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ACRL Conference

ACRL Conference

Last week I attended the conference of the major professional society for academic librarians, the Association of College and Research Libraries.  I’ve been to every one of their conferences, which are usually held every other year, since 1986.  While there, I ran into a Davidson alum, Tammy Ivins, who was thoroughly enjoying the conference and finding much of relevance to her work.

As someone who’s been in the profession much longer, though, I’m sorry to say I was rather disappointed.  I went to sessions on

  • MOOCs and open educational resources
  • Scholarly communication
  • E-browsing
  • Data management
  • Data analytics and privacy

There were a few nuggets of wisdom–the suggestion to call open educational resources “free textbook alternatives,” which is easier to understand than “OER” and includes library resources, and some video interviews of University of Michigan students saying they liked the idea that learning analytics can serve the role of “Fitbit for research” for students—but mostly the speakers asked questions more than they provided answers.  I didn’t need to be convinced that better browsing of electronic (together with tangible) resources is important, but I’d really like to know how to create systems that work.  Part of the problem, I think, is the long lead time between proposal submission and the conference.  It was announced at the closing session that the call for presentations for the March, 2017, conference will be going out next fall.  That’s just too long in a field that’s changing as rapidly as ours is.

What really stood out for me were the two keynotes I attended.  The impact of Jad Abumrad, host of Radiolab, resonated throughout the rest of the conference, with many librarians talking about his speech and even working his characterizations of “gut churn” and the “German forest” into their presentations.  He seemed to touch many of us with his wisdom about persevering through periods of uncertainty and lack of confidence to find creativity and one’s authentic voice.  Meredith Farkas’s highly personal reflections in her blog capture one librarian’s response.

Lawrence Lessig of the Harvard Law School was the final keynote, and he got librarians’ blood pumping with his rousing defense of equality for all.  Kevin Smith’s blog summarizes Lessig’s speech beautifully.


  1. Sadly, after meeting Director Gremmels at ACRL, I did attend a few less-than-stellar programs myself.

    I did really appreciate the conference’s presented paper sessions, however. Being limited to twenty-minutes not only meant less lost time for the attendees if the content was not useful, but also meant that the speakers were challenged to create concise, direct, and useful presentations.

    Calling for programs too early is unwise, but the real issue is when the call for proposals ENDS. For this past conference, most proposals were due a full 11 months before the actual conference. As Director Gremmels says: way too early. ~Tammy I.