ACRL 2019 Conference Preview

The theme of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) conference in Cleveland, April 10–13, is Recasting the Narrative. This year’s gathering promises over 500 programs that will explore new roles for academic library professionals, as well as new ways the library can position itself—on campus and within the higher education landscape.

The theme of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) conference in Cleveland, April 10–13, is Recasting the Narrative. “Just as our host city of Cleveland has undergone a revitalization in recent years,” the conference site states, “library professionals must continually reinvent themselves to stay on the cutting edge.” This year’s gathering promises over 500 programs that will explore new roles for academic library professionals, as well as new ways the library can position itself—on campus and within the higher education landscape.


This year’s keynote speakers reflect ACRL’s interest in promoting a wide-ranging roster of voices. Journalist Michele Norris, founder of The Race Card Project and Executive Director of The Bridge, the Aspen Institute’s new program on race, identity, connectivity and inclusion, kicks off the conference on (Wed., Apr. 10, 4­–5:30 p.m.). Author Viet Thanh Nguyen (The Sympathizer, Grove Press) will anchor the conference on Thurs., Apr. 11, 10:55 a.m.–12:15 p.m., and cartoonist Alison Bechdel (Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Mariner) will close the proceedings (Sat., Apr. 13, 11a.m.–12:15 p.m.).


For those looking to get an early start, preconference offerings on Wed., Apr. 10 include Taking Charge of Your Narrative (8 a.m.–3:30 p.m.) and Systems Leadership Lab: A Deep Dive into Functional & Dysfunctional Organizational Patterns (8:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m.), as well as a number of live webcasts worth catching for those who won’t be there in person.

Exploring new tracks for academic librarianship takes many forms, starting with the hiring process. Outsiders Turned Insiders: Expanding Skillsets through Non-MLS Hiring (Thurs., Apr, 11, 8:40–9:10 a.m.) and Challenging the "Good Fit" Narrative: Creating Inclusive Recruitment Practices in Academic Libraries (Fri., Apr. 12, 9:10–9:40 a.m.) look to best practices for creating an inclusive candidate pool and equitable search. On the other end of the equation, Why We Leave: Exploring Academic Librarian Turnover and Retention Strategies (Thurs., Apr. 11, 2:40–3:10 p.m.) considers turnover factors.

Along with dives into ways the use of artificial intelligence, varied takes on information literacy, and open source materials can reframe how libraries approach their work, session offerings approach the idea of new narratives from many angles. From instructional takes such as Setting the Stage for Civic-Minded Education: Casting New Roles for Librarians in Critical Information Literacy Instruction (Thurs., Apr. 11, 10:20–10:50 a.m.) to the collaborative approach of The Soft Stuff is the Real Stuff: Reframing Librarianship Through a Relational-Cultural Lens (Thurs., Apr. 11, 9:40–10:40 a.m.) to emerging knowledge areas—see “Cannabis” is a Blue State Word: Marijuana Decriminalization, Keyword Development, and Considering Political Contexts in Search Results (Thurs., Apr. 11, 2:40–3:10 p.m.)—there will be plenty of information for those who want to examine new ways of working.

Other offerings include Beyond Town Versus Gown to Local Partner for Student Success: Recasting the Academic Library for Community Support (Sat., Apr. 13, 9:45–10:45 a.m.), taking a page from the extensive partnerships happening in public libraries, and Transforming the Academic Library through Design Thinking (Thurs., Apr. 11, 8:30–10:30 a.m.), which will guide participants through a series of exercises to help envision the ways spaces can be reorganized to help advance their mission. And Research Parties: Rebranding Reference for a Social, High Impact Student Experience (Fri., Apr. 12, 8:30–9:30 a.m.) looks to recast the reference process as fun for all.


Any institution that wants to revamp its story needs to ensure that everyone is at the table to help tell that story. Many of the sessions on offer at this year’s ACRL highlight inclusivity and equity as critical components of library work. These include Endurance is Not Transformation: Narratives of Women of Color on the Promotion- and Tenure-Track (Thurs., Apr. 11, 8–9 a.m.); Improving Ourselves and Improving Care: Mitigating Bias in Literature Searching in Health Sciences (Thurs., Apr. 11, 8:30–10:30 a.m.); and Moving Beyond Race 101: Speculative Futuring for Equity (Fri., Apr. 12, 4:15–5:15 p.m.). A topic of some urgency, both at conferences and the field at large, Advocating for Social Justice: the Role of the Ally, will span two days: Thurs., Apr. 11, 8–9 a.m. and Fri., Apr. 12, 1–2 p.m.

A number of the scheduled lightning talks also spotlight equity issues, such as Encouraging Racial Justice Activism on a Predominantly White Campus, Discussing the impossible: Mental Illness Narratives Where Bias Rules, and #CritLib in the Classroom One-Shot: Dialogues of Power and Privilege.

A host of wide-ranging poster sessions are sure to provide something for every interest; among them Beyond "Banned" Books: The Sexuality Archives & the Preservation of Sexuality Materials, How Relevant are Academic Libraries in the Performing Arts?, Listening to "Unlikely Voices": Using Archival Documents to Teach the Constructed and Contextual Nature of Authority, Writing Our Story: Building a Community of Practice for Library Managers from Within, Where Are All the Fun Books: Popular Romance & Science Fiction in Academic Libraries, and many more.

Roundtable discussions on offer Thursday include Incorporating Trauma-Informed Services in Academic Libraries, Libraries and the Legacy of Slavery at Universities, Getting Emotional: Emotional Intelligence vs. Emotional Labor in a Pink Collar Position, Journey Beyond the Stacks: Cultivating Unconventional Librarian Research Collaborations, and Undocumented Students: Librarians as a Support System. Roundtable offerings on Friday feature Disabled Library World: Building Community, Reinventing Ourselves and Our Libraries: Lessons from New Library Directors, You're a Superhero, Not an Impostor: The Strengths of Librarians of Color, and Thinking Critically about Sources in an Age of Misinformation, among many others.


In the spirit of the metaphorical oxygen mask, transformation requires a healthy base to start from. The Cost of Speaking Out: Do Librarians Truly Experience Academic Freedom? (Thurs., Apr. 11, 2–2:30 p.m.) examines how librarians have navigated free speech and challenges. Quantifying the #metoo Narrative: Incidence and Prevalence of Sexual Harassment in Academic Libraries (Thurs., Apr. 11, 4:40–5:10 p.m.) and When Research Gets Trolled: Digital Safety for Open Researchers (Fri., Apr. 12, 10:30–11:30 a.m.) consider the safety of those doing the work, and When Your Internal Narrative Makes It Hard to Lead: Addressing Impostor Phenomenon of Library Leadership (Fri., Apr. 12, 3–3:30 p.m.) looks at issues that may arise before that work begins.

Concern for student well-being is also at the forefront, in sessions that include Belonging, Intentionality, and Study Space for Minoritized and Privileged Students (Thurs., Apr. 11, 10:20–10:50 a.m.); Teaching Anxious Students: Reimagining Library Pedagogy for the Age of Anxiety (Thurs., Apr. 11, 2–2:30 p.m.); Empathetic Marketing in the Library: A Fresh Approach to Outreach (Thurs. Apr. 11, 2–3 p.m.); and Scholars at Risk!: An Academic Library’s Social Conscience in Action (Fri., Apr. 12, 3–4 p.m.).


Attendees who need a change of pace can sign up for a number of ticketed events to break up the usual offerings. Early risers are invited go for a run/walk along Lake Erie. Those who like to work with their hands can make their own art, zines, and hats, or “defy your library instincts” and repurpose old books (provided). Think & Drink sessions at the Hilton’s Lakeside Foyer give brainstormers a chance to recast their libraries’ narratives over the beverage of their choice. There will be guided meditation offered in the Yoga and Meditation Room throughout the event.

Those unable to attend the event in person, or conferencegoers who wish to revisit the many sessions and events at ACRL 2019, will have access to nearly 200 ACRL Virtual Conference slidecasts and live webcasts, as well as an archive of virtual poster sessions presented onsite, for a year.

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is News Editor for Library Journal.

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