit next to a woman who used to hold a job that I was thinking of applying for! She told me all about it, encouraged me to apply, and told me why she left (to take a job at one of the most prestigious universities in the country, which is always encouraging!)
For me, the conference was filled with moments like this - connections with names I had seen on mailing lists or with people who shared my interests. I particularly enjoyed the "round table" sessions. These are discussions led by facilitators on a particular topic, which is listed in the conference program. Several dozen round folding tables are set up in a room, each assigned a number corresponding to the discussion title in the program, and then you find your way to the one you are interested in and simply sit down and have a conversation with your peers. I attended one on "online tutorials" which is something that has interested me for some time, and it was fabulous to talk to other, more experienced librarians about this topic.
The sessions were also for the most part good, although like any conference there were a few duds. Many of the sessions were on information literacy topics; there was also a track about the "first year experience" of undergraduates, as well as sessions on recruitment, management issues, community partnerships, scholarly communication, and more. I also attended a few sessions just for fun, such as one about Zine libraries.
Another rewarding part of this conference for me was meeting other librarians who, while not fresh out of school, were still relatively new - people who had been working for 3 to 7 years or so. I found that these folks were the clearest on the job hunting process and what it was like to work as a new professional.
Finally, the social events were not too bad either. There was a dessert reception in the magnificent Minneapolis Museum of Arts, featuring a jazz band and flowing chocolate fondue. The city of Minneapolis itself is grand. We had fun exploring the city, walking up Nicollet Mall, and enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. We did not, however, go to the Mall of America.
Finally, since I am still in school, the student rate was a bargain, leaving travel expenses as my main expense. All in all I would highly recommend this conference to both aspiring and current academic librarians - it only happens every two years, it is full of valuable information and contacts, and it can be a lot of fun.
ACRL 2007 is going to be in Baltimore, MD: see http://www.ala.org/ala/acrl/acrlevents/upcomingevents/upcomingevents.htm for details.