Reflections on ACRL 2019

ACRL 2019 logo
ACRL 2019 logo

The ACRL 2019 Conference, with the theme Recasting the Narrative, was held in Cleveland, Ohio in April 2019. The feedback – both formal and anecdotal – has been overwhelmingly positive. With close to fifty percent of the participants responding to a formal survey, ninety-three percent rated their overall conference experience as either “very positive” or “positive.” The attendees reported a number of reasons for their positive experience, including the quality of the keynote speakers, the relevance of the sessions, and the opportunities for networking. This is not surprising as it is similar to feedback received for previous ACRL conferences.

In addition to the theme of Recasting the Narrative, the conference had an intentional focus on ACRL’s Core Commitment of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), which “permeates the work of the Association, cutting across all ACRL sections, committees, interest and discussion groups, and communities of practice.” The focus on EDI was visible throughout the conference, and notably with the keynote speakers. Michele Norris challenged the audience to think about race by describing or speaking about a personal experience using six words. Through stories from the Race Card Project attendees had the opportunity to – if only briefly – learn about the experiences of others and how those experiences can shape our interactions.

Viet Thanh Nguyen transported attendees to a time when he was a refugee from Vietnam to the United States and described how he and his family survived and overcame what seemed like incredible odds. He related his story to current events and the role we can all play in creating inclusive environments. Alison Bechdel invited us into a conversation with family and friends about relationships, work, family, and loss. Each of these speakers inspired us in their own way and help set the tone for the conference.

In addition to the inspirational keynote addresses, there were 3 invited presentations, 94 panel sessions; 90 contributed papers; 79 roundtable discussions; 210 digital poster sessions; 18 workshops; 6 pre-conferences; 30 lightning talks; 19 tech-connect presentations and 12 virtual conference webcasts. Across these various presentation formats, we saw the variety of topics in which academic library workers were interested. Presentations addressed topical areas from across the profession including access services; administration, management and leadership; assessment; collections; outreach; professional development; reference; scholarly communication; special collections and archives; teaching and learning; technical services; and technology.

With each conference, conference planners and ACRL staff make every attempt to ensure that this diversity of topics is represented to be sure that all academic library workers and attendees can find their place at the ACRL Conference. It is always difficult to hear, “There are too many good sessions during this time slot,” that phrase indicates the quality of the programming at the conference. Without a bias to any of these programs, some of the presentations included: “When your internal narrative makes it hard to lead: Addressing Impostor Phenomenon of library leadership”; “Debating Student Privacy in Library Research Projects”; “Diversity and Inclusion Planning: Fostering Culture and Community in Academic Libraries”; “Leveraging Visual Literacy to Engage and Orient First-Year College Students in the Library”; and “Librarians are doin’ it for themselves: Developing our own open-source ILS.”

This is hardly a representative sample of all the presentations but gives a sense of how the topics were covered. All conference attendees are reminded that they have one year of access to the virtual conference site – which for the first time also includes the poster sessions. If you missed a session in person, you do have the opportunity to enjoy the presentation online.

Overall, the conference was an outstanding success. The programs, the speakers, the focus on diversity all contributed to the wonderful experience. In addition, ACRL 2019 conference planners incorporated many accessible features – more microphones; interpreters; hearing, mobility, and personal assistants; and lactation pods. Some of these features were new for this conference. Feedback on the programming and new initiatives was copious and appreciated and will assist the ACRL 2021 leadership and volunteers in making the next conference even better.

Trevor A. Dawes
ACRL 2019 Conference Chair