Report from ACRL 2017

By Gabriel McKee

Last week I had the privilege of traveling to Baltimore to attend the biennial conference of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), an international association of academic librarians. This was my second time at ACRL, having previously attended the 2015 conference in Portland. The four-day conference presented hundreds of papers, panels, keynotes, poster sessions, and roundtables on all aspects of academic librarianship.

 From this wealth of programming, three major themes emerged:

  • Digital humanities, and in particular data visualization. Exemplified by opening keynote speaker David McCandless, author of Information is Beautiful, the conference highlighted the role of libraries in finding new and powerful ways of interpreting and communicating information from complex datasets. A host of conference offerings discussed the increasing importance of metadata in making data available for research and reuse, platforms for geospatial data, and more.
  • The role of libraries in social justice and activism. The second keynote speaker, feminist author Roxane Gay, emphasized the increasing importance of libraries as a tool against ignorance. And the ACRL’s leadership took advantage of the conference’s timing—a week after the executive branch announced its plan to eliminate out virtually all federal funding for libraries by terminating the Institute for Museum and Library Services—to mobilize the attendees into action in support of libraries. The IMLS is an important funding source for academic libraries and librarians: New York University libraries have received seven IMLS grants in the last twenty years, and it is a major funding source for major institutions in the study of antiquity like the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. (IMLS is important to me personally, as well: I received an IMLS scholarship while getting my library degree).
  • Open access. Closing keynote speaker, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, made clear her intention to make the collections of the Library of Congress available to everyone, largely through digitization. One of the best-attended sessions at the conference was a panel session on “The Ethical Imperative of Open Access,” and smaller sessions discussed the finer points of OA policies, including partnerships between small journals and discipline-specific libraries like ISAW, encouraging faculty contributions to OA publications, and the implications of OA for library collection development.            


The conference also provided an opportunity to catch up with colleagues old and new, including a sizable contingent of current and former NYU librarians. My trivia team (Trivia Newton John) finished fifth in the opening night trivia contest, no small feat in a room full of reference librarians. A Saturday morning panel—structured in the form of a Jeopardy game, complete with a Powerpoint question board—discussed the role of board games in academic libraries, a topic appreciated by attendees of the ISAW Library’s Game Nights. And antiquity was on display in the form of an odd piece of convention center décor: A 6-foot long scale model of a Roman galley used in the film Ben-Hur.

ACRL 2017 was an enriching experience, and the ideas I encountered there will inform future projects at the ISAW Library.