Erin Elzi is a Technical Services Librarian at the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture in NYC.
ACRL 2013: Professional Development Cross-Training
The annual ARLIS conference is rapidly closing in, and while I know many of you are gearing up for the first (or third… or 23rd) time, I’ve just returned from ACRL 2013. The theme of the conference was: Imagine, Innovate, Inspire, and I’m feeling just that – Inspired! Innovated! Imaginative! So lend me you ear while I tell you about an important part of professional development: cross-training.
Full disclosure, I’ve never been to the national ARLIS conference. It’s not that I actively avoid it, it’s just that I’ve received full-support, either through the professional development budget-line or via scholarships granted by my MLS school, to attend SLA, CAA, the IA Summit and ACRL. It’s also not that my workplace will not support a trip to ARLIS, but rather that all the other librarians here go to it, so I figure there’s greater benefit to our institution if I attend other conferences. Cross-training, or the process of stepping outside your daily, specialized frame of reference, helps make you more than an information professional. It makes you an information ninja. Ninjas are all at once fast, stealthy and powerful. Professional development cross-training does the same thing by strengthening the skills and knowledge you already have, while introducing ideas to help you solve problems or find that perfect tool you need to get a project off the ground.
Fortunately, my institution supports my quest for ninja status, and each year I basically have my pick of which conference to attend. Last year it was the IA Summit, which was relevant at the time, since we were in the initial stages of redesigning our OPAC. Two years ago I attended my first ACRL conference, while I was still a student, under the guises of a press pass (Here’s a tip: Offer to cover a conference for a publication. It may take care of your registration fee and is a great chance to get published!). While I had known going into library school that I wanted to work in academia – the 2011 ACRL conference reinforced that in every way. I tend to feel a bit out of place when it comes to networking-type situations, and let’s be honest – the networking opportunities are a major reason students go to these conferences. But at the ACRL conference, I never once felt out of place, or unwelcome due to my not-quite-professional-yet status. Much the same way the ARLIS-NY goes out of their way to make MLS students here in New York feel all warm and fuzzy and extraordinarily welcome in their chosen profession. Shop around if you’re still in school – you may find your library niche somewhere unexpected, even within the limitless boundaries of the ARLIS realm.
What was so innovative and inspiring and imaginative at ACRL this year? The uber-popular topics this year seemed to be information literacy instruction and data curation. While the greater part of these sessions addressed the needs of undergraduates, or disciplines in the hard sciences, I still walked away with some new tools and methodologies we can use for our grad-student only population here at the Bard Graduate Center. Including some fun open-source stuff, like new data visualization tools. Including this MOOC, which has finished, but the materials and lectures are still available.
“Digital Humanities” were also all over the place – both literally and figuratively. The ambiguous term found its way into panels and poster sessions covering everything from community building to subject analysis to online exhibitions to ACRL’s very own THATCamp. Digital Humanities are hot, people! And the projects taking place under its umbrella are often multi-media affairs and involve primary sources – things we art information pros tend to know a thing or two about. Get on board!
Then there were the sessions that more overtly rubbed elbows with the ARLIS crowd. A few librarians at the University of Michigan are Mapping the Motor City’s Cinemas. Another group at the University of Florida presented on raising collection awareness through online exhibits. A duo attempting to create a digital collection of street art documentation discussed the inherent challenges with such an undertaking. If sessions that address larger issues are more your thing than individual projects, how about a panel on building metadata to make better surrogates for images and objects (hint – let’s describe the object in our own words and go from there instead of fitting the items into imperfect, existing controlled vocabularies), or how to incorporate feminist pedagogy into any teaching opportunity (which is primarily about decentralizing the classroom). Or one of the many sessions that covered assessment and proving the value of your library – not as sexy a topic as the others, but increasingly important for many institutions.
Of course there’s always room for improvement (ACRL, if you’re listening, we want more sessions on diversity and grad student services!), but there’s also no doubt in my mind that you found at least one thing in this brief ACRL recap that sparked your interest or is applicable to your own professional or scholarly needs. And that’s just a tip of the iceberg – I came back with pages upon pages of notes. Just fathom how much you would get out of attending it yourself!
So, should you go to ARLIS this year, and the year after that, and the year after that? OF COURSE! But don’t write off other conference opportunities as well. In addition to elevating you to ninja rank, a willingness to attend other conferences can increase your ability to attend anything at all. If you lack institutional support, or if ARLIS never comes to your town, an ALA or ACRL or SAA conference that ends up in a city near you means all you have to pay is the registration fee. I know I plan on finally making my first ARLIS conference appearance in 2014 – D.C. is just a mere bus ride away from NYC!
If you’re already going to ARLIS as your one professional development opportunity this year, you can still get some cross-training done simply by attending sessions that may not appear to be your forte. Are you in reference? Join a discussion on authority records! Catalogers, stop by a session on collection development! Architectural archivists, listen in on the panel of fashion bloggers! See, being a ninja is easy!
Oh – and a final lesson I learned at ACRL: if your library doesn’t already have one, get a button maker! Everyone loves a good button, it’s cheap PR, and making them is like chicken soup for the weary researcher, staff member, and even the faculty or curator’s soul. But it looks like ArLiSANP already knew that!