Submitted by Sarah Osborne Bender, Visual Resources Curator, American University
As the recipient of the Caroline Backlund Professional Development Award for 2016, I am so grateful to my chapter. The award was particularly poignant this year with the death of Caroline just weeks before the conference in Seattle. I was fortunate to have met Caroline at a chapter meeting a few years back and was treated to entertaining stories of some of her adventurous travels.
This year was a joint conference year, bringing ARLIS/NA and VRA members together. The last time this happened was in Minneapolis in 2011. Both times I truly enjoyed the camaraderie and the expansiveness brought to sessions with both societies represented. Serving as the liaison from ARLIS/NA to VRA, and vice versa, this year’s conference illustrated to me the many ways in which we can work together between these joint conferences and generate productive and lasting collaborations.
The travel award was particularly helpful to me this year because my stay was extended by a couple of days in order to help lead ARLIS/NA’s first ever THATCamp. Taking place the day before official conference activities, THATCamp brought together close to 60 attendees from institutions around the world and a wide variety of backgrounds. Planning a THATCamp is a total blind leap; as a leader you try your best to generate enthusiasm and sense of community in the lead-up to the event, but it is up to the attendees to turn the day into something meaningful. If you have a room full of “I’m just here to listen” attendees, the whole thing falls apart. But we should have known better than to doubt ARLIS/NA and VRA members. Attendees proposed and lead 13 sessions and activities included a substantial workshop on web archiving, a creative “sensory mapping” activity, and what may be the seeds of a linked open data special interest group. Everyone in the room felt proud at the end of the day.
Diving into the conference, I attended sessions and meetings that had a substantial impact on the way I look at my work, my collections, and my career. I was one of many fans of the popular “Scope Drift: New Roles and Responsibilities in Visual Resources” session. It was a great early session and my handwritten notes are filled with stars (my own code to myself that says, “Hey! Be sure to look into this!!”) Kate Thornhill brought good energy to her story of being an embedded librarian in a photography class at Lesley University where she worked with students on things like data management and building their own creative commons license. Annie Solinger and Brian Shelburn from University of Massachusetts, Amherst, also shared ideas from their experience teaching a one-credit tech-based course for students who use images (which could really include all students, as far as I’m concerned.)
“Do It, Make It: Current Initiatives and Advice on Creating a Makerspace”, was more useful than I anticipated. Megan Lotts of Rutgers had fun stories of her experience teaching with Legos. Cynthia Frank (University of Maryland, College Park) discussed introducing architecture students to 3D printing, making herself the link between the class project and the library’s makerspace. Feedback from the faculty was positive. And Chris Strasbaugh, of Vanderbilt University, encouraged us to be assertive in partnering with vendors, manufacturers, local partners to get access to equipment we may not be able to afford on our own. I also loved his idea to use Scalar for makerspace documentation.
“Charmed, I’m Sure: Introducing New Users to Library and Audio Video Materials” presented achievable, even elegant, ideas for making the library an appealing choice for users. Amelia Nelson of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art talked about using Visual Thinking Strategies (something I’ve only heard about in museum educator circles) to jumpstart research. And Rhode Island School of Design’s Ellen Petraits shared a presentation of lovely signage inviting people into the library and towards resources- both print and people- who can help.
Along with my VRA counterpart, Rebecca Moss (University of Minnesota), I led the Digital Humanities SIG meeting. The meeting quickly took off with the membership clearly and enthusiastically letting us know what they want from the SIG. Suggestions included a Slack channel, a knowledge base, a SIG facilitated practicum. Most of all, there was deep agreement, even from society leadership in the room, that keeping the ARLIS/NA and VRA DH SIGs separate is inefficient and that it is worth exploring ways to bring us together. (You can see a bit more about this meeting in my recap posted on the ARLIS/NA DH SIG blog.
Lastly, but not least, I presented alongside Ian McDermott about Artstor’s first foray into crowdsourcing with their D. James Dee Archive, a project they call Arcades. The Dee Archive includes tens of thousands of unidentified photographs of artworks from New York spanning 1970s through 1990s. The effort invites the public to enter any information they can identify about the work (with a built-in Google reverse image search). I had introduced the tool to some students and faculty in the Art Department at American University, as well as other cultural heritage crowdsourcing projects. Our session gave attendees a chance to try Arcades live as well as to listen and take part in a discussion between me and Ian about the kind of decisions involved in the development of a crowdsourcing project, ways to enhance the experience for both the user and the collection host, and other ideas for crowd sourced work. The informal format of our session was a success and I feel that both the attendees and we, as presenters, benefitted from the exchange.
Every ARLIS/NA conference I attend results in a collection of meaningful insights that positively affect the way I work, as well as new connections to colleagues. I am thankful to be part of such a dedicated, creative, generous professional society. Again, I express my thanks to my fellow chapter members who helped me attend this year. I hope that they had the same quality of experience that I did.