Small Acts, Big Impact

I want to share two items with you. Individually they are they are the sort of things we hardly give much thought. Together they are important symbols of the value that ACRL brings to its members, and a valuable reminder of the impact ACRL has on academic librarians. What makes it all possible is the ACRL membership, and the support it provides for beneficial ACRL initiatives.

When I attended ACRL’s fall strategic planning meeting (SPOS) I found an envelope waiting for me on the table in our meeting room. Then I noticed the same envelope at every seat. Someone had written a letter to every member of the ACRL Board of Directors, not a form letter mind you, but a letter addressed individually to each member. That clearly took some time and effort. That usually happens when someone is either incredibly angry or incredibly joyful. Fortunately, it was the latter.

The letter was written by Charlotte King of San Diego. She was writing to express her sincere gratitude for being selected as a 2012 Spectrum Scholar. Charlotte is pursuing her Masters in Library and Information Science at San Jose State University. She aspires to become an academic librarian. Charlotte told us that the scholarship will help her to afford her educational expenses, but what she also appreciated was the access to the mentoring support offered through the program. I really liked how Charlotte ended her letter: “This opportunity is a brilliant start to my library journey.” Thanks to the support received from ACRL members, it’s sure to be a long and successful journey.

Then I came across an article that I would imagine received limited readership. Published in a state library journal, Virginia Libraries, the article “Learning the Language of Information Literacy: Takeaways From ACRL’s Immersion Program” was a random discovery for me. I know thousands of librarians have attended various Immersion Programs and I am sure past attendees have written about the program, but rarely have I come across such an eloquent expression of the value of Immersion and how it can serve as a practice-changing revelation for those who participate.

The authors, Rebecca K. Miller of Virginia Tech and Jonathan R. Paulo of James Madison University, each share their reflections on attending the 2011 Immersion Program in Seattle. It’s clear that for both Miller and Paulo, what they experienced not only added to their knowledge of instruction and assessment methods, but also instilled new skills and enthusiasm for library research instruction.  As Paulo writes “I am a better librarian, and most importantly, I am a better educator.”  Miller also  experienced some profound changes in her post-Immersion practice and writes  [that] “I can feel a difference in the levels of engagement in my classes, and I actually enjoy teaching a little bit more.”

When you’ve been in the profession as long as I have you may get jaded at times. You may forget what inspired your passion for academic librarianship. These two discoveries are the exact type of stimulus that renews my spirit and energizes my commitment to academic librarianship. Here was concrete evidence of how my support for ACRL makes a difference in the lives of prospective and developing colleagues. It is a way I can help the next generation to have a great career experience, like the one I have enjoyed for many years.

For more seasoned academic librarians like myself, being an ACRL member and supporting its initiatives make it easy to be a Giveback Generation Librarian. Newer-to-the-career academic librarians will discover many ways to get engaged with ACRL.

I know that many academic librarian ask what difference ACRL makes. I know they may believe that ACRL is less necessary in an age when professional networks are as close as a keyboard, the professional literature is increasingly open to all and professional development is widely available from a host of virtual sources.

I hope they will understand that member associations like ACRL exist to enable those of us who are dedicated to academic librarianship to accomplish amazing things as a collective that we could not possibly achieve as individuals. I hope this post will provide inspiration for how the work of this Association does make a difference. It happens at the individual level when folks like King, Miller and Paulo have career changing experiences. It happens at the collective level when ACRL advocates for open access, creates initiatives for demonstrating library value or provides opportunities for publishing and presenting. We sometimes lose sight of these things. That is when the small acts remind us of  the big impact of ACRL.