The Indianapolis 300: Wrapping up ACRL 2013

Posted on 29 April 2013 at 1:58 pm in Events.

Indianapolis, home of the legendary Indianapolis 500, recently hosted the 300 presentations,workshops, and poster sessions that made up ACRL 2013, the biennial conference of academic librarians. Here are just a few of those sessions worth highlighting.

Indy Car

Libraries in the Age of Wikipedia

Before the start of the official conference, I participated in a free pre-conference workshop entitled Libraries in the Age of Wikipedia hosted by the IUPUI Library. IUPUI is the joint Indianapolis campus for Indiana University and Purdue. Presenters included IUPUI archivist Brenda Burke, librarians Chanitra Bishop and Phoebe Ayers, and Lori Philips of the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. The morning covered many of the basic principles of Wikipedia: its mission statement, and history, and the various programs it has initiated, such as the fall event “Wikipedia loves libraries” and the ongoing Galleries-Libraries-Archives-Museums (GLAM) project, which seeks to elevate the visibility institutional collections as information sources on Wikipedia. They also discussed the “Wikipedian-in-residence” programs at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum and elsewhere. The presentation also featured mentions of Wikimedia Commons, an open license, royalty-free image archive, and Wikidata, a new project to bring together sources of open-access research data.

Wikipedia is one of the top ten websites in the world, it is an important resource for librarians to understand and help students make the best use of. No matter what library-specific resources we promote, or services we offer, chances are most students will start their information search by browsing Wikipedia. It has strengths, and it has weaknesses, and we must have a clear understanding of it to be of use to our patrons.

ACRL Battledecks! Imagine, improvise, inflict: Get inspired or die trying.

The opening night social event was ACRL Battledecks, an improvisational competition featuring six librarians presenting six random slidedecks to an audience of nearly five hundred. I rolled up my cardigan sleeves and jumped into battle, and emerged victorious. You can check out the whole ACRL Battledecks competition on YouTube. My thanks to John Jackson for inviting me to participate and organizing the well attended event — nearly five hundred screaming, hooting, hollering, and laughing librarians. It made for a great, entertaining evening and conference kick-off. My victory prize? The Ice King’s crown, complete with beard.


Photo courtesy Kate K.

The One-shot Mixtape: Lessons for Planning, Delivering, and Integrating Instruction.

This presentation featured a large panel and was based on an article published in the LIS journal Communications in Information Literacy 6(1). Panelists included ACRL Immersion presenters Beth Woodard, Randey Hensley, Deb Gilchrist, and Michelle Millet, as well as Steven Hoover, Jennifer Corbin, Diana Wakimoto, Christopher Hollister, and Patty Iannuzzi. As the paper’s main author, Megan Oakleaf, was not available, Hollister acted as MC.

Panelists limited their comments to one point or two points each:

  • limit your lesson-plan instead of trying to cover “everything;”
  • vary your instructional approach in order to accommodate different learning styles (concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization; active experimentation);
  • assessment doesn’t go last, assessment isn’t an afterthought, assessment = good teaching;
  • don’t wing it in the classroom; work from a lesson plan;
  • enthusiasm in a teach is authentic and humanizing, and shows that we care;
  • at the beginning of a class, take evidence of what they already know (how many have used the library and in what ways, how many already use a major database, etc.) and adjust your lesson plan to fit the level of your students;
  • incorporate case studies into your lesson plans; using a narrative to drive group work and debriefing encourages engagement;
  • faculty are your friends; find ways to plan instruction around their syllabus;
  • think product, not process; an active exercise could include annotated bibliographies where they not only explain why they used a source, but how they found it;
  • it’s about the institution, not your classroom; think big-picture issues when crafting your lessons. Retention, completion, graduation rate – what is your library’s role in the students complete educational experience? Are we playing the role of a partner and a leader? Are we contributing to the collection of data and evidence so that we can show the value we play on campus?

Original article: Notes from the Field: 10 Short Lessons on One-Shot Instruction.

Making Information Literacy Relevant: Inspiring Student Engagement through Faculty-Librarian Collaboration

Two librarians, one faculty member, and one student from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania reported on a partnership they developed for a public health course taught for upperclassmen.

The librarians and faculty consulted before the start of the semester and planned three workshops timed to specific course assignments. Each workshop was built around the tools the students would need to accomplish the next assignment — evaluating quality sources, using internet-derived public health data, etc. This presentation contained a number of useful details: exact exercises, assessment strategies, what worked and didn’t work and how they’ll change it in future iterations. Some of the specific workshop activities could be easily adapted to any number of different courses. Each lesson plan was hosted and shared with students via libguide, with on-screen polling for immediate student feedback.

Riding the RAILS of Rubric Assessment to Keep Information Literacy Learning on Track

ACRL workshops are three hours and require advanced sign-up due to their limited capacity, and are one of the best aspects of the conference. They get hands-on and practical the way a shorter presentation with a larger audience cannot. I attended this one focused on rubric assessment, and specifically the RAILS methodology developed by Megan Oakleaf. The workshop was excellent – it was very practical, and gave me a perspective on rubrics and how we could use them to analyze many different facets of our information literacy instruction. While I have seen these concepts discussed before, this was the first time someone placed actual student work in my hands, gave me a rubric to judge it by, and then forced me to discuss and defend my scoring (in order to normalize the various personal biases each individual brought to what is supposed to be objective scoring). It made me realize how much work must go into standardizing evaluations, and the ways in which the ideas could be successfully implemented at my place of work — and which ways they might not.

Keynote Presentation: Henry Rollins, political activist and punk icon

What can I say about keynote presenter Henry Rollins? If you seen him speak, you have an idea of what happened: he came on stage, gripped the mic in his hand, and didn’t slow down or seemingly take a breath for over 80 minutes. His first line? “I have no librarian jokes.” Highlights included his personal experience touring the National Archives with the equally iconic Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi), his articulation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and anecdotes about collecting and preserving band fliers, zines, and other punk-related ephemera.

His core message was simple but powerfully relayed: information organization, dissemination and access is the cornerstone of freedom, and as core principles, they must be retained and defended in order for this country to survive in the 21st century. There’s a snippet on YouTube; get a taste.

CARL-ACRL Ilene F. Rockman Scholarship Award Dinner

I had the privilege of organizing a dinner to honor the 2013 Rockman Scholarship recipient Brittany Austin. Ms. Austin is a current SJSU SLIS student and member of the FIDM-San Francisco library staff. We were joined by six California academic librarians at The Libertine, a restaurant and cocktail bar that, by the end of the night, was turning people away at the door because they were packed wall-to-wall by librarians. It was a good thing we had a table reservation. Librarians know where to find the best cocktails, it seems.

The Art of Problem Discovery

ACRL president Trevor Dawes introduced Virginia Tech’s Associate University Librarian Brian Mathews, author of the Chronicle of Higher Ed blog the Ubiquitous Librarian, to present his invited paper on the concept of problem-seeking in library management.

Mathews opened with a dictionary-derived definition of “problems:”

  • unwelcome or harmful, to be dealt with and overcome.
  • questions raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution.

He made the point that sometimes we jump too quickly into problem solving mode before fully exploring the wide range of possibilities. When dealing with library issues, we have to consider what the problem actually is; for example, patrons don’t want to use your catalog; they just want the book that will help them write their paper. Mathews referenced the quote from Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen: “Don’t sell products and services to customers, but rather try to help people address their jobs-to-be-done.” Libraries should invest in other people’s problems.

Things for libraries to consider:

  • What three things do students struggle with the most? (and how can we help them overcome them?)
  • What challenges do researchers face when applying for grants?
  • What information would help academic deans make decisions?

As can be expected from a Brian Mathews presentations, there were quite a few quotable bon mots:

  • a job ad should include “proficient listening skills;”
  • librarians should be problem developers, not just problem solvers. You can only solve the problems you discover or identify;
  • instead of “thinking outside the box,” let’s reach into other people’s boxes.

Through the art of problem discovery we can design and develop the capacities, service models, etc. of the future. We need to decide what business are we in. Is it the book business, the reference desk business, the catalog business, or none of the above? Rather, we should be in the problem solving business for our campus. How do we help you with your data needs? That’s our business.

Love Your Library: Building Goodwill from the Inside Out

Four librarians from different institutions (Char Booth, Adrienne Lai, Lia Friedman, and Alice Whiteside) shared their ideas for interesting, weird, and creative outreach programs to develop library love on campus in what was a fun, morale-boosting presentation. They threw out dozens of ideas in less than an hour. Here are just a few examples:

  • “re:book: take a book. remake it. win,” remixing weeded books into book art as a student contest exhibited in the library;
  • “exCITING FOOD,” a citation event in the library with food to eat and the recipes for that food displayed as citation examples. Students snack and mingle with librarians and discuss their citation challenges.
  • “Library on Wheels” and “Pop Up Libraries” in different places on campus, with fun materials and costumed librarians, to generate conversation with students.
  • “Wikipedia Edit-a-thon” organized by campus archivist at a women’s college in response to a report that 9 out of 10 Wikipedia editors are men.
  • Student photo contests around the library.

The presenters made all the materials related to their outreach programs available, and the slideshow is online.


Altogether, ACRL 2013 was a worthwhile conference with many compelling presenters and actionable ideas. Over the length of the conference, I had conversations with dozens of librarians I admire, many of whom I connect with electronically during the year but only get the chance to meet at a conference like ACRL. In those social moments — whether it’s the downtime between presentations, at an event like Battledecks, or at an evening gathering, we’re talking about our jobs, our careers, our ideas for instruction, and what we think we can bring back to our libraries. There is tremendous value and inspiration derived from those conversations, and the ongoing conversation that will happen moving forward.

The final evening of the conference saw a couple dozen librarians out for a night at a neighborhood dive, killing it at karaoke (I must admit, I was an observer, not a singer). We had duets, we had disco, we had the Big Bopper. And, naturally, a librarian sang that one hit by the Cardigans. It was a good way to wrap it up.

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  1. Comment by Jamie on April 29, 2013 at 6:33 pm.

    Henry Rollins spoke! what fun! Sounds like an amazing conference. I’d like to be there next year!

  2. Comment by Daniel Ransom on April 29, 2013 at 7:00 pm.

    Rollins was definitely entertaining! The next ACRL won’t be for two years though — Portland 2015.

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