ACRL 2017 in Baltimore
March 22-25, 2017
Report from Julianna Pakstis, MLIS student and ACRL-DVC scholarship recipient
I would imagine that any first-time attendee to the Association for College and Research Libraries bi-annual conference feels equal parts overwhelmed and in awe while there. But this year it seemed intensified.
Now, as a first-time attendee (a title which I wore in a ribbon on my badge in hopes that it would initiate conversation, camaraderie, and inspire veteran attendees to counsel with some much-needed advice – it worked!), I don’t have much of a basis for comparison to past conferences. Even so, I could tell that something was different. There was a palpable sense of urgency permeating from the small groups to the Baltimore Convention Center’s biggest halls. The message was clear. Libraries are in danger of losing millions in federal funding and we need to save them. We need to help each other and ourselves.
Bigotry, woefully passive activism, and the very real threat of budget cuts were organizing themes from the Thursday keynote given by Roxane Gay, the first formal session I attended. Gay is not a librarian and the topics she covered weren’t specifically library-related the majority of the time. Rather, Gay spoke out against weak allyship, called out racism, and called us to act, not just for library funding, but for human rights in general.
I was (delightfully) surprised to hear this kind of opinionated speech take center stage – at what the speaker called a wonderfully produced talk at that. But I see now that I shouldn’t have been so surprised. When the just side of an issue is so clear, organizations and their members have an obligation to speak up. So now instead of surprised, I am proud. And I am acting. You can too!
When I accepted the ACRL-DVC stipend and was asked to write, I didn’t think this blog post would become a podium for social justice or a call to action to save the very basis of our profession. But that overtone was strong enough to make it central in any summary of this year’s conference.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to hear not only the loud centralized voices of this professional organization, but also to have engaged with individuals from institutions across the country who each have nuanced and, at times, conflicting viewpoints. It’s important for me as a young professional, and young person, to hear this multiplicity of voices and to be involved in the defining dialogue of the future of library science.
Lofty ideas aside, I learned practical solutions for problems that can occur in areas of college librarianship I hadn’t yet even considered. I was reminded to consider logistical factors, like schedule flexibility, workplace status and reputation, and cost of living when applying to Ph.D. programs post-MLIS. I saw how librarians are working with humanities faculty to make their work accessible through metadata. Librarians are creatively teaching and adapting metadata skills so that faculty and students can produce metadata themselves with library support, thus allowing the librarian to foster a strong digital humanities program while working on other projects as well. One poster highlighted that training sessions with school tour guides reduced the inaccuracy of library facts given to prospective students, which is a brilliantly simple solution to a problem I wasn’t even aware of. I saw a shining example of everything that is out there in terms of technology, organization, and institutions neatly packaged into a (giant) exhibition hall.
I was even able to have a bit of fun exploring the host city of Baltimore. From the top of Federal Hill, I took in views of the harbor that were no less impressive against a grey Friday afternoon. I attended the American Visionary Art Museum and was treated to exhibits about and made from food, alongside a 15 foot tall pink poodle. I’m still craving the artichoke and Maryland crab dip served at the ACRL-DVC Leaders’ Reception.
Ultimately, my experience at ACRL made me more acutely aware of issues and opinions in our field and introduced me to finer points of how this profession functions. This experience is impossible to mimic in a classroom and yet so integral to producing well-informed librarians. I would not have been able to learn all that I did without the generosity of the Delaware Valley Chapter of ACRL. Thank you.