2020 Symposium Student Scholarship Winner – Hannah Herrlich (Queens College)

Attending the ACRL/NY 2020 Symposium was a wonderful opportunity to discover all of the unique ways in which library professionals around the country are introducing their users and peers to a myriad of resources and ideas surrounding civic engagement. Though the conference took on a new virtual platform this year, it was carefully divided into five sessions with coinciding breaks, with each session featuring presentations of various lengths and topics so that viewers remained hooked.

Personally, the insight I gained from the number of presentations has been relevant both to my professional and educational trajectory. My full-time position within the Access Services department at an academic institution is defined mainly through customer service and minute-by-minute human interactions with our user community. The information accumulated at the conference, combined with the constant user engagement required by my job, put a new light on ways in which I can set forth civic engagement discussion and opportunities with users. I am now interested in pursuing ways in which we can involve our users with the local community, particularly since the institution is located in a rather destitute neighborhood of the Bronx.

Though every presentation shed light on innovative ideas and experiences, I found a continuous theme threaded throughout the day from the message of the presentation, “Neutral No Longer: A Call for Libraries and Librarians to Push Against the ‘Safety Net.’” I have heard whispers from my peers and readings about dismantling the industry standard of a neutrally established library. I have often thought to myself about how one could go about providing a collection dedicated to activism or civic engagement, without setting a precedent of bias or censorship. The message of this presentation provided relief for my muddled thoughts and its message rang clear throughout the day: the work of librarians is embedded in social justice and it is our responsibility to see this through.