Wow! ACRL was made-up of many firsts for me. It was my first time at ACRL, or any big conference for that matter, my first road trip longer than 4 hours (thank you to Meghan, Kathy & Molly for getting me to Cleveland safely) and my first time facilitating two roundtable discussions. Getting to be a part of, and lead, discussions on topics of importance to academic librarians was priceless.

Notable sessions:

Instruction Mixtape: Using Design Thinking to Create Active Learning Instruction

This was a 2 hour workshop lead by two librarians from the University of Florida. During this session we discussed different active learning techniques and spent the time going through the design thinking process (empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test) to apply active learning techniques to a new or old lesson plan. I personally loved their ice-breaker activity where they asked each table to make a list of songs for our table’s hypothetical mixtape. It was a funny way to wake-up and get to know each other.

It was really nice to actually have some time to just brainstorm (ideate), I honestly can’t remember the last time I just dedicated some time to sit and brainstorm for longer than a few minutes. This workshop was truly invaluable because we got to get feedback on our ideas from other librarians, another factor I am sure many us do not make regular time for in our day to day.

I was happy to be able to walk out of that session with a lesson plan and other ideas to continue to work active learning into other lessons. This workshop also taught me that, when trying to strategize your time at big conferences, workshops, despite the multi-hour time blocks, are worth it! I just wish I took my own advice and went to more of them! There’s always next time!

If anyone wants to see the slides or the handouts from this session, find them here

Making a Positive Impact as a Library Leader: A Qualitative Study of Past & Future Library Leaders (Contributed Paper, by Jason Martin, Associate Dean of Middle Tennessee State University)

This paper presentation brought a full house. The ‘standing room’ was full and there were librarians bursting out the door into the hallway. Martin discussed how he surveyed librarians about what traits they value in past and future leaders, he found many leadership themes within the results and discussed each of them. These included: inter + intra-personal skills, vision, communication, change agent and competence & experience. I find it important to highlight that empathy was a key aspect to all of these shared themes.

Most of all, I really respected how Martin himself, as an assistant dean, modeled these themes. Especially in the case of competence and experience. I’m sure we all can agree that a leader should be both, but he made the case for a leader with these traits really understanding and knowing how to perform the organizational work they ask of, and expect from, others. I loved how he had done this research and was presenting it at a conference, behavior I am sure he expects from the faculty librarians he oversees.

There was also a great discussion at the end about how no leader can possibly be perfect, and he admitted that he is not perfect and many of these ideal traits do not come easy to him. I think the importance of soft-skill development, at this time, cannot be underestimated. These types of skills will soon be considered hard skills in the eyes of a society increasingly utilizing AI and other similar emerging technologies. In the context of professional development opportunities, such as ACRL, it highlights the importance of sessions that focus on developing soft-skills but also the cruciality of informal networking and relationship building at these types of events. We need to keep these skills in mind when considering how we keep ourselves relevant in this changing field and world. On that note, if anyone is interested in proposing a session on developing skills like this with me, let me know!

Reflection on my roundtable experiences:

My time at ACRL also involved facilitating two roundtables with my former colleagues from National University in San Diego. I really loved both of the discussions that came from each of the roundtable experiences. We had fantastic discussions on asynchronous learning and its impact on libraries as well as the role of design in libraries.  

In the spirit of asynchronous learning, we contributed to a collaborative notes doc for that session, so, if you’re curious about what went down at that discussion you can find that here. The handout with suggest design tools from our other session can be seen below!


I had a great time at ACRL and will make it a priority to attend the next one in Seattle 2021. The sessions were intriguing, but the people I met were even more so. I had the opportunity to go to two different business librarian gatherings, as well as multiple hosted happy hours and dinners. I feel lucky to have been able to connect with librarians from all over the USA and to have gotten to spend time with my Wake colleagues over the drive! I can’t wait for the next one.