APA Librarian Conference Travel Award: Reflections on ALA 2017

The most recent recipient of the APA Librarian Conference Travel Award, Rachael Elrod from the University of Florida, used the award to defray the cost of attendance at the American Library Association’s (ALA) annual conference in June. Patti Avellanet in APA’s Databases & Electronic Resources Customer Relations group recently talked with her to get her impressions of the conference. The following transcript of their conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and context.

Photo of Rachael Elrod presenting her research at ALAPatti: Welcome back from ALA! Was the conference as valuable as you had hoped?

Rachael: And how! I gave my first national conference presentation at the LIRT (Library Instruction Round Table) preconference event on Friday. The presentation introduced attendees to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant project I am working on called “Researching Students’ Information Choices” that aims to understand how students from grade 4 through graduate school assign credibility to online resources and how they identify those resources. Participants in the study are presented with a STEM-related research prompt and a simulated Google results list, and then answered questions about whether they would find the resource helpful, whether they would cite the resource, how credible they think it is, and what type of resource it is (i.e. a book, a journal, a blog, etc.). Later during the conference, I was also happy to be able to meet with an IMLS staff member to share updates on the grant’s progress. If you want to find out more about the grant, see our LibGuide at http://guides.uflib.ufl.edu/RSIC.

Patti: Your first presentation to a national audience — that sounds exciting!

Rachael: It definitely was! This research takes on a critical role in the literature in the face of current emphasis on fake news and how to determine what one is looking at in an online environment. Unfortunately, the grant specifically does not support funding to present at ALA. I have never had the chance to present at ALA before and was excited about this opportunity.

Patti: I’m glad that we were able to help you cover that gap in the cost of attending so that you could present your grant project’s research. Were there any specific events or groups that you found particularly beneficial?

Rachael: The Education and Behavioral Sciences Section (EBSS) events! This was my first year serving as Chair of the EBSS Reference Sources and Services Committee, and my first time at ALA where I was Chair of an EBSS Committee. I was able to meet two of the committee members face-to-face for the first time. We were able to begin planning a project for the coming year for the committee that we hope will help us understand how education faculty and students use resources — and hopefully lead to a publication! It’s very exciting to be a part of something like this.

Patti: I remember that one of your objectives for attending ALA was to continue strengthening your professional network in specific ways, and it’s clear that you enjoyed some unique opportunities to do that. Are there any other takeaways that you can immediately put to good use?

Rachael: I got to meet informally with so many other librarians. I actually met someone while on the escalator who was very interested in the IMLS study — he remembered me from the presentation and waved me down later on to chat! We talked about his research project on studying the citations of undergraduate students, which could be important for my team’s grant. Based on what they are finding, they are learning what students find trustworthy enough to cite.

In addition to presenting my research, the other primary reason I wanted to attend ALA is that my library is preparing to undergo a major $3 million renovation next year. I’d hoped to be able to meet other librarians as well as vendors who can assist me in everything from planning, procedures, policies, assessment, user satisfaction, finding furniture, and so much more.

Patti: I love the escalator story! You never know when and where you might meet someone who is interested in your work. It sounds like this was a terrific conference experience for you, and I’m getting the sense that you would recommend attending ALA to other librarians.

Rachael: Absolutely! There is something here for everyone, whether you are new to the field or a seasoned veteran. Whether you are a school librarian, academic librarian, or public librarian. It’s a place for everyone to come together and learn, share, and fellowship with one another.

This travel award enabled me to connect with others engaged in similar research, as well as people who have valuable insights into successfully planning an amazing library renovation. It was terrific to be able to attend this important conference without breaking the bank as I continue working towards earning my doctorate and becoming an academic library leader.

Patti: I’m glad to hear you enjoyed such a great experience at ALA, and that APA played a part in helping you to achieve that. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.

Would you or a librarian you know benefit from receiving an APA Librarian Conference Travel Award? Now through November 30, 2017, the APA Librarian Conference Travel Award is accepting applications for conferences taking place from January – April 2018. Please visit the website for more details on eligibility, deadlines, and application materials.

Patti Avellanet