Attending ACRL 2023 – Part 2

iStudent Blog

Published: April 26, 2023 by Kesheena Doctor

Last month, I attended the ALA’s ACRL 2023 Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With the assistance of the SJSU travel scholarship for current students, I was able to go to the conference with very little cost to me. In my previous blog, I discussed my preparation for the conference. Today, I’d like to share with you how dynamic this experience was for me.

Arriving in Pittsburgh

I left for Pittsburgh early Wednesday morning from New Orleans. After a two-hour flight to Atlanta, I ran into a fellow scholar of the ARL Kaleidoscope Program on my connecting flight. This encounter was indicative of the rest of the trip, highlighting chance encounters with good people and bringing positive outcomes. After a one-hour flight, we arrived at the Pittsburgh International Airport and took a carshare to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where ACRL 2023 would be held. We parted ways with promises to meet up again. I registered for the conference, checked into my hotel, and was able to rest for a few hours before the keynote session. Taking this rest break was a great decision since the rest of my trip was full of on-the-go activities.

I met my Reed College librarian friend and her colleagues at the Opening Keynote with Rebecca Nagle, a Cherokee writer, reporter and podcaster. Nagle highlighted the many issues currently affecting Native Americans, much of which she discusses in her podcast, This Land. I rarely see Native American representation in the public eye and appreciated the ACRL 2023’s inclusivity. I felt represented and a valued guest at the conference. This sense of belonging and inclusivity continued throughout the whole conference. 

After Nagle’s keynote, my library colleagues and I attended the Opening Exhibits Reception, where I learned that librarians love tote bags and library vendors provided them en masse. I got a few totes, then my friends and I went to a local vegan restaurant and discussed our experiences with the profession. My hotel roommate and fellow ARL Kaleidoscope Program scholar also joined. These hookups offer those new to the profession such valuable insight and I found my new librarian friends were very generous in sharing their experiences and provided guidance and insight to traverse my future career. While the day was long, it was very eventful and I felt good about making the decision to attend this conference.

The ACRL 2023 Conference

I was tired but excited to attend my first librarian conference. I spent the next 2 days attending poster sessions and panel discussions. I was unfamiliar with how poster presentations worked and once I was able to see a presentation in-person, the format made much more sense. I had fun learning about new, cutting-edge scholarships and chatting with the presenters about their work. The panel discussions were much more formal in structure and the presentations I attended focused on leadership issues common to academic libraries. The conference also hosted workshops and a new format called “Community Chats” but I wasn’t able to fit these sessions into my schedule. Fortunately, ACRL 2023 also offers several virtual sessions which were recorded for later viewing; I look forward to catching up on them over summer break!

ACRL 2023 also provided many networking events throughout the conference. I attended the  Opening Exhibits Reception, the Student Happy Hour and the St. Patrick’s Day Soirée. This was in addition to many smaller meetups with ARL Kaleidoscope Scholars and my library friend from Reed College. 

Final Day in Pittsburgh

By Saturday, I was exhausted and overslept, missing the conference’s Closing Keynote with author, Heather McGhee. Both my hotel roommate and I had evening departing flights, so we went to the Mattress Factory, a local art museum. Though vastly different from a library conference, it was nice to explore Pittsburgh and bond while looking at stimulating visual art for a few hours. My hotel roommate also got me a ride to the airport with their university colleagues and I was back in New Orleans by 9 p.m.! 

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

ACRL 2023 was a great experience and I cannot wait to attend more library conferences. All the librarians I met were so kind and welcoming; offering advice, opportunities for mentorship and professional collaboration. While I’m new to the profession, ACRL 2023 made me feel like I’ve always been a part of librarianship. It’s challenging to describe the overall sense of belonging I felt – at the conference, as a member of the profession, and as a colleague focused on her career and professional aspirations. If you are considering going to a conference, I highly recommend doing it, even if you do not have any connections. Here are the tips that I’d like to offer you (many of which were shared with me): 

  • put yourself out there
  • do as much as you can but not everything
  • bring snacks, water, and any self-care items you need
  • *do not bring a bag because you will get one from the vendors
  • pack with room in mind for vendor swag
  • represent yourself how you want to be seen
  • be intentional with who and how you network 
  • be open, ask questions
  • take time to enjoy the host city
  • be kind and have fun!

I’m so appreciative that I was able to attend ACRL 2023 and would like to thank SJSU, my ARL Kaleidoscope Program scholars, my friends at Reed College and all of the other awesome people I met while at the conference. Every new experience I have as a future librarian informs me that I made the right choice in this career.


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