Access 2017: Reflections from a First Timer


First, I want to express how very grateful I am to be one of the two folks who received the Access Conference Diversity Scholarship. The conference doesn't announce our names--the cost of the scholarship does not include you outing yourself, and that struck me as incredibly kind and gracious. Since I outed my disability quite a bit ago, I don't mind saying it here. I never would have been able to afford to attend without the assistance, and the conference is one of the most useful I've attended in my 15 years in libraries.

(You can find my session notes here for Day 1 morning, and early and late afternoon, and Day 2 morning, lightning talks, and afternoon sessions. I haven't gone back to clean them up yet, so forgive the messiness.)

Context

Since July 2014, I've served as the Information Literacy Coordinator at my library. This August, I've shifted into a new position as Digital and Data Services Librarian, an area I've harbored interest in (especially the idea of data and digital literacy) but haven't had the time to develop real skills in. My colleagues and admin are allowing me to learn the new position and handle the learning curve when they could have hired an already-expert; my hope is that the relationships I've managed to build with our faculty and students will be a strong starting point in developing new services. In any case, I have a ton to learn now that I'm on the Technical Services side of the house for the very first time in my career.

Thoughts on the Conference

The conference--I was afraid that it would be all code and above my head, and was really pleasantly surprised to find that while there's was a lot of talk about applications and development and some slides of code, it was all within a framework of application development to support access to information. If you look at my notes, linked above, you'll see some lines where I get a little lost in the metadata coding or json or SPARQL (which I initially typed as Sparkle, all n00blike, imagining sparkly unicorns providing access to data), I could follow. Yes, I cheered internally during every session when I could understand things, and again when I could think of how we might use it (if we aren't already). Learning how all of the "automagic" really happens, and all of the time and work that goes into making us users feel like it's automagic for the user.

So, I was struck by just how much work and thinking about the user goes into doing the best job of making information accessible. The keynote and multiple presentations really hammered on how access to information is not an absolute or a Platonic Form of Good, but dynamic cultural constructs dependent on time, place, people, and land all I need relationship. The University I work at, California State University Channel Islands, is a federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). Our faculty and students work with native peoples and sensitive populations like the poor, the undocumented, migrant workers, and native peoples. Thinking about this as we make decisions about what information we may or may not have, how we should or should not preserve it, who we should ask about that preservation of and provision to, and who the "we" should be in this whole sentence. This is important to me if I am going to be working with digital preservation, and the conference offered a number of applications that take this complexity into consideration.

I was also struck by the genuine ethos of generosity and sharing. Nearly everyone is posting their code on GitHub, and welcomed interested attendees to contact them with questions--no need to reinvent the wheel when you have generous colleagues willing to share their work and allow you to build onto or customize it. And I can see how things like the IIIF framework might be really useful to my faculty who have tons of digitized images of beaches, or microplastics in fishbellies, or digitized images of old manuscripts or papers... my head is spinning and it's wonderful to be talking to faculty about their research and also have some of the conference knowledge I gleaned inform what we might be able to help them do with that information.

It also helped me make a list of all of the many things I need to know in terms of information architecture and metadata schemas. [I would like to note that I avoided cataloging-esque stuff for almost 15 years of librarianship, and now I'm wishing I had taken Lois Chan's class at UK while I was there.]

[Also, the stereotype of Canadians being wildly polite and nice...happens to be true. At least, in my limited experience at the Calgary airport and in Saskatoon. But if the extra polite even applies at the airport, you *know* it's special.]

Access is definitely a major conference on my radar for next year, given how much I learned. With the new position in digital and data services, my entire landscape of conference attendance and professional reading has shifted dramatically. I'll be attending ASIST at the end of October 2017, and will likely attend the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) up at the University of Victoria in British Columbia (back in Canadialand).

Your turn to share: I would love to hear from you all about what other conferences I should be looking at.

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