Archivy etc.

opinions, occasional rants, and sometimes things that have nothing to do with archives at all. Nothing here should be assumed to be reflective of my employer's opinion(s) nor should it be assumed that at anytime afterward, this is what I still think.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The fantasies of Attila

I have this archival placement fantasy.

My archival fantasy is that the first job out of grad school is in a medium to large size archives where the new person has giving, caring, and more experienced archivists available to act as professional mentors.

My archival fantasy is that this job pays enough that the worker can afford rent. And food. And make payments on student loans.

My archival fantasy is that this job provides the ability to really dig into the basic work of archives (processing AND reference) but also to take part in the broader work of the archival profession (appraisal, donor work, outreach, teaching, digital projects, and whatever the future might hold).

My archival fantasy is that the first professional position is a resume builder, not a placeholder.

My archival fantasy is that the position allows the archivist to learn about the wider world of archival work so they can make a conscious decision about their career directions rather than just being forced into a direction based on the focus of the position or their inability to translate it into a new and better job.

My archival fantasy is that every archivist regards their first professional position as a stepping stone, not necessarily something to be turned into a permanent sinecure nor something to be survived.

My archival fantasy is that university administrations take partial responsibility for the ability of their graduates to be placed post-degree. [The corollary fantasy is that funding allocator for universities stop regarding professional degrees solely as an income-generating resource. Another corollary fantasy is that students thinking about enrolling demand to see longitudinal placement statistics specific to their course of study.]

My archival fantasy is that any archives with 3 or more professionals on staff decide they have an obligation to pay the profession forward and have at least one of those positions dedicated to professional development of a new archivist. [The corollary fantasy here is that they also take ownership of their job descriptions and fight the good fight with HR and Admin to advertise the job they actually have on offer and then do everything in their power to hire appropriately credentialed employees.]

My archival fantasy is mine and not to everyone's tastes.

My archival fantasy has a very narrow scope and may not be all that practical in the real world.

My archival fantasy is what all fantasies are, and presumes I'm perfect, incredibly flexible, and capable of achieving all of the above, all at once.

But I also have fantasies about the USDA rewriting the food pyramid and putting raspberries and chocolate as one of the foundational levels so FWIW.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Moonlighting with Northwest Archivists

One of my side gigs is to serve as chair of the NWA Professional Development and Education Committee.

Truth be told, I'm trying to get out of it. I've had this job for a couple of years and made--to my mind--too little progress on it. It's much too important to be left to somebody like me, especially right now when I've got a few too many other committees that I'm chairing with actual outside imposed deadlines and work that could have an immediate and important effect on relaxing my future workload. Not that there's really a committee right now, since I haven't gotten it together to convene one (despite actually having some people volunteering to be on it. I know. It's very sad. And I am ashamed of myself.)

But before I handed in that resignation to NWA, I did want to complete at least something committee-wise, so I wouldn't feel like a complete and total loser. So this summer I set up a survey for the NWA membership: asking what they actually want from pre-conference workshops. I'm hoping to have this piece of it moved over to the NWA site since that really should be the host for NWA survey responses, not my personal site. But in the interim, here's some results from the survey. I had 62 responses, 60 from NWA members. Given that NWA has a current individual membership count of 164, that's a pretty great return rate from the NWA membership (over 1/3.) Clearly, this matters to you all.

Preferred length of workshop:
Nearly 55% said it depends on the content, preference among those who stated something other than "depends on content" runs toward half-day to full-day. Despite the fact that no one chose two days as their preferred length, I wouldn't assume that two-day workshops are completely out of the picture, but their content would have to be of fairly high interest to get sufficient attendees.

The food question: Assuming catering will add to the cost of the workshop, what did people want?
68% wanted coffee/tea/water.
54% wanted snack breaks for workshops over 4 hours.
Less than 10% wanted a sit-down lunch supplied, though 26% wanted the option of boxed lunches.
Based on this and the comments, I think it's safe to say that catered food would need to come with an opt-out option, at a minimum.  Also that food is important, but the ability to do some selection would be preferable. This could be achieved through making sure the workshops are held somewhere that a variety of food options are available.

Cost of workshops:
I provided 3 options. Must be under $75, could be up to $150 if length and content warrant, could be over $150 if length and content warrant.
20% of respondees said that workshops needed to remain under $75.00. 27% said they could be over $150 if length and content warrant. (The rest fell with the middle selection). Though this is difficult to analyze, I think the committee should take from this that in general cheaper is better, but exceptions could be made.

ACA accreditation:
Nearly half of respondents (47.2% of those that answered the question, 40% of all respondents) requested workshops come with ACA re-certification credits. This is relatively easy to obtain for workshops, ACA has a form on their website that needs to be filled out in advance.  Given that nearly half of respondents want this, and presumably it wouldn't affect the rest one way or another, I think we need to ensure that this is an option for most, if not all, of the workshops offered.

Priority for the level of content: broadbased basics, entry-level but focused, or mid-high level specific:
Nearly 3/4 of the respondents said that the focused topics are of high priority. The remaining chose them as medium priority. Broadbased basics were of low priority to most respondents (nearly 90%, 5% each chose them as medium and high priority). Generally the high-low priority followed the spectrum of focused development-related topics to broadbased generic "archival basics." One commenter noted: "Basics are important for the conference to be welcoming to people new to the profession, but mid-high level specific keep more experienced folks engaged. A balance is optimal." At the same time as there was a clear preference for more focused topics, the comments provided were clear that not all focused topics were of interest to attendees and sometimes they were too focused. In terms of taking the Education Committee's marching orders from this: I would assume that a spectrum of workshops offered over time or at the same time might be the way to handle this so as to meet the broader needs while ensuring that those who do need the very specific high level subjects can also obtain them. It might require coming up with a short-range to medium-range prioritization plan for workshop offerings, also with keeping some flexibility in terms of offering topics that may vary in order to meet the needs of the broadest range of the membership.

Topic specific: what do people regard as medium to high priority? The question was structured by giving respondents a list of 22 different topics from which to choose (also allowing them to make suggestions in a comments field, since my brainstorming was unlikely to be a comprehensive list of potential topics). Respondents could chose low, medium, or high for a priority status. These are the suggested topics that were medium to high priority for a significant majority of respondents (i.e. less than one-third of respondents chose them as low priority)

  • 98% electronic records (of that, 63% said high priority)
  • 93% digital curation (57% said high priority)
  • 88% metadata/description standards (49% said high priority)
  • 83% preservation (34% said high priority)
  • 82%  a/v media (39% said high priority)
  • 81% digital forensics (40% said high priority)
  • 80% outreach (25% said high priority)
  • 72% photographs (25% said high priority)
  • 72% institutional repositories (23% said high priority)
  • 70% records management (32% said high priority)
  • 68% arrangement and description (12% said high priority)
  • 68% grants (25% said high priority)

Source of training, does it matter and what do you prefer?
This was an open-ended question. A lot indicated no preference, or no preference with the caveat that the instructors be well-qualified to teach it (mostly for the learning experience, but also for the ability to argue for institutional funding). Of those who preferred NWA-regional instructors (7 of the 44 people who responded to the question), it was partly because of cost but also because of the ability to keep up connections/networks with the instructors post-workshop. Several mentioned that they really like some of the workshops coming from national organizations (presumed non-NWA instructors) and the reasons, if given, varied from the assumption that training from national organizations would be a simpler argument to make in terms of getting institutional support, to the assumption that we might not have local expertise, to the assumption (mistaken) that ACA recertification credits wouldn't be available for home-grown workshops.

Volunteer teachers?
I found this response somewhat discouraging in light of the interest in NWA teachers in the previous question's responses and given the concern about the costs: most nationally-based workshops are significantly more expensive than home grown. Only 5 people said they'd be willing to teach a workshop and offered their expertise on a subject (only one matched up to a topic that scored above 80% in the med-high priority range). Given that mismatch, going local—at least within the NWA membership--could prove to be a real challenge. It raises some significant question for me: is the expertise in these topics available locally? If so, how do we encourage the NWA membership to view themselves as potential educators for their colleagues? If we need to keep costs low to support the broadest accessibility, how do we build the support within the NWA organization to subsidize or reduce costs for our neediest members and still give them access to the standardized workshops offered by SAA/AMIA/ARMA/etc?

So where next? I'd like to convene a quick committee meeting for those interested in serving on the Education Committee (as chair or otherwise). At the very least, I'd like to get a RFP out for preconference workshops for the May 2014 meeting to see if we can match up any of these priorities with proposals or if we need to start talking to SAA and other orgs about what we might be able to offer from their standard catalogs of available courses. From there, it'll be up to the committee. And by the way, if you're a NWA member and interested in taking on a leadership role in the education/professional development arena, have I got an opportunity for you!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A collision of communications

I just realized I'm out of step with most people around me. Okay, I know, I know, that I actually figured out when I was about 5 in PE class. But this isn't about my having to learn to ride a bike twice, this is about communication.

I'm here to tell you: my name is Attila and I hate texting.

Hate it. As in a level of loathing I rarely feel for a method of communication. Email, phone conversations, instant messaging, F2F conversations, I'm all okay with, mostly. Texting? Nope. Abhor it with white hot heat of a thousand suns.

Okay, that's hyperbolic, but I'm trying to make a point here.

It's like all the negatives of emails (no ability to read inflections, bad spelling and grammar, and summary to the point of being unclear) with all the negatives of phone calls (intrusive, and okay, that's all I got, intrusive.)  All on a teeny keyboard that tells the world I wasted all those months in 9th grade touch typing class. So much for my hard-earned WPM count which isn't much to brag about, but is much higher than my WPM count when using only my thumbs. And texting isn't really all that great for conversations, or at least not the conversations I like to have. And you have to pay for them, too! Where's the upside?

I've tried, I really have tried. But despite being an early and avid adopter of a lot of methods of electronic communication, this one isn't it for me.

I text. Rarely. I text my sister when I have something of limited importance that doesn't require much explanation and know I'll forget it if I wait til a time when my time zone and her time zone and my work schedule and her work schedule coincide for a conversation. I text her on weekends to say "are you free to talk now?" But she refuses to read email more than once a week, she hates using computers for non-work stuff, and the scheduling differentials on weekdays preclude phone calls, and so I'm stuck. Text for quick stuff, voice mail for longer. I'm okay with that use of texting. Once every couple of weeks, no problem.

Note: Big Sis has an email account. She doesn't like email. I respect her lack of love for that communication method, though it's one of my favorites. So I don't use it to initiate contact. Ever. See where I'm going with that?

Big Bro is pretty much the same, only I'm honor bound as a little sister to occasionally irritate him so I do--rarely--initiate contact via email. Plus he's never really flat out said he hates email, and Big Sis has, so maybe it's not quite the same.

I could go on and on and on. And frequently do, but that's another reason I don't like texting. But I won't. I'll just ask you: if you're not Big Sis or Big Bro who have way too many blackmail-worthy stories of my childhood for me to get too snarky with them, if there's any other reasonable way to get my attention for information that needs to be imparted either direction or for a conversation, could you maybe try that?

I, my thumbs, and my phone bill thank you.

Friday, June 14, 2013

You can't ever go Nome again

Most of this week I was in Nome, AK. For a vacation.

Yes, you read that right, a vacation.

People kept asking me why Nome. Before, en route, and while there. My answer was the honest truth: cheap fare. I probably just should have said "for the heck of it" which is also completely true, but you have to understand, cheap airline tickets are small talk in Alaska. For all the water cooler conversations that happen in this world over the great new restaurant, recent movies and tv shows, the weather, in Alaska there's an addition: fare sales. Who has what great rate to where?

So, great fare sale is the honest-to-Pete truth: it was a very good price indeed (the rental car and the hotel, not so much).

But the reality is, even in the rare occasions of fare sales there, not that many Alaskans vacation in Nome. A lot of people from elsewhere do, especially avid birders, but that's about it. It has something of a reputation as a pit and I won't defend it from that accusation, but I will tell you that to focus on that is to miss a lot too.

Like the nearly 250 miles of roads leading out of Nome.

The one to the east runs along the coastline, that's the Council Road, because it eventually winds up in the community of Council. We didn't go that far. It took us about 4 hours to go 30 miles not because the road was in bad shape, it wasn't. We just kept stopping to look at stuff.
The one to the north, Kougarok Road, that runs inland across mountain passes and tundra filled with the color of wildflowers.
I'd tell you about the one to the west, the Teller Road, but it's the only one we didn't drive this time.

And there's other things you'll miss.

Like the birds you can see there that many people will never see in their lifetimes. Like the eastern yellow wagtail. I don't have any pictures of them--they tend to zip around pretty fast--but we saw lots of them, you'll just have to trust me. I'll share a pic of another rare, if drab, bird we saw many, many of: the arctic warbler.
Seriously. There were tourists in Nome running around on very expensive guided tours who desperately wanted to see one of these small dun-colored birds with a faint eyebrow stripe. Sibley says it's a secretive bird. Not in my experience in the Nome vicinity. Kind of like snipe, which every bird book you read says they're rarely seen and so much so that there's a long-standing joke about snipe hunts, yet in Nome, they hang out on power lines.  "What's that one on the side of the road? Oh, a Wilson's snipe. What else would it be? Never mind, no need to pull over." 
Okay so I never got to see a bluethroat but we were seeing so much that it was to the point of overstimulation. The second bird I saw was a red-throated loon. They're not exactly uncommon, but I really only started paying attention to birds several years after I moved to Anchorage, and they're not all that common in my section of AK. We spotted one right next to the breakwater by the small boat harbor. Then five in the small boat harbor. Then for the rest of the trip, it seemed like a pair in every pond. I was getting rather jaded about them only 5 hours into my trip.

And then there's the big guys. We saw musk oxen 4 times in a three day trip.
And the herd of caribou that more or less blocked the road for about 30 minutes, but it's not like we were in a hurry or had to get anywhere quickly.
Here's a closer-up shot of some of those caribou. You might want to remember what they look like in a bit, and also remember that caribou and reindeer are the same animals genetically, it's just that people herd reindeer and caribou are wild. That'll become valuable information in a moment.
And the red fox that are kind of skittish, but when you have an itch, you have to scratch it.
and harbor seals and arctic ground squirrels and so on.

If you're not so much for the charismatic fauna, there is the beach. We sort of have beaches in Anchorage. If you cross your eyes and wish hard and don't mind dying in stylishly grey-colored glacial silt-based quicksand flats (also known as the mud flats). But in Nome, there's real sand beaches. Where if you don't mind the brisk, you can even dip your toes in the edge of Norton Sound/Bering Sea.
And after, since the sand has been baking in the sun that barely goes down at night, you can wander barefoot til your toes dry out enough to put your shoes back on. And while you're doing it, go look for beach glass and oh-so-cool rocks in those little pebbly patches in the sand at the waterline.
As we were leaving, people kept encouraging us to visit again. And that's where it all goes wrong. See, this was my second trip to Nome. And the other one, though very different in terms of what I did, was still during a spell of beautiful, sunny weather. I got sunburned that time, too. But Alaska weather is unpredictable, to say the least. It was sheer luck that it was so gorgeous all three days I was there this time and last time. And I was able to see so much and do so much that even though there's more to see and do, I'm now worried that my luck has run out. That the odds are against me ever being in Nome and having the weather cooperate with my travel plans so well.

I guess I'll just have to wait and see what the next fare sales are and maybe if there's one to Nome again this time of year, I'll take my chances. But I'm almost positive I'll never see the next sight again. I can't imagine that this is a common thing, even in Nome. Remember where I said that it mattered that there was a difference between caribou and reindeer? And that reindeer were domesticated? I cannot imagine any animal being much more domesticated than this.
If you ever have the chance, consider doing at least a short trip there. To quote the source of much mirth on tourist t-shirts sold in shops there: "there's no place like Nome." True, that.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Catching up on some professional reading

I've been working for a long time trying to figure out how to cogently and coherently express my concerns about the volume production of archivists and grad programs with archives courses vis a vis the number of actual positions open.

Only it turns out I don't have to do so. Nancy Villa Bryk, in the May-June issue of Museum magazine in their "In My View" section, did it for me. I was lucky enough to have the text forwarded to me by a subscriber friend, but unfortunately the American Alliance of Museums has put all the content of their magazine behind logins. (Um, guys? I know you're a professional association and benefits to membership are very important, but please consider sharing at least the op-ed stuff more widely?)

Seriously, it was everything I wanted to say about the archives field, just delete museums and fill in archives and my job is done. She talks about the plethora of graduates, the expansion of new programs, the addition of museum-type courses to other degrees, makes suggestions that graduate schools learn from the law profession (yeah, that caught my eye, too) and actually make placement statistics--real and meaningful placement statistics--available to anybody considering enrolling. And asks us to really think about what the future holds for our graduates today: not just their employability in a statistical framework, but in terms of the skills they'll need to get those jobs and to continue in them successfully for some time.

At the heart, it's all student-centric, Bryk says, and I can do nothing but nod my head in passionate agreement. It's all about being respectful of students in school. Being respectful of their time, their debt loads. Being respectful of their professional needs. Making sure that they have all the information they need to make their decision as to whether or not this is the right thing for them. I mean, let's face it. Many are going to ignore the gloom and doom. That's human nature. I did. But at least I can't get accusatory now and say "but nobody ever told me." They did. I chose to believe I'd beat the odds and be able to make a career out of this. It took a while, but I did. Really, the Bryk op-ed is a spectacular piece and I hope it gets wider distribution. In the meantime, ILL it. It's great.

And now for the Attila addenda.

Here's the thing. Almost every archives prof I've ever spoken with says they tell their students there are no guarantees on the employment scene. Almost every student or recent graduate I've spoken with says they never heard any such thing. Why is this disconnect occurring? What I start to imagine is this: the profs may say it. Maybe once. Maybe even twice. Maybe more. But it's being drowned out by so much else of the student experience with graduate school (which, let's face it, the profs teaching the curricula rarely control). What the students are seeing is a university and a graduate program that makes admissions to the programs simple, quick, and easy. No quotas, no waiting lists, no limits on enrollment. Glossy brochures or websites that say "rapidly expanding professional opportunities" or that say "lots of retirements are coming!" Sure the costs are high, but that's what student loans are for, right? And it's not like they're that hard to get.

And somehow through vagueness or obfuscation, some places suggest this is learning that can be covered as an add-on to something else, but may not require much of the students in time or effort. Glossy brochures that promote not only this degree, but the addition of various elements of it as electives in other programs.  Or nothing on the program website that references professional requirements or anything else that would suggest that there's a significant canon of theory here to be learned, a canon of professional practice. [Some would argue there isn't one. I disagree. So be it.] So the student is left with the impression that this degree is just some sort of a piece of bureaucratic red tape to polish off, and why would you have a pointless piece of red tape to cut unless it were there as some sort of elitist attempt to keep you out of this heaven known as the archival career? That's what those pieces of red tape serve as in almost every other piece of their experience. An arbitrary obstacle. How else to explain those financial aid forms?

I wandered off to the SAA page on graduate archival programs. I was curious about 2 things: did those program webpages a) mention abiding by the SAA guidelines for graduate archival education and b) provide placement stats? 39 schools listed there individually. I started at the bottom of the alpha list and went wandering around the web. (Note: US-centric here.)

Here's some details about the links and sites I looked at: Don't assume the SAA page descriptions are up to date, I saw a few discrepancies as I was zooming by. The Murfreesboro one took me around in circles on the SAA site but I eventually got there via Google. With South Carolina's, Kent State's, and St. Johns' pages, I couldn't find any mention of an archives degree or focus at all. Austin & a few others took some digging from the landing page.  By the time I hit the broken link for the Montreal program, I was sufficiently weary not to go looking for the program which pretty much took Wright State out, too since no link was provided there. Simmons, Clayton State, I could find the grad school easy enough despite a broken link, not true for Loyola. Some of those listed? Don't have anything resembling a dedicated site to archival studies. In some cases, it's impossible to tell there's an archives program there. Maybe those are schools that just offer an archives course or two as part of another program? Here's a question for the Internet age and Academia: can it really be a degree program/concentration if it doesn't have its own website?

And all of the end results below? Shouldn't be taken as carved in stone. Figure the whole + and - statistical thingie with all of the below. Honestly some of those schools may have had placement scores included, I just didn't see the link. And why would Canadian universities reference SAA guidelines?  II probably missed direct references to the guidelines in several US schools, but even if I didn't, some of them had extensive explanations of student learning outcomes that could be taken as parallel or sufficient justification. It's just that to compare would require far more digging or synthesis than I was interested in or willing to do after 10:00 pm on one or two weekend nights. Any misses based on my laziness, that's a fair cop.

Here's the results:
  • 39 schools, 8 of which I either couldn't find a program reference or links were problematic, leaving 31.
  • Of those 31, 4 specifically mentioned the SAA guidelines on graduate education (Arizona, Maryland, Middle Tennessee, and WI-Madison). As I said, that may be a non-starter as a stat since some had other language that probably paralleled.
  • Of the 31, 3 provided placement stats in some form (San Jose, British Columbia, and WI-Madison). UBC's was a pretty interesting read, and a model for others, I think. 
Graduate educators? Please do some user studies on your websites that take into account both the lessons your potential applicants are learning from them and what their potential employers might be learning too. Don't do this to the employers who are trying to figure out if your degree passes their check-off list of "masters degree in archival studies." Check the currency of your entries on the SAA site. If you're not on the SAA site, get on the SAA site. Okay, so I know there's no one-stop-shop for this kind of information and so I don't rely on it, but it would be nice if I could. [Get a grip, Attila, you say. I know, I'll try.]

And grad students? Why aren't you asking? If you're truly treating this as a "get a degree to get a job" even if it's "get a degree in this field because this is what my heart is set on doing," why aren't you asking the programs what their placement rates are? Are you looking at the job ads and calculating what they require and how you might get that?  Are you talking to employers?

And even as I say that, I know well it's not crystal here. There's no finger of blame to be placed squarely in any particular quarter. Not when I hear from job candidates and recruiters both that job ads don't necessarily reflect the KSAs needed by the employer or the job on offer. That's not very helpful, either. How can they produce what you want when you're not only not telling them what you want, you may be misleading them? Recruiters: job recruitments should equally be the most exciting and scary times in your professional lives. How careful are you when developing the KSAs and interview questions to make sure they really reflect the ongoing needs of your organization? Are you taking this opportunity to think about the way your place functions? I know, it's not always that easy. Organizations tend to function on precedent and sometimes you can't make changes. As I said, not crystal.

And then one last thing. Here's where my heart is torn on this whole topic, and it is, I think, fundamental--and worse, preliminary--to the discussion even though I've been completely ignoring it because I just can't make it fit together as a coherent whole.

I know I presented all of the above within a "teaching to the workforce" context. That's probably not something we can ever escape with a professional degree. It's certainly driving an awful lot of academia these days. And there's a lot of specific things to learn in developing as an archivist. But deep down, I'm insulted and offended and downright scared by what seems to me to be an almost all-consuming focus on workforce development as a motivation for graduate training. Shouldn't school be more than just job placement training? Shouldn't it be about exploring at least a portion of the world, developing critical thinking skills, passion and intellectual curiosity and the development of a mind that will forever be in learning mode? Does it have be about "You can be a processing archivist at the completion of this 9 month program?" What happens when the Spotted Owl shows up in our logjam of descriptive projects and suddenly the jobs as we've been doing them are no longer there? Will that archivist be able to move along with the change, learn what needs to be learned, and oh, please, possibly even be spearheading that change because they have the vision, the foresight, the comprehensive understanding not only of their day to day tasks but of the larger world around them so they can see what needs to happen and start figuring out how perhaps to get there?

And suddenly with that last bit I realize I've accomplished basically nothing with this blog post, other than to spend way too much time looking at graduate school websites. Insomnia, go figure. And if you want to waste time, there's way better ways to do that on the net (or off the net) than reading this. Go do them. Be happy. Learn something weird. It will make you a better person, probably.

But, you know, it wouldn't hurt to brush up on Posner, too.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

the standard caveats apply

I've written earlier in this venue about the dangers of practical jokes in a professional setting. In direct reference to that earlier posting, some of you may find it amusing/ironic/what-have-you that I've recently been appointed as co-chair of the 2014 SAA/NAGARA/COSA meeting. But that's neither here nor there and anything I post on this blog should not be regarded as any statement of position regarding that appointment especially since if you know anything about the way program committees function and the way SAA program committees function, the chairs really have very little power. The creation of the session roster for the conference program is--amazingly--a very democratic process. And I, for one, am glad of that. At any rate, let's hope I can keep my sense of humor throughout the process, yes?

Specifically related to the genesis for that earlier posting: I spent a good deal of time preparing that paper on archives in sensual fiction for the 2009 conference. And though I don't think I came to any spectacular conclusions about the topic, it still wasn't a bad paper, for all that. Not for the faint of heart, definitely. 

Here's the thing. There were some complaints about the session prior to the conference, some public, and some in less public settings that were reported to me later. And some of them raised some fair points. Not the ones that raised the dread spectre of professional nepotism, quite frankly, those were WAY off base and an insult to the session participants and to the program committee. But some people wondered why a professional conference with a focus on educating the membership would waste time on a session such as ours. 

You probably should understand: I'm one of those who tends to say "but is it archival?" when reading the session listing for any upcoming professional conference. Our session was at least related, directly, to archives. It even had it in the title! But I have tended to be biased against things that are only tangentially related to our work so sometimes I have this reaction to sessions as well. Especially those that seem all about some historical topic and very little about the archives behind it. 

And I'm WRONG about that. Broadening knowledge and interests is good for archivists. Okay, I'm still not going to sign up to go to any of the professional baseball games that seem to draw such a huge crowd of archivists when offered in tandem with a conference, but what good would the archival world be if we were all alike? It's kind of nice to know there's room for somebody who doesn't like baseball in this profession, or I'd be in real trouble. Besides, if I don't like the topic of any given session, there's always a bunch of others that I can attend. And here's another place where I've been wrong:  on those occasions when I've attended something that didn't seem immediately applicable to my world? Those were often the times I learned the most and found things that did apply to my world even if it took several years for that to happen. Go figure. Obviously the whole program can't be like that, but I still have to go with the lesson that there's still room for the lighter side or for the more tangential stuff. Not to sound too After School Special, but hey, "the more you know." 

Anyway, I'm not going to defend our session or the program committee's choice in including it any longer. Right or wrong, it happened. And of the 100+ people in the audience? They seemed to have a good time. Despite it being at 8:30-9:30 am on Friday, which is normally the kiss of death session slot. For presenters anyway, since many audience members aren't quite awake yet, assuming they even attend. Ours were. And they entered into the spirit of things quite well. 

I'm still okay with my decision not to have the session taped. Not because of my original concern, that it would kill my career mobility. That remains to be seen and truthfully, I probably wouldn't want to work anywhere that people couldn't make a few choices about what they do on their own time. But mostly because at it really wasn't an experience that could be captured effectively by audio recording. A friend's bravura exit from the room at an appropriate time, the laughter that would start in one little corner and then spread explosively across the room as people read through the haikus being put on screen or in my case, as people realized "She actually said that!", or the grabbing for writing instruments as some blog addresses were being displayed. I don't know how we could have captured that effectively. So we didn't. And I won't try to capture it for you now. 

What I do offer is a text. The text of my paper. I can't capture the presentation effectively, but the text also has a good deal of material in it that was effectively lost or overshadowed in the live presentation. And thus, there's value in it, too. But it is Not Safe For Work. Really. I didn't spend any of my work time writing it or researching it. (I used my library card to check out a few of the books, but I'm pretty sure that doesn't count.) And you probably shouldn't spend any of your work time or equipment to read it, unless you happen to have a lot more interesting job description than mine. And in the spirit of the session, have fun.