LIW 2014 Reflection

Finally back at work after a week away, trying to decipher 15 or so pages of notes from Library Instruction West. There are so many new things I heard and learned, and I’m sure I’ll come back to other specifics later, but here are some of main themes I observed in the sessions I attended and the conversations that followed. Thoughts appear in roughly chronological order, and I’ve linked out to presentation descriptions with slides where possible.

  • Lifelong learning.
    Alison Head spoke about this during her keynote, and it came up in several other sessions. It seems to me that so much of our work in academic libraries has been focused on the past (preserving collections) or the present (providing services for current information needs), and we rarely have talked about “the future.” In the case of this conference, the question “What could/should instruction librarians be doing to serve our students after graduation?” came up again and again. Asking this question sparks a new kind of debate, and I’m thrilled that the discussion is now open.

  • Be critical.
    I was consistently in awe of how comfortable presenters and participants were with questioning their own practice and trying out new approaches. The good people of UW-Bothell/Cascadia CC had not one, but two good sessions that discussed these issues, as did Zoe Fisher on Thursday afternoon, William Badke and Robert Farrell on Friday morning, and Kate Rubick on Friday afternoon. Although they all had different foci and advocated for different approaches, they were all willing to say “X isn’t working anymore, and maybe it never worked, but have you tried out Y? This Y thing is really worth exploring.” Our line of work is one which is perpetually on the move, and I’m glad to see people embracing it as an opportunity to improve our practice.

  • Information is political.
    This was something I wanted to touch upon in my presentation, but I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate it. Luckily Craig Schroer and Jessica Critten did it with more skill than I ever could have. Their session also served as an excellent follow-up to Mark Lenker’s discussion of motivated reasoning on Thursday, where he talked about the (misperceived) role of information in a democracy, and how we might need to adapt our practice to address the issue. Both presentations framed “information literacy” as something which cannot exist apart from considerations of politics, and I came away wanting to do a better job of teaching that to students.

  • Advocate.
    Perhaps my favorite moment of the conference came on Thursday afternoon, when during the Q&A portion of a panel, an audience member asked how the presenters handled faculty requests for less-than-useful library instruction (like building tours). There was a bit of discussion, followed by Larissa Gordon saying “I just tell them ‘no.’ It might be difficult for us to internalize this fact, but we’re experts too. Let faculty know that.” I went on to hear this sentiment repeated throughout the rest of the conference, and am so pleased that the word is out. Our profession is full of smart, dedicated people, and we are in a position to shape higher education in a meaningful way, but we’re going to have to speak up for ourselves.

  • People really, really like Portland.
    I know it’s not as lofty as these other thoughts, but beyond “advocacy”, the most frequently occurring topic of discussion which I heard was “It sure is nice here.” That’s thanks in no small part to the conference planners, who did a herculean job of reviewing presentations, working out logistics, and somehow finding a way to get 250 librarians onto a single boat. It really was a lovely time, and I can’t wait to go back for ACRL in just 8 short months.

So there it is, my wordy-yet-somehow-too-short reflection on Library Instruction West, 2014. Without a doubt the best conference I’ve attended, and an excellent means of getting me inspired for the coming semester.