To Baltimore and Beyond: At the Helm with ACRL 2017

The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) held its annual conference this past March in Baltimore, Maryland. Unfamiliar with ACRL? They are the largest division of the American Library Association, serving librarians in higher education with the demonstrated mission of advancing scholarship and learning. ACRL provides continuing education, amongst other services, to enable their 11,000 members to be academic leaders. With such state-of-the-art productions as this past conference, it’s no wonder why they chose “At the Helm” as this year’s theme.

Library innovators abounded in round tables, poster talks, panels, and workshops showcasing best practices and forward-looking initiatives in all aspects of library operations, from technical services and special collections to outreach, instruction, assessment, research, and emerging technology and trends. With more than 500 sessions offered in three days, there was far more on the agenda than humanly possible to accomplish. I managed to take advantage of nearly 20 presentations, plus three keynotes, and a one-to-one mentorship meeting with Jim Morris-Knower, Head of Teaching, Learning and Outreach at Cornell University’s Albert R. Mann Library. Luckily my registration included access to ACRL’s companion virtual conference! And now all of the conference proceedings are freely available online for any interested CALL members.

Programs such as “Leading from the Library Loo: An Illustrated, Documented Guide to Academic Library Bathrooms” and “What If I Say the Wrong Thing: Interrupting Bias in Ourselves and Others” explored how we sometimes miss what is right in front of us. Jennifer Poggiali, Instructional Technologies Librarian of Lehman College at CUNY, and Stephanie Margolin, Instructional Design Librarian/Assistant Professor of Hunter College, discussed practical ways to exploit the ubiquity of bathrooms to reach students. Verna Myers, Founder and Chief Cultural Innovator of The Verna Myers Company, is an attorney and expert on diversity and inclusion within law firms and corporations. Her animated speech pushed us to move beyond the biases we perceive in other people, and challenged attendees to see the unconscious biases we have in ourselves and confront them. She also has a Ted Talk.

Other sessions like “Augmented Archives: Augmented Reality in Special Collections,” “Opportunities for Libraries in the Internet of Things,” and “Location, Location, Location: Creating Location-Based Services with Proximity Beacons and the Physical Web” modeled methods for dynamically integrating cutting-edge technologies. A trio of librarians from Washington College shared what it’s like to experience, and to create, an enhanced exhibit with AR technology that encouraged digital natives to engage with print primary sources. Adam Rogers, Emerging Technology Services Librarian of NCSU Libraries, used low-cost wifi chips and development platforms to address internal library needs, like collecting assessment data on use of different parts of the library by tapping into the internet of things.

Jordan Nielsen, Entrepreneurship Librarian, and Keven Jeffery, Digital Technologies Librarian, of San Diego State University took technological applications even further. They installed proximity beacons in their library to detect the mobile devices of visitors and push out URLs of library webpages based on that individual’s detected physical location, in theory aiding in-house navigation and awareness of library events, depending on the URLs being delivered.

The conference pinnacled with the keynote address of Dr. Carla Hayden, 14th Librarian of Congress and first women and African-American to fill this distinguished post. From her days as a children’s librarian in Baltimore spent developing programming for homeless adolescents to her commendable leadership as Director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library when the library became a bastion for a tumultuous community in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death in police custody, Dr. Hayden exuded undeniable passion for our nation’s libraries. Her words were uplifting, her experiences impressive, and the effusive reception from attendees confirmed that her endeavors continue to inspire and impact all of us. She described the LOC’s ongoing digitization efforts to increase electronic access to our country’s rich primary resources and community engagement. In May the LOC hosted a Disco Dance Party featuring Gloria Gaynor, and in June the “Library of Awesome” pop-up exhibit featured the LOC’s comic collection to compliment Awesome Con, Washington, D.C.’s annual convention of comics. Her remarks affirmed why I became a librarian, the importance of the enduring philosophical pillars on which this profession stands, and the intrinsic value of what we strive to collectively provide for current and future generations.

Thanks to the grant I received from CALL, this was my first time going to the ACRL conference to absorb the knowledge, scholarship, and overwhelming fervor of some 3,000 academic librarians. Attending this convention has significant and direct implications for law libraries. While the legal field may be considered slow to change, technological innovation is crushing in around us whether we are open to it or not. It is critical that we collaborate to shore up libraries as relevant institutions and leading adopters in a rapidly evolving business world. Law school students today are the associate lawyers of tomorrow who will be navigating these new, swelling waters of change, and they can do so more smoothly with our assistance. Leveraging our specialized skills as information professionals from an array of settings, it is prudent to swap stories and help ourselves by sharing what is working and what is not.

As user preferences, information sources, and business practices change, law librarians should be open-minded to exploring ways to incorporate new models so that our services and resources add unique value for our constituencies, even if some of the ideas seem futuristic, far-fetched, or unfathomable applications of today’s technology. I encourage my fellow law librarians to share the burden of discovering and attempting new systems (including failures) with each other, and to be fearlessly curious as we keep pace with a bold, accelerating world together.