Thursday, May 14, 2015

All In: Getting the Most Out of the ACRL Immersion Program, by Carolyn Ciesla

When I was in college, one of the seven (shush) majors I had over those four years was education. I wanted to teach… maybe theatre, probably English, definitely not math. This major lasted about two months, but then my advisor told me that – despite changing majors so many times – I had enough credits to cobble together a degree. I left college and went off on the long path that eventually led to librarianship. But I never forgot teaching, and looked for chances in every job to do just that. Sometimes it was leading beginning computer skills classes to a group of senior public library users and others it was just walking a single person through the genealogy database.

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to join a community college as a teaching librarian; it was a job that seemed ready-made for me! Additional changes in library staffing meant that six months after I started, I was in charge of the instruction and information literacy program. Me. Who never actually got that education degree.


Let’s all imagine that feeling of panic I had.

Yep. Just like that.

I couldn’t go back to school and get the degree, and I couldn’t cram a BA into six weeks, so I did the next best thing: I applied for the ACRL Immersion Program. I’m writing for LtaYL to tell you that if your job involves instruction, you should apply, too. Immediately. [Editor’s Note: I had a Masters in Education before I went, but I still applied to the program and attended. Got so much out of it.]

The Immersion site tells you all about the nuts and bolts of the program. I’ll fill in the blanks.
  • Prepare to work

This week is INTENSE. The idea of immersion – submerging yourself entirely into this world of info lit instruction – is real. You will live, sleep, and eat instruction. Days are long, and I and most of the members of my cohort worked every night.
  • Prepare to learn

here is SO MUCH that it often feels like too much. But if you are anything like me, it was invigorating. Yes, your brain will feel like mush. Yes, you may forget your first name and how to drink from a cup. But every day there will be a moment when you look around and realize that you are being taught by the best in library instruction, and you are surrounded by smart, funny, courageous colleagues who share the same passion. That is an unbelievable feeling.
  • Prepare to bond

After you prepare your body (for the lack of sleep) and your mind (for the instruction fire hose), prepare your heart. Look, I’m not a cheesy, touchy-feely kind of person, but I have to stress the importance of opening yourself up to connecting with your fellow Immersioners (Immersives?). In many ways, Immersion is like sleepaway camp. Immersion is divided into two factions groups: Teaching Track and Program Track. The Teaching Track tends to have more participants. I was in the Program Track, and it was a much smaller cohort. The two groups do come together frequently in joint sessions, but for the most part, you’re spending 12 hours days with same folks, staring at their faces, listening to them talk, and reading their work. Is it possible to get through Immersion without making a single friend? To just show up, eat your meals with a book, participate in the exercises willingly, and retreat alone to your room every evening? Absolutely. I’m pretty sure there were more than a few people who did that during my stay. However, to do so would be to miss out on the amazing connections to be made, connections that – I have a hunch – last well beyond that week.
I can easily say – above graduate school, above all the books and articles studied, above the countless ALA meetings and webinars and conferences – that the ACRL Immersion experience is the best thing I’ve done as a librarian. It’s made me better at my job by providing tools and knowledge I needed, confidence I was lacking, and one of the strongest support systems I’ve found. Apply for Immersion. You won’t regret it.

Carolyn Ciesla is an instruction librarian at a community college in the Chicago suburbs. She writes about everything but librarianship on Twitter as @papersquared. She's also one-half of the dynamic duo behind the Bellwether Friends podcast.

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