Session Formats

ACRL 2021 offers a variety of options for participation and features nine session formats to suit a wide range of presentation and learning styles.

Check out the chart for a quick glance of our different session formats.  Detailed descriptions follow below.  Find the format that’s right for you!


May 22, 2020
Contributed Paper, Panel, Preconference, Workshop

November 9, 2020
Lightning Talk, Poster, Roundtable, TechConnect, Webcast

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Session Format

Session Length

Audience Size


Contributed papers 25 minutes 200-400 people 2,500+ word paper due 2/12/2021.  Provide digital  handouts
Lightning talks Five minutes 200-400 people Limited to 20 slides
Panel sessions 60 minutes 200-400 people Provide digital handouts
Digital poster sessions 45 minutes – presentation repeated multiple times during time block Flow in exhibit hall Create digital poster
Preconference Six hours 30-65 people Provide digital handouts
Roundtable discussions 60 minutes Up to 10 people, including facilitator(s) Provide digital handouts
TechConnect presentations 20 minutes 250 people Provide digital handouts
Virtual Conference webcasts 60 minutes 100-200 people Attend presenter orientation.  Provide digital handouts
Workshops Two or three hours 100 people approx. Provide digital handouts

Session Format Descriptions

The Contributed Papers committee invites research and position papers that challenge current assumptions and provoke conference participants to think creatively about issues facing academic and research librarians. Papers may report the results of completed research, describe research in progress, or present a position on a compelling problem or issue relevant to one or more of the conference tags. Research papers should highlight the problem, results, and conclusions while very briefly touching on method. The paper must be delivered in a maximum of 25 minutes, including time for Q&A, and presenters are expected to discuss their ideas rather than read their papers. Completed papers should be about 2,500-5,000 words and should be scholarly, well organized, clearly written, and rigorously argued. The paper should be prepared according to The Chicago Manual of Style and should include a bibliography of cited references (in addition to the 2,500-5,000 words). Papers must be provided no later than February 12, 2021 and will be published in the online conference proceedings. Papers should not be previously published prior to publication in the conference proceedings.

Fire up colleagues with a five-minute Lightning Talk. Inspire others with quick glimpses at your interesting ideas, new initiatives, or lessons learned from a success or failure. The sky’s the limit! A Lightning Talk will require you to create 20 slides that advance automatically every 15 seconds (we’ll provide tips and support as needed to help you make it happen). The Lightning Talks committee will select the top proposals based on strength of title and program description and strive to achieve a diverse program of talks that will be interesting to a broad cross section of attendees. Proposal submissions are limited to two authors, and only one person may present the Lightning Talk.

The ACRL 2021 Panel Sessions Committee is seeking proposals that explore how librarians can recast and advance their roles, challenge existing narratives, and revitalize their libraries to meet the ongoing, dynamic needs of their communities. Panel sessions offer two to four presenters the opportunity to weave together innovative ideas, practical experiences, fresh approaches and perspectives, and critical reflection on a current topic or pressing issue. Lasting a total of 60 minutes for all speakers and Q&A, these sessions are intended to inspire audience members to consider multiple, diverse viewpoints on a particular topic and their potential impact on professional practice. Sessions will be selected based on their relevance to academic libraries; clarity of purpose and intended outcomes for the audience; and the overall contribution to the conference as a mechanism for moving the profession forward.

Digital Poster Sessions provide an opportunity for informal, interactive, multimedia electronic presentation and discussion of diverse topics in the field of library and information science. Proposals should consider innovative projects, best practices, and original research findings related to the conference theme. The ACRL 2021 poster format will be digital, allowing for the inclusion of interactive graphics, videos, and images. View a sample online. Digital posters should be eye-catching visual representations of a topic, including graphics, tables, charts, text, videos, and/or images. Proposals should include a brief abstract, place an emphasis on the unique value of the work, and summarize contributions or results being presented. A maximum of two presenters per poster is recommended, and presenters will have 45 minutes to present their content multiple times during the time block. The selection committee will evaluate proposals primarily on their potential to stimulate interesting discussion, facilitate the exchange of ideas, and promote collaboration across varied functional areas. Accepted digital posters will be available via the ACRL Virtual Conference archive.

Preconferences are full-day, in-depth programs that focus on a particular subject of interest to academic and research library personnel. These programs should enable participants to develop a skill on a specific topic and should focus on interactive learning using a variety of presentation styles. Preconferences that offer practical tips and cutting-edge techniques, as well as programs that address one or more of the conference’s tags, are especially encouraged.

Roundtables are small, informal group discussions that give attendees the opportunity to exchange information, discuss best practices, and network with others around common themes and issues. Discussion facilitators should identify and develop a topic that will allow participants to discuss how they are dealing with specific issues at their libraries. Roundtable discussions are limited approximately ten individuals per table, including participants and facilitator(s). Individuals submitting roundtable proposals should address the topics to be covered, their importance to academic libraries, and three questions they would use to keep the discussion moving.

The ACRL 2021 TechConnect Presentations Committee is seeking proposals that showcase how technologies are being used in academic libraries for teaching and learning, day-to-day operations, and knowledge creation. We welcome proposal topics including, but not limited to: internet-of-things, augmented reality, making and maker culture, and data visualization. Do you experiment with technology-focused innovations? We want to hear about them – successes and failures. Are researchers and students creating new knowledge using your library’s technology? Do you adapt current applications or tools in unique ways to engage students and faculty? Have you discovered methods to improve library operations by using a technological platform or delivery mechanism? Do you have ideas for new technologies or developmental applications of existing software or hardware? Do you find the use of specific technologies problematic or challenging to our work as librarians? TechConnect presentations are 20 minutes, can consist of both demonstrative and participatory content, and should include at least 5 minutes for audience Q&A. A computer, data projector, screen, and microphone will be provided. You will be responsible for bringing all other equipment required for your session, except as agreed to in advance.

The Virtual Conference’s synchronous webcasts allow presenters and attendees to interact online via audio, video, and screen share. This is a great option if you want to present at ACRL 2021 but do not have the time or budget to travel. You may present from the conference location in Seattle or remotely from another location with a high-speed Internet connection and microphone. Webcasts are 60 minutes long (including Q&A). Choose a relevant, timely topic that lends itself to presentation in an online environment. If your proposal is accepted, you will receive training on how to give an effective virtual presentation using our software system (Adobe Connect or similar). Proposals will be evaluated by the following criteria: timeliness of the topic; ability to provoke new ways of thinking or demonstrate innovative approaches; potential to engage the audience and incorporate active learning; inclusion of well defined, actionable learning objectives,  and appropriateness of the selected conference tags.

Workshops offer two to three contact hours that provide active and in-depth learning. Participants will engage an issue, learn a new skill, or develop an action plan or other activity where hands-on learning is integral. Proposals should allow for significant involvement and contribution to the learning process from the participants. Proposals will be selected for the conference based on the timeliness of the topic, the stated learning outcomes, drafts of interactive exercise(s), and the degree of active learning. In order to ensure that the sessions really are “hands-on” and provide participants with a tangible skill or action plan by the end of the session, submissions must include an example of an activity you plan to provide. The learning experience should excite and encourage the participants to take risks, question assumptions, and fully engage in the learning process. Participants should leave the session with information to share with their home institutions. Sessions will be limited to approximately 100 participants in order to provide a meaningful environment for active learning.