ACRL wrap-up, part 1

The thing about a big conference like ACRL is that there are enough different themes going on that everyone can pick out their own program and find their own connections between different events. For me, the big themes were the education of librarians and the use (or not) of social web technologies, plus a strong information-literacy component to the poster sessions I went to. More on the Web 2.0 and information literacy threads in another post or two; first, the question of what kind of education librarians should have.

One of my official reasons for going to ACRL was to participate in a roundtable on "PhDs in Academic Libraries: The Role of the Scholar-Librarian," with several of my fellow current and former CLIR fellows. (Hi there, those of you reading this!) I think we were all thinking that at 8:00 on a a Saturday morning, we'd mostly be talking to each other as our fellow conferees slept in or went to other sessions. But we were very pleased to have 14 people show up, in various stages of PhD consideration and completion. We ranged all over the topic, discussing what an academic librarian might gain from the PhD (in-depth research experience was one answer that a bunch of people agreed on) and what the liabilities might be (cost, time, and the likelihood of taking a pay cut if one moved from library administration—one common career track for PhD-holders—to teaching in an LIS program). I did warn one person who was considering a PhD in English against getting sucked into the prevailing "tenure-track job at an R1 is the One True Career Path" mentality of English departments, but it was lovely to hang out with a whole bunch of people who approached the PhD from another point of view entirely. It was a really good, lively conversation, and we might get to reprise it on the web at some point.

In a similar vein, I went to a debate with the provocative title "Resolved: The Master's Degree In Library Science Is Not Relevant to the Future of the Academic Library," with Arnold Hirshon of NELINET taking the "pro" side and Liz Bishoff of BCR taking the "con" position. She argued that with widespread digitization of library resources, training of new librarians is more important than ever; he argued that LIS programs aren't teaching the right skills, and aren't selecting candidates with the right combination of ambiguity tolerance, learning agility, and talent for improvisation. There were lots of great questions from the audience, and something of a consensus at the end that LIS programs need an overhaul, starting with much closer connections with what people are actually doing in the field of librarianship.

James Neal of Columbia University moderated the debate, and also appeared on a panel called "Subject Librarian 2.0" (blogged in a lot more detail here), at which the major themes were the need for a lot more collaboration with faculty, a more active role in instruction, and "embedding" in various parts of the curriculum. Kara Whatley of New York University coined a phrase I liked: "librarians as middleware." (She also said "We don't have to be it all or do it all, we just have to build partnerships"—good to keep in mind, especially since the expanded role of the subject librarian sounded, in some of the presentations, like a nonstop commitment.)

More on ACRL tomorrow, and at some point I must post about the utter awesomeness of Ira Glass, who was our closing keynote speaker and who actually made me wish I were still teaching composition (this is no easy feat) so that I could encourage my students to experiment with his method of storytelling.

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