CFP: ACRL Rare Books and Manuscripts Section 2020 annual conference

Call for Proposals due November 3, 2019

The Association for College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) presents their 2020 annual conference, to be held June 23 – 26 at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN.

RBMS 2020: Power, Resistance, and Leadership

This conference program seeks to critically examine the existing power structures that have shaped and continue to impact special collections and archives. The conference program will explore the power dynamics within our profession and the ways in which we experience, exert, and/or defy power. We are interested in stories of resistance, large and small, successful or not. We want to provide participants tools and strategies that will inspire and hopefully lead to transformative change.

Proposals that cover a wide range of related themes are encouraged:

  • critical engagement with the profession
  • equity, inclusion, and diversity
  • cultural competencies
  • community partnerships
  • professional and paraprofessional relations
  • power dynamics within the profession and our organizations
  • making invisible labor visible
  • political organizing and advocacy work
  • subversiveness
  • empowerment
  • management and leadership

We invite proposals that discuss power, resistance, and leadership as it relates to the full range of work within our field, including collection development, the book trade, donor relations, cataloging and processing, digitization and metadata, security and preservation, teaching and learning, public services, reference, outreach, and exhibitions.

The RBMS 2020 Conference Program Planning Committee welcomes the opportunity to help interested parties shape proposals that connect the program’s theme to our core professional activities. Please do not hesitate to contact committee chairs Elizabeth Call and Robin M. Katz with questions or ideas.

Session Types


Workshops teach participants new and evolving procedures, technologies, approaches, or standards using active learning strategies. Workshops need not be connected to the conference theme. Workshops can be full- or half-day (6 or 3 hours of content). We are looking to fill two full-day and two half-day spots.

Workshops are typically limited to 30 or fewer participants and will take place on Tuesday, June 23, 2020 before the conference. Workshops are subject to an additional fee for participants. Workshop presenters are given a modest stipend for the session.

Note: The Lilly Library, Indiana University’s rare books and special collections library, will be closed during the conference. With advance notice, some materials from the collection may be available for use. We will work with proposers who are interested in using Lilly Library materials to ensure the proper arrangements are made. Additionally, other special collections are available in Bloomington. Please email the Workshops Committee co-chairs for more information.


Seminars are 90-minute sessions with a strong educational component on all topics of professional concern and need not be connected to the conference theme. Seminars typically offer two to four presenters the opportunity to bring together ideas, case studies, critical perspectives, and reflections with the goal of educating attendees and fostering a wider discussion. A successful seminar inspires audience members to consider multiple, diverse perspectives on a particular topic and take actionable ideas back to their home institutions. We welcome experimentation and reimagination of the RBMS Seminar and encourage non-traditional formats and approaches. Please email the Seminars Committee co-chairs if you would like help developing ideas for potential seminars.

Proposals will be evaluated on:

  • Clarity and organization
  • Applicability to attendees/timeliness
  • Educational component/learning objectives
  • Originality

In the interest of fostering stronger seminar proposals and encouraging new presenters, the committee will complete two rounds of review. See Notifications below for more details.


In these brief presentations, delivered in the context of a panel of speakers, presenters share their experience, ideas, or research. Sessions are 90 minutes and proposals may vary in structure from traditional panels (3 people x 20 minutes each + 30 minutes discussion) to lightning talks (8-9 people x 7 minutes each + 30 minutes discussion). Proposals should be for the entire panel – we will not match individual papers to create panels. Proposals should relate to the conference theme.

Participant-Driven Sessions

In participant-driven sessions, the majority of the time (90 minutes) is devoted to audience participation. The audience contributes the majority of dialogue to the topic at hand, and that discussion is facilitated by the proposer(s). Participant-driven sessions are informal, feature discussion-style seating arrangements to enable interaction such as pair-and-share or small group discussion. Microphones are provided, but there is no projection equipment in the rooms. Sessions are not recorded, and some proposers may decide that a social media blackout is necessary. Proposals should relate to the conference theme.


Posters share innovative approaches and offer practical solutions to issues facing the special collections profession. Posters are showcased concurrently with beverage breaks during the conference. Proposals should relate to the conference theme. A separate call will be issued for Poster sessions in January 2020.

People’s Choice

New for the RBMS 2020 conference, sessions in the “People’s Choice” category will be chosen by the membership through an online voting process. Sessions can be in a variety of formats including traditional panels, participatory sessions, or lightning rounds.  Proposals should relate to the conference theme. A separate call will be issued for People’s Choice sessions in January 2020.

Conference Core Values

The RBMS 2020 conference is committed to the following core values:

  • To create a supportive and challenging environment that
    • fosters respectful dialogue, reflection, and growth
    • empowers participants to voice their concerns and perspectives
    • encourages participants to learn from mistakes
  • To build consciousness around issues of power and to decenter privilege in all its forms.
  • To minimize the environmental impact of this conference and to reduce our profession’s contributions to the climate crisis.
  • To work toward a fully accessible conference.

All participants are expected to uphold the ALA Statement of Appropriate Conduct.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

In keeping with RBMS’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, we seek proposals and speakers from all types of repositories, positions, and range of experience, including members of the book trade, other cultural heritage professionals, scholars, students, collectors, and community members. We invite and encourage proposals from veteran RBMSers, newer members, and non-members alike.

New this year!

  • In an effort to diversify the speaker roster and to provide more opportunities to a greater number of members and attendees, individuals may only be listed on one session proposal. If a proposal is not accepted, those speakers can submit new proposals during the call for Posters and People’s Choice sessions.
  • All speakers will need to be identified in the proposal. The Conference Program Planning Committee has created a spreadsheet as an informal tool to connect individuals who want to brainstorm ideas and/or find collaborators for session proposals for RBMS 2020. It is monitored committee members, but is not part of the official proposal process. It can be found at
  • Each session will also need to identify someone to serve as a moderator. RBMS will provide mandatory facilitation training for all moderators before the conference; this will be accessed virtually.

RBMS will make every effort to accommodate equipment requests, within reason. We look forward to a conference that represents and includes a wide range of voices and experiences.

Selection and Notification

Notifications of all accepted proposals (with the exception of Seminars) will be sent by Monday, December 2, 2019.

Seminar proposals will receive feedback from the committee by Monday, December 2, 2019 and will have until December 9, 2019 to resubmit their proposal based on that feedback. Notifications of accepted Seminars will be sent by January 6, 2020.

A subsequent call for Posters and People’s Choice sessions will be announced in January 2020.

Seminars and Workshops proposals are evaluated, selected, and coordinated by members of the RBMS Seminars Committeeand the RBMS Workshops Committee, respectively. All other sessions are evaluated, selected, and coordinated by members of the RBMS 2020 Conference Program Planning Committee.

For more info on the conference and to submit:

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