I just flew back from Seattle, and boy are my arms tired. (Hey, I’m here all week!) But seriously, folks, I just returned from the ACRL conference. ACRL is where we academic librarians go to hang out and talk amongst ourselves about how much better it is to be an academic librarian than any other kind. We eat a lot of great food, drink a lot of great booze, and praise the liberal atheist God we all almost believe in that we don’t have to traffic with the tweens and the riff-raff like the public librarians do. Sometimes we even go to programs.
Seattle was great, by the way. The weather was sort of up and down, but it’s much more of a real city than the last conference city I was in. It’s on a coast for one thing. Great cities need water, which is why Chicago qualifies. Water isn’t enough, though, which is why Buffalo doesn’t. It’s also got great seafood, and some excellent bars. I’d give you a detailed breakdown, but my alter ego was a little too prominently displayed this weekend at a couple of bars and restaurants downtown, and if I gave you too much information you’d be able to track me down and either set fire to my apartment or buy me a drink. If you’re just dying to buy me a drink, feel free to send $20 to the Annoyed Librarian c/o the LJ editor Francine Fialkoff. If you want to burn down my apartment, step in line. Anyway, Seattle’s definitely one of those places I can understand everyone wanting to move to, even though all that humidity might wreak havoc with their hair.
A couple of years ago about this time, I handed out awards for the stupidest program title, without drawing any connection between the stupid title and the presentation. The criteria for stupid program titles were the presence of one or more exclamation points and/ or an attempt to include the theme of the conference into the title. The winner of the Stupidest Program Title last time had two exclamation points and a bad nautical metaphor.
The judge for this year’s Stupidest Program Title was very disappointed, and the contestants were few. It’s like a bunch of librarians read my post last time and didn’t want to be singled out for ridicule, or maybe this time they became much more serious. This year the theme was “Pushing the Edge: Explore, Engage, Extend,” but there were several subcategories like “Cast a Net,” “Scale the Heights,” or “Feel the Buzz” (that last one cracks me up, but I won’t say why.) I guess we’re all supposed to be enthusiastic about casting nets and scaling heights, but those metaphors are a little too outdoorsy for me. As for casting a net, you can teach the Annoyed Librarian how to fish, and she’s still going to go to the market. And I prefer to scale my heights in an elevator. And I prefer to feel the buzz in the privacy of my own home.
This year the vast majority of the titles were boring and descriptive, which is exactly what I want in a title when I’m scanning the program for something to attend. For example, “Metadata Plus: How Libraries Assure Discovery of Locally Created Content.” See what I mean? Boring and specific, which in this case means good. Sure, it’s got that colonized title, but this was a conference of academics. At least the pre-colonic part of the title isn’t a stupid phrase or a bad metaphor. “Patrons cataloging? The Role and Quality of Patron Tagging in Item Description.”? Again, clear and to the point. Some people had the nerve to be absolutely clear and not shilly-shally about with colons. “Empowering Librarians Through User-Centered Design.” If there’s a clarity award, this would be a contender.
There were some I wanted to turn into contenders, but they didn’t fit the criteria. For example: “We’re not playing around: Gaming literate librarians = information literate students.” To which my thought was, “uh huh, sure.” One of the oddest was “Cultivate Your Bottom” (Biv, what were you thinking!). That should have qualified for a stupid title, but no exclamation points and no conference theme-related metaphors.
So let’s move on to the runners up. I’ll start with the titles with exclamation points. Based on my quick glance through the list, there were two: “Face It! Reference Work and Politeness Theory Go Hand in Hand,” and “Solve it!: Challenging students through puzzles.” The problem with these is that they’re not too bad. I don’t know what “politeness theory” is (no wisecracks!), but I can see it might have something to do with facing someone or something. Vague perhaps, but not stupid. And I can see where “Solve it!” is an imperative to the students working with the puzzles. Unfortunately, neither title wins the award.
There were a lot of titles with conference themed metaphors, but none of them had exclamation points. For example, we’ve got “Casting a Net to Provide Customized Research Services for Faculty and Students.” For one presenter, it wasn’t enough just to cast the net; they had to widen it. “Widening the net: a research-based collaboration to foster success among at-risk learners.” The net metaphors are okay, but the second one is definitely more clever. I suppose this one should count: “Netting an Audience: Using Professional Learning Communities to Align K-16 Information Literacy Efforts.” But it’s so mild as to be completely inoffensive, which is a pity.
We’ve got a harvesting one: “Plant the Seeds, Reap the Harvest: Discovering Digital Collections at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.” Those Nebraska folk understandably shied away from fishing metaphors, though as I understand it Nebraska is the “Land of Ten Lakes.” This metaphor isn’t so much bad as irrelevant. Unlike “Solve it!” or even “Widening the net” (which I sort of liked) , it contributed nothing to the title. If collections are seeds and use (?) is the harvest, does that have anything special to do with digital collections? No. That one gets some stupid points just for irrelevance. I got the feeling they were just trying to help themselves with the program committee.
Some try to scale the heights of metaphor, so to speak. We have “Reaching Beyond the Summit: Are We Creating Work Environments for People to Thrive?” competing with “Mapping Your Path to the Mountaintop: Planning Where You Want To Be In Your Career.” The first one suffers from the same irrelevance as “Plant the seeds.” Is there anything particularly summit-like about thriving work environments? Are these libraries in the Alps or something? It just seemed another desperate attempt to please the program committee. “Mapping Your Path to the Mountaintop” might have to be the winner, because it does have two different metaphors going on, but it just doesn’t grab me and throw me down on the floor laughing like a really stupid program title should, so no award (Sorry, Brian!). Then we had Advancing Your Claim to Campus Leadership: Reaching the Summit One Toehold at a Time.” That one showed a tiny bit of cleverness by putting the bad metaphor after the colon, but otherwise bored me.
There you have it, folks. I did the best I could. I searched hard to find a winner, but with no luck. ACRL presenters must be getting wary of the AL. Maybe we’ll have more luck the next time PLA rolls around.