Reflections of Mary Iber Spring Conference Scholarship Winner, Kate Kitchens

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Congratulations to Kate Kitchens from University of Dubuque, our 2016 winner of the Mary Iber Spring Conference Scholarship!

Kate Kitchens, University of Dubuque

Here are some reflections about the conference from Kate:

"When I first saw the theme for the ILA/ACRL conference 'Keeping in Step: Libraries and the Institutional Mission' my knee-jerk reaction was, 'but I am a solitary wanderer—forging my own path!' As a product of our individualist culture, I like to consider myself a nomad blazing down a lonely street of dreams. But I don’t think we can tackle grand scale issues, like social inequality, by going it alone. (complete essay)

From what I’ve observed, our field produces a unique brew of innovative knowledge-seekers brimming with gumption. Char Booth defines librarians in Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning (in an affectionate way) as 'nerds for knowledge,” “nerd enablers,' and, my favorite, 'meta-nerds.' At my first ILA/ACRL conference I felt humbled by the countless inspirational meta-nerds who welcomed me into their organization and state. I feel pumped to be a part of a larger structure that shares a similar set of common values as I do, and that has the kind of forward-thinking mindset that can break down barriers. It’s easy to keep in step with a larger institution when its convictions align with our own.

One of the main takeaways from the conference for me came from the opening keynote. Megan Oakleaf gave an interactive talk in which she outlined a framework for determining how libraries can successfully align their services with their institutional missions. (Find some of the activities from her website: She had us do a perspective-taking exercise, in which we identified the most important stakeholders at our institutions, what they value, and what our libraries offer that impact the values of our stakeholders. She told us to 'Stop doing things!' to re-evaluate our existing services, and lance that which doesn’t serve our stakeholders, opening up time for more impactful services.

Oakleaf also highlighted the importance of evidence-based decision making through extensive data collecting. 'Do the smartest work you can,' she said, which sparked in me an impetus for digging up existing data from my own institution and thinking of ways to collect new data that will help us evaluate the impact of existing services.

For the scholarship, I want to thank the Iowa Library Association, the ILA/ACRL committee, and Mary Hammond Iber, whose example I think we all benefit from. While I did not have the fortune of knowing Mary, reading over her stories ( it’s clear that she made Iowa a better place through her zeal for learning, appreciation for diversity, and ability to see the good in all people. Her name still permeated the air throughout the day.

I also want to thank all the conference attendees and presenters for the thoughtful conversations, friendly introductions, and fresh ideas. When I first entered library land, at my library school orientation, I thought, 'these are my people.' I had the same feeling, but tenfold in Des Moines last week. Thank you for the warm welcome, and I look forward to our many future endeavors!" 

-Kate Kitchens, Reference & Instruction Librarian, University of Dubuque