2022 IACRL UnConference Report

Illinois Association of College & Research Libraries Forum (IACRL)

March 15, 2023

Christina Norton, Bradley University

The 2022 ILA Conference in Rosemont, IL featured the first IACRL Unconference in many years to be held face-to-face. The format of an “un-conference” involves attendees developing discussion topics collaboratively, and then circulating in small groups to enjoy engaging with a wide range of peers on those topics. The topics identified by the 2022 Unconference attendees included whole person librarianship, work/life balance, new responsibilities/projects/services since COVID, web accessibility/LibGuides, and staff development and enrichment.

Whole person librarianship

Whole person librarianship refers to librarianship that supports the whole person - in an academic library context, this means addressing a patron’s needs beyond the purely scholarly. Conversations acknowledged how much more familiar librarians felt with patron personal needs in the wake of the pandemic - how some economic and emotional needs had intensified. Pathways to effective whole person librarianship discussed included: trauma-informed librarianship, reaching out “with humanity,” open educational resources, food pantries and other non-traditional resources, and being an advocate for our patrons on campus. Attendees also acknowledged the limits of librarianship as a solution: we are not social workers, and we shouldn’t burn ourselves out trying to do work more effectively done by others. 

Work/Life Balance

Work/life balance, as one group put it, “should be “Life/Work balance.” Attendees explored what aspects of life-work balance come from individual actions and what support or change needs to come from the institution to support well-being. Examples of more collective efforts included weekly Zoom meditations, yoga, flexible scheduling, cross-training to prevent individual overload, mental wellness events such as therapy dogs, and group activities such as “Walk-tober.” Personal practices towards work-life balance included setting firm boundaries around how much work to do each day, when to stop checking email, and learning to say no or “no, but…” This was sometimes easier said than done - the conversation also covered how to juggle multiple priorities such as day-to-day work, research and service for tenure, modeling good balance for student workers, and maintaining work/life boundaries when working from home. A common refrain was “There are no library emergencies (except fires,etc.).”

New responsibilities/projects/services since COVID

Absolutely nobody stated that everything had stayed the same since COVID. Roles had changed: either attendees had taken on entirely new roles and responsibilities, often to cover staffing gaps, or the focus of their services had shifted online (as in virtual reference and teaching). Some also expressed making greater efforts at outreach and getting students into the library, through social media or creative events such as art shows or “take and make” crafts. Policies and services shifted to be more accommodating for students: making it easier for patrons to renew from off-campus, for instance, or providing e-textbook programs to address affordability concerns. There was more time spent on things like database management and IT issues. Also, we’re all on Zoom all the time.

Web accessibility/LibGuides

As a ubiquitous library tool, LibGuides were addressed as the site of many accessibility issues and concerns. Many forces were named as influencing LibGuides design: the chosen purpose for LibGuides, Universal Design for Learning, accessibility standards such as those set forth by authoritative bodies, and the need to gather usage statistics. Resources to help make decisions around LibGuides included W3C, the NYU A11y Remediation Project, and screen-readers such as JAWS and NVDA. 

Staff Development and Enrichment

Similar to work/life balance, the existing environment was cited as a factor contributing to the success of staff development and enrichment. If offering development opportunities, time, money, and access to the development also need to be assured. Surveying staff and putting together a development committee were two strategies named to develop training offerings. Cross-training was noted as providing both increased skills and better connections with colleagues. Casual events like coffee and presenting projects or research to each other can also enhance cohesiveness.  “Slim scheduling” and Zoom meetings were identified as barriers to these kinds of connections. Attendees agreed that opportunities should be available for all levels of staff, including student workers, who could benefit from learning skills they can take to other jobs, such as mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and combating perfectionism.

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