I was fortunate enough to be able to attend this year’s Digital Library Federation Forum in Vancouver. I served on the Program Committee this year, partially because I wanted to go to Vancouver but knew I wasn’t going to have anything ready to present, but also because I think of DLF as my professional home, and after all that I’ve taken from it over the years, it felt like time to give something back. I’ll say up front that being on the Program Committee was one of my all-time favorite professional service activities; seeing DLF from this side of it made me appreciate the meeting, the community, and everything DLF does to put it together, all that much more. The call for volunteers is out again, and while I think I’m too over-extended to do it again in 2016, I encourage you to stand in my place, because it’s awesome.
DLF stands out among all of the meetings I attend, not only for the incredible work that I see there every year and the brilliant people from whom I get to learn for three days, but for how thoughtful and critical of an event it is. This year’s keynote addresses set an even higher bar than ever. After an introduction from Larry Grant, Musqueam elder, as a reminder of the role of First Nations in the building of Canada (and the United States) and their rightful place in our history, Safiya Noble laid out all of the ways in which our social and political contexts are reflected in the technologies we build to share information. There’s nothing natural or inevitable about the algorithms we entrust to deliver information to us, she pointed out; they reflect decisions we collectively make about which perspective we value the most, and aren’t as neutral as we may think they are. Her words were present throughout the conference, both in the presentations (Purdom Lindblad’s talk on archiving sexual violence at Virginia was especially vital and necessary) and also in my general take-aways: Whose stories aren’t our archives telling? How do we tell those stories? More to the point, how can we enable them to tell their own?
The closing session brought together ten DLF community members to outline, in three minutes or less, what their vision for the future of DLF looks like, now that the community has grown in so many ways from its origins as a bit of an R1 social club. Afterward, the floor was opened to the wider community to share their own responses and their own visions for where DLF is going. The response was really encouraging; it’s easy when communities grow like this to lose sight of what made them worth joining, but there are so many active DLF members working so hard to ensure it’s still an inclusive place for everyone to work and put their ideas out there and maybe, you know, be wrong, but it’s okay because throwing wrong and crazy ideas out there is how we get to somewhere better… I don’t know that any other organization does it as well as DLF, and that’s what’s worth preserving about it to me as we grow. (I said all this at the meeting, but really Carly Rae Jepsen said it.)
So work stuff, then. It was great to see as much linked open data as there was, but what was really good is that none of it felt like it was by any sort of book. There were lots of different approaches people are taking to create linked open data, to try and use it to improve workflows and metadata quality in our shops, and to figure out how to really even go about measuring “metadata quality” (good to see you again, Corey! The wildlife biologists all thought your talk sounded the best). Not that I was around for the early Web, but it feels like what I imagine that was like: we all know parts of what we’re doing, so let’s throw some ideas out there and learn from each other. I came away from it feeling really good about the tiny linked data pieces we’re working on at Denver, and also with three different tentative Google Hangouts to trade project notes.
DLF comes down to the people, for me, and it was great to see familiar faces and meet people in person who I’d only really known on Twitter before last week. Some of my favorite conversations I had at dinner and the bar last week were really all about how to keep those conversations going after the conference is over, through the fellowship and mentoring programs that DLF is starting to get going now. It’s such an intense week every single year, and the conversations so valuable, that it feels like we lose a little something by not maintaining them throughout the year in some semi-formal way. It seems like we’re big enough, and with enough momentum behind these mentorship programs and affinity groups, that we can make DLF happen outside the Forum now.
The Forum still feels like home to me, more than ever. May it long be so.
: A small part of my professional privilege is having been at Penn State back when, if you weren’t at one of the 30-ish DLF member institutions, you weren’t even allowed to attend the Forum. That always felt weird to me and I’m glad it didn’t last long.