ALA Annual 2010 – Shifting Expectations

The annual ALA conference was in Washington, DC this past weekend and I went into it eager for the energy of the conference bubble. I was hoping that the vibrant professional community that I’d already experienced at ALA Midwinter in Boston would help me recapture the enthusiasm I’d lost after graduation and my rather abrupt move from NYC.

Instead, with a few marvelous exceptions (detailed below), I found myself hearing professional librarians present material that was tangential at best and irrelevant and out-of-date at worst. One presentation on metadata featured reassurances that as librarians, we could just use MARC for all our metadata needs. More than one session featured dry readings of the history of whatever aspect of librarianship was under discussion.

The energy of ALA Annual seemed to be largely contained in the exhibitor’s hall and in the “special” events – book cart drill team, Battledecks, etc. — whose appeal escapes me. My conference roommate (@librarygilana), whose professional inclinations are far different from mine (she’s more sensible and less of a research nerd), had a wonderful time. I just found it to be largely missing the genuine newness and intellectual vibrancy that I’ve found at other professional events.

That said, there were two really outstanding sessions that I had the pleasure of attending: First, the session on technology in academic libraries in developing countries was broad in scope and blessed with committed and knowledgeable speakers (including the perpetually charming Peter Young from the Library of Congress and IFLA president Ellen Tise). Secondly, the expertly-presented session on evidence-based practice in instruction managed to give me a jolt of professional enthusiasm that made the disappointments of other sessions fade significantly. Megan Oakleaf and Diana Wakimoto managed to get a large room of attendees buzzing and interacting with each other while still presenting serious research that can help move American librarianship forward. Some former Pratt classmates and I (including @speercommajess) walked out with big ideas and energy to match.

Every professional event I attend helps me pinpoint my true passions in the field, so I value even the parts that make me grumpy. I’m looking forward to ACRL next spring and I hope to find some local and regional events between now and then that will keep me energized and focused.