Battling summer sinobronchitis — not allergies as it turns out — certainly puts a damper on conference travel. It has also contributed to feeling less than celebratory leading up to the Independence Day holiday. The fact that July 4th fell on a Tuesday made celebrating all the more awkward. This year I noticed recirculated articles advocating silent fireworks which seemed an excellent alternative given the current mood, and certainly spares animals (and the rest of us) the anxiety. Alternatively, quiet bursts of colorful light seem to aptly juxtapose my idyllic reminiscence of this holiday with the grief and frustration I’ve felt about the state of my country in the past year.
Similar highs and lows marked my experience of ALA Annual in Chicago the weeks prior. I always hope, perhaps naively, that conferences will both reassure and challenge me as a professional. These competing emotions are familiar companions to learning or undertaking anything enormous or new, and I can usually always find something new at ALA. This year there were only a few glimmers as far as programming and my usual professional networking. I got much more out of the professional-social networking I experienced both online and in serendipitous face-to-face meetings.
One particularly spectacular session I attended gave an overview of how libraries are supporting researchers’ text and data mining needs from both the licensing and technical ends. While the session also had a good balance of presentation and discussion, I still left feeling like a whole pre-conference could be devoted to this topic. The terrifyingly relevant session, Hacking the Web of Science data?…, also had me hanging on every word and fighting the familiar existential dread. Eamon Duede, executive director of Knowledge Lab & Metaknowledge Research Network at the University of Chicago, analyzed particular combinations within the Web of Science haystack to discover patterns in the attention research gets versus the disruption it causes. He found that big teams of researchers, who get a lot of attention and funding, aren’t the ones with disruptively new discoveries. He also noted patterns that show the majority of biomedical funding goes to helping address lower-level societal suffering, rather than targeting society’s more critical ills.
On the networking side, I joined a social gathering of those interested in FOLIO development. In addition to free craft beer and grilled cheese shooters (brilliant!), I got to talk to a wide range of colleagues, from friends working very closely with FOLIO functionality, to meeting others with no idea what FOLIO is. At an ACRL University Libraries Section social hour, I met and talked shop with several very cool Arizonans, and got a tip on the “wild librarian party” underway in the ALA presidential suite.
On a more professional note, I had a successful discussion with one of the four big deal publishers with whom my library will be negotiating in the coming year. I had intended to arrange this meeting in advance, but time got away from me. So, I was impressed that I got two reps to sit down with me on the spot and have a productive discussion on some pretty complex issues. Although it was just handshakes and elevator speeches to three other publishers, I navigated the exhibits floor with a refreshing confidence for a change.
One of the more disappointing events, unfortunately, was the highly anticipated closing keynote by Hillary Rodham Clinton. I decided to extend my trip and work in a visit to see my dad in southern Illinois where an extra overnight stay would be more manageable. This meant a three-hour drive through farmland highways. Since the weather and 55 mph roads permitted, I had the windows down and filled up on the olfactory memories of my fourths of July spent here as a kid. Perfectly timing my arrival back in Chicago just three minutes before the keynote start spared me the long line and still offered a pretty good seat up front.
Clinton’s keynote certainly sparked emotions, laughter, cheers, and even a bit of dancing. Her calls to “fight to defend truth and reason, evidence and facts” were reflexively encouraging, but the rest was nothing I’d not already heard top-name speakers say to librarians before. Given the brevity of the talk and without Q&A (but I get it), I just found it lacked the engagement and inspiration I had imagined. Call it silent fireworks, I guess just seeing the “first woman candidate of a major national party” in real life was apparently all there was to it. I left asking myself, how did that even matter?
Conf over. Headed back to hotel & airport. Have to miss HRC but that’s ok. I’ve had enough WW talking at me this week.
— April H. (@AprilHathcock) June 27, 2017
April gives us white librarians something to sit with and think on after #alaac17. Fellow white librarians, please read. https://t.co/Jfbcehluv8
— Angie Manfredi (@misskubelik) June 27, 2017
Looking back, I am realizing how this naive disappointment and my subsequent desire for an quieter 4th of July is nothing noble or humble. In fact, I suspect it illustrates my own privileged denial and fears more than anything. What’s worse, I know it perpetuates inaction. With the help of my social networks, I’m impatiently trying to move beyond just thinking on this. I do see ever deeper glimpses of privilege and the problem that presents to my professional values. For starters, though, I’m pretty sure my introverted conference fatigue on day three is privileged. I haven’t unpacked many good practical actions in response yet. But, I must now, knowing that this spark has been ignited for some time.