HCL Staff Attend Virtual ACRL Conference

virtual conference

Several HCL librarians recently took part in a virtual conference
held as part of the annual ACRL Conference. From left, Tom
Bruno, Head of Widener Library's Interlibrary Loan Division; Ramona Islam, E-Learning and Curricular Design Librarian and Deborah Kelley-Milburn, a Research Librarian at Widener
Library, watch a presentation during the conference.

March 31, 2009 - The conference of the Association of College and Research Librarians (ACRL) earlier this month attracted hundreds of librarians to Seattle, but for E-Learning and Curricular Design Librarian Ramona Islam, Research Librarian Deborah Kelley-Milburn and Interlibrary Loan Division Head Tom Bruno, attending the annual event involved little more than a short walk to Room 310 in Lamont Library - the three took part in a pair of virtual discussions that served as an adjunct to the full conference.

One session addressed best practices in using Web 2.0 technologies, such as blogs, RSS and social networking tools, to reach out to students, faculty and other library patrons. The other, entitled "The Web is My Library" examined undergraduate students, their research behaviors and the role libraries play in them.

Islam and Research and Learning Technology Head Michael Hemment are already working on ways to implement the knowledge gleaned from the virtual conference. In the coming months, she said, they plan to explore additional use of Web 2.0 technologies, particularly blogging and RSS feeds, as tools which can help keep library staff up to date on the many services and learning opportunities available to them.

One such opportunity, Islam said, is the ACRL conference itself. Through the use of dynamic screen capture technology, participating librarians will have access, for the next year, to PowerPoint presentations synched with real-time audio from every paper and panel discussion from the conference. The technology allows virtual conference participants like Islam to revisit interesting presentations again and again, then communicate the information to staff who were unable to attend. The recordings are also available to those who attended the traditional conference in Seattle. Because the information has been archived, strategies employed successfully by other academic librarians can more easily be adapted for use at Harvard.

"This conference was about many things of interest to academic librarians, including assessment, peer mentoring, research guides and teaching methods, and it's particularly valuable to have that material available to us for the next year," Islam said.

Participating virtually also offered other benefits, Islam and Kelley-Milburn said, by encouraging discussion between participants - sometimes even as presentations were still going on. "That sort of virtual involvement could help promote more communication among staff," Islam said.

"I thoroughly enjoyed both the presentations and the opportunity to chat with, and learn from, other HCL staff with whom I don't usually get a chance to talk," said Kelley-Milburn. "When I get a chance, I look forward to viewing many of the archived presentations. The ACRL conference was definitely worth my time and effort."

"The combination of audio and interactive conferencing software helped create a sense of presence, so this virtual conference wasn't just a passive experience," said Tom Bruno, head of the Interlibrary Loan Division at Widener Library. "And it was nice to "attend" the sessions with colleagues, so we were able to share our own observations and impressions with each other, and even extend the discussions among ourselves after each speaker was finished."

Beyond staff networking opportunities, virtual conferencing offers other benefits, particularly regarding fiscal considerations, by eliminating the cost of travel to far-flung conference sites. Attending conferences virtually can even offer sustainability benefits, by mitigating the environmental impact of air and car travel.

"Increasingly, associations and organizations are reaching out to members using Web conferencing," said Susan Fliss, Associate Librarian of Harvard College for Research, Teaching, and Learning. "One of the benefits of the technology is that a person can attend a lecture or a conference session virtually and not have to invest the time and cost of travel.

"The reduction in the cost of travel, however, isn't the only benefit of virtual conferencing," Fliss continued. "Virtual conferencing will not take the place of attending a conference in person to network with colleagues, but this medium provides an opportunity for staff to take time from their day to pause and listen to a discussion of issues in the larger world of information, learn about services offered at other institutions and to think about our users' information needs."