Back West

It’s been eight months since I was in Portland for Library Instruction West. As I wrote last summer, LIW was the best conference I’d ever attended, in that everyone with whom I spoke was engaging and engaged. It was a bunch of instruction librarians set to the “on” position, and the ideas that were sparked back then continue to shape my day-to-day work. It was professional reaffirmation at a time when I really needed it, and I’m so glad I had the chance to be a part of those discussions and make the connections (both professional and epistemological) that I made.

This coming week I’ll be going back to Portland, and things are rather different. LIW was purposefully intimate and teaching-focused. This time, it’s ACRL. It’s an enterprise. It’s a few hundred sessions and a few thousand attendees. I know comparing the two conferences is bit apples-and-oranges, but if LIW was that seminar you had in college where everyone met around around a conference table and you called the professor by their first name, ACRL is that first year gen-ed class that met in the 500 seat auditorium. Can connections be made? Sure. But the extent to which we benefit from this biennial gathering depends a great deal on the attendees and presenters, and how we approach things.

I would never assume to prescribe to my colleagues how they should experience the next week (e.g. “Here’s everything you have to see in PDX!”), but I did want to reflect on some of my own hopes, goals, and concerns for the conference, in the hopes that other attendees and presenters might do some reflecting of their own, and get the most out of the event.

So what am I excited about? What am I on the lookout for? What’s on my mind?

  • Seeing old friends and making new ones.
    This June will mark ten years since my first library job. In that time, I’ve worked with dozens upon dozens of talented people, most of whom I’ve lost touch with. For all of the issues that come with ACRL being a huge conference, getting a few thousand of “us” together means that we get to see some friendly faces that we might not even remember that we miss. I was pleasantly surprised by how many people I ran into at the conference in Indianapolis, and I need to remember to keep my head up and look around. Beyond old co-workers, I’ve also e-mailed, Tweeted, and spoken on the phone with goodness knows how many library people. This gathering is a chance to put names with faces and continue our conversations without the barriers of technology. I suppose that, unlike most crowds I encounter in my life, this one is not anonymous. I need to stay off my phone and experience what’s happening around me.

  • Making the most of the Critlib Unconference.
    In some ways, I’m more excited about #critlib15 than the larger conference. The #critlib community welcomed me and, over the past year, reinvigorated my excitement for what librarianship is and could be. Putting one hundred of us in a room together is bound to be fun and inspiring (just as soon as we get over how weird it is to be talking to each other in-person, not Tweeting from different timezones). Moreover, I’m really hopeful that having this meeting at the beginning of the week’s events will cause reverberations throughout the ACRL sessions. It feels like there’s a change in the winds, but hearing some of the issues our group has discussed on this larger stage will be exciting.

  • Hearing how people are interpreting the Framework.
    I took a bit of a gamble when I presented at LIW. I submitted my proposal before the first draft of the Framework came out, as well as submitted the article version of that presentation (by the way, here’s the OA, prepub version) before the Task Force had finalized the document. For this conference, people will be presenting who have had over a year with the drafts and a couple of months with the final version. Their analyses will be more developed than my own, and their interpretations coming from a different place. I read the Framework as calling on us to address deeper learning than “how to use the database.” So, some questions that will be running through my head in the next week include “What are other people thinking?” “What have they already tried?” “How differently do they read the document?” “Are they trying to turn the Framework into a new Standard?” If you happen to see me furiously writing in my notepad, it’s probably an answer to one of these questions.

  • Hearing what people think of my work with Jessica.
    Nearly fourteen months ago, my good friend Jessica Critten posted something online about the problems that come with trying to teach students a “process.” I replied and said something about how we should do a panel at ACRL, and talk about Dewey and Merleau-Ponty and experience and perception. Now, after more than a year of reading and writing and consulting with colleagues and peers and evolving and reading and writing still more, we’re ready to deliver our presentation, “Process, Not Product: Teaching and Assessing the Critical Process of Information Literacy.” This is, in no uncertain terms, the biggest research project I’ve ever been a part of. It’s caused me to challenge myself, my pedagogy, and my students in ways I had never before considered. Even if the audience boos us out of the room, it will still be the most important presentation I’ve given, in that it’s the first time I have not squarely set about to say “This is something I am doing that works.” Instead, the point of the presentation is to say “Here’s this idea that we had, and we have some other ideas, but we’re not sure? What do you think?” I am excited and anxious and terrified, which is usually how I feel when I’m growing as a librarian. I can’t wait to hear the suggestions and criticisms that people have, and use that feedback to continue developing our model.

  • Hanging out in Portland.
    This will be my fourth trip to Portland in the last two years, and I’m excited that so many of my old friends will get to see it for the first time, and that I’ll make so many new friends in such a fun place. I think this conference will be important for our profession, and this city will make for a great backdrop to those conversations.

And with that, I think I’m just about as ready as I’ll ever be. I’ve been looking forward to this event for more than a little while, and despite the fact that it doesn’t seem possible that it’s here… it’s here. Here’s wishing everyone safe travels!