Friday, April 8, 2011

Report from ACRL 2011 in Philadelphia

I attended my first ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries) conference this spring in Philadelphia. With my colleague Alice Swabey, I presented a poster discussing the research methods used in our recent study of the use of five Alberta academic libraries (see the poster and our supplementary handout). The poster sessions were very well attended and we engaged in many interesting conversations with our colleagues, many of whom are also engaged in projects aimed at assessing the use of space in their libraries. There were a lot of interesting posters presented at the conference, many of which are available online at

The highlight of the conference for me was a talk by Meagan Oakleaf. Oakleaf presented a report she recently completed for ACRL Values of Academic Libraries Report (available for free online). Her presentation resonated with me, possibly because the research project in which Alice and I are already engaged touches on some of the issues she discussed. In particular, I appreciated her call for research to fill the gaps identified in the literature about the performance of academic libraries. She makes a call for more rigorous research involving multiple methods and comparing multiple institutions and calls for a move away from the ubiquitous “library satisfaction survey”. While it is true that our patrons are generally satisfied with the services we provide, what would be more useful in terms of strengthening institutional support for academic libraries is research that focuses specifically on demonstrating value to university or college administrators. She advises librarians to engage in research that is specifically targeted at demonstrating how the library is helping the institution to achieve its goals. We might ask, for example, how the library is contributing to student retention or achievement. Oakleaf advises us to identify key concerns of administrators and then focus our research there. She also advises librarians to take a look at the data we already collect, or have access to, to see how we can use it to achieve these goals. It is not always necessary to launch into full scale data collection because often we have not made adequate use of the data already sitting on our desks. Her talk was extremely interesting and one of the first things Alice and I did when we returned home was to order a copy of this report to share with our colleagues.

Outside of the conference I took the opportunity to explore Philadelphia. Between the wonderful art museum, the beautiful architecture, and the fabulous dining - not to mention the cherry trees and daffodils just coming into bloom - I felt like I didn’t want to leave, particularly with warnings of a blizzard back home.  If you ever have the chance to either visit Philadelphia or attend an ACRL conference I would highly recommend both, especially if you promise to bring me back a whoopie pie or some Amish baking!

- Francine May

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