Conference Reflection: ACRL 2019: An Opportunity to Create Connections

Photo credit: Grace Adeneye
The photo was taken at the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland. [Alt text: Follow Me to the Farm in yellow. Shown is feet in black and white shoes with black leggings and plaid skirt in black, white, and yellow.]

When colleagues of mine at the University of Delaware discovered that ACRL 2019 would be my first time at this particular conference, their reactions were unanimous.

“Ooh, ACRL’s a good one. You’re going to like it!”

It helped, too, that our library vice-provost holds a key position in the planning and execution of the event. His enthusiasm and excitement were infectious, and I headed to Cleveland with much expectation.

The conference itself did not disappoint. From the first day to the last moments of the closing keynote, it was obvious that content had been curated with the interests, needs, and focuses of academic librarians in mind. Sessions covered a wide variety of subjects, and I was inspired to “recast the narrative,” when it comes to my roles, contributions, and perspectives. I was challenged by the experiences and the research of a wide and dynamic group of speakers.

ACRL 2019 was planned with the comfort and the consideration of all attendees in mind. Provisions for the mobility challenged, nursing mothers, and the hearing and visually impaired were not only provided but were highlighted and emphasized repeatedly. Small touches such as coffee, tea, and snacks on the exhibition floor and a period in the afternoon where all activity paused for a lunch break were additional things that added up to a favorable experience.

My biggest takeaways from this conference were not academic– they were more human, more elemental, and I know they will linger long after Cleveland is a distant memory. These were mainly little things, slices of life and conversations and experiences that lasted only moments, but meant a great deal:

  • Seasoned librarians volunteering at first-time attendees mixer, greeting the many students that attended, answering their questions, reassuring them through nods and smiles, and warm grasps of the hand that yes, they had found their people.
  • Overhearing a librarian and their assigned “buddy” for the conference next to me in Starbucks, poking fun at how awkward the meeting was and finally, sharing “night shift horror stories.” (It was a bit disconcerting to see how many ‘drunk incidents’ involving students sounded absolutely familiar.)
  • Watching a young job-seeker at an event in the Cleveland Public Library receiving several offers to help him find employment. His “job-seeker” badge started a lively conversation that resulted in a flurry of business cards, introductions and finally, a break to take some selfies with a couple of puppets!
  • Sitting at a roundtable on teaching with primary sources and feeding off of the energy, skill, and enthusiasm of all the participants– and hearing about the fascinating projects coming out of different parts of the country.
  • Meeting Twitter-celebrities of the library world in person– and finding that they surpass their online personas in overall awesomeness!
  • Attending not one, but several informal meetups of librarians of color and being absolutely overwhelmed by feelings of joy and pride at the beauty, vibrancy, skill, and impact of this community that I’m so privileged to be a part of.

As with most library conferences, Twitter was utilized heavily by participants, adding to that feeling of constant community. The platform acted as a live-feed forum and Q&A session where folks shouted each other out, arranged impromptu meetups, offered food reviews, suggested things to do in Cleveland, and microblogged memorable moments from sessions they attended.

ACRL stands out in my mind as a conference that offered not only immense professional development and a wealth of information but a conference that ensured that the human element and connection wasn’t lost. I had opportunities for creating and sustaining professional friendships, to dance, to drink together, eat together, and find groups of like-minded individuals who– unlike much of the rest of the world, know exactly what I do, and love it just as passionately.

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