The Instruction and Outreach Department manages and coordinates library research instruction for students, faculty and staff through course-related workshops, outreach activities, personal consultations, research guides and other instructional materials.

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Librarians descend upon our nation's capital

I was among the over 19,000 librarians who made themselves at home in Washington, D.C. for the annual conference of the American Library Association this past weekend.

My experience at ALA was a bit of a whirlwind -- I arrived in D.C. at Sunday afternoon in time for a current issue discussion on the role that academic libraries -- and instruction librarians in particular -- play in supporting undergraduate researchers.  The discussion, organized by ACRL's Instruction Section, featured interesting conversation among instruction librarians from institutions ranging from Reed College to Michigan State University.

My key take-away from the discussion:  Undergraduate research and the academic programs that support them look different at each institution represented on Sunday afternoon, and it is our job as librarians to get to know our particular institution's culture and work to communicate to our students that we are here to support their efforts, whether it be through research consultations, special library services developed with their needs in mind, opportunities for them to present or store the products of their labor, or library prizes that reward truly outstanding use of library collections.

Monday brought a series of programs in the morning -- the highlight was "Assessment for the Rest of Us: Informal Techniques You Can Use," where we heard about 10 relatively simple assessment projects going on at libraries around the country.  Lunch with friends from UNC-SILS was followed by the a heated debate (and I'm not kidding here!) about both the virtues and challenges of Open Source Software -- the Kuali OLE project that Duke Libraries is a part of got quite a bit of attention as a cutting-edge ILS concept.

Next up was a walk through the exhibits, where I got to talk with folks from Serials Solutions, RefWorks, ERIC, EBSCO and meet Duke's new LibGuides representative.  The day ended with a presentation on ways that academic librarians are making use of the technologies that their patrons are already using -- new to me were using WordPress to create subject guides and Shelfari for feeds of book cover images.

This was my second experience at ALA Annual (the first was in 2007, also in D.C., after my first year as a Master's student at UNC-SILS), and I must say that I still don't feel that I have the conference experience down pat.  I came away, once again, feeling as though I had missed out on a number of key programs, receptions, meetings and presentations -- and my hunch was confirmed as I skimmed the Twitter backchannel and then read others' experiences, like Jennifer Howard's, published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, or those captured on the American Libraries blog

My interest has certainly been piqued, so I'll be showing my face at ALA Annual again -- and next time, I vow to leave only once I've been treated to lunch or cocktail hour by at least one vendor, heard a couple of fabulous authors wax poetic on the importance of libraries and developed a better understanding of ALA sections and committees -- and all of the meetings and programs that accompany them.

I think that most seasoned academic librarians would assure me that it takes a time or two at ALA Annual to figure it all out -- or maybe I'm just a bit slow on this front.

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