This post written by David Beales.
“A waste of my time”
It comes to something when the most I learned from a 3 day conference was what Henry Rollins looks like nowadays. Rollins is not alone in getting angry every day. I spent pretty much the whole of ACRL 2013 sitting through presentation after presentation with absolutely nothing new to offer; thinking about the hundreds of dollars it was costing to be here and the time I was wasting.
In one of the presentations I went to, the panel were sharing best practices in building a retro gaming library. I was looking for a discussion about servers and emulators and how to deal with obsolescent technology . What I got was the advice that Amazon is a good place to buy computer games and that I will need CD cleaning cloths. Thanks for that. I’d been planning to rummage through dumpsters and clean what I found with a wire brush and Dettol.
It’s unfair to pick on one set of speakers though. Some of them were so bad, they could have saved themselves the trouble of preparing a presentation by just stepping down from the podium and slapping each of us individually across the face. The effect would have been the same.
Maybe this is why so many librarians drink
It wasn’t all bad. I went to a preconference workshop on “Planning, Assessing and Communicating Library Impact” by Debra Gilchrist (Pierce College) and Lisa Hinchliffe (UIUC) which left me enthused and impatient to get back to work and try out what I’d learned. And every now and again someone stood up and talked about something new or provocative (I did think that Tabatha Farney was particularly good). I’m sure there were plenty of others. But, as these awful presentations carried on day after day, I passed the time wondering why everyone was so relaxed about wasting my time and money.
Time for some disclosure: coming from the UK, where librarians are not faculty, and where we are not under the same pressure to publish and present, I can tell you that we have a natural suspicion of colleagues who present too much. If you’re out gallivanting around the country, you had better have something worthwhile to say. Otherwise, get back to making your library better.
What I see in the US is thousands of librarians being judged, not just on whether they are making their libraries better, but on whether they are published or have given a presentation. This would be an impossible task for most of us, particularly as we often have no training in how to do research and no time in which to do it. But as a profession, it seems we’ve got round that tricky obstacle by setting the bar very low indeed and applauding uncritically whoever stands before us. Because we know we’re all in the same boat and next time it will be us.
Are we helping each other by being so uncritical? Last year I watched a TED talk by Margaret Heffernan in which she suggests that we should “dare to disagree”. It doesn’t seem that amazing an idea when you look at it; that if you want to be sure that you’re right, you should invite people to try and prove you wrong. I’m not sure what she would make of us librarians, but one thing I’m confident of; if she gave the same talk at ACRL 2015 we would all give her a warm round of applause.Photo: Kurt Vonnegut mural on my way back from the Chatterbox, Indianapolis