DLF Forum Numero Uno: Lessons Learned in 2013

Gloria Gonzalez
Gloria Gonzalez

This Forum Report was provided by Gloria Gonzalez, Digital Media Librarian, Digital Archivist at UCLA Library Special Collections & a 2013 DLF New Professionals Fellow.

The 2013 Digital Library Federation (DLF) Forum provided me amazing opportunities to observe, meet, and communicate with an interesting variety of people in the field of digital librarianship. My attendance would not have been possible without support from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), and I would like to extend special thanks to CLIR and DLF for giving me the means necessary to attend.

To me, the first four months of the first professional position in a career feel akin to riding a roller coaster (over and over). This ride includes views of solutions in action from mountain top altitudes, novice mistakes on the ground, and icebergs of challenges seen from below. Realizations of knowledge deficiencies and the realities of practice provide easy resistance when flexing the best of your abilities at the beginning. My time at the DLF Forum continued this theme, and definitely helped solidify my professional foundation.

Overall, the Forum pumped me up intellectually and motivationally. The variety in sessions at DLF represented many aspects of my wider range of interests and provided me with a rich buffet of chances to learn (for details, see the list of links to sessions I attended below). However, a few unexpected lessons arose as well. With hopes to aid future new professionals and encourage additional advice from seasoned professionals, I present a few brief cautionary notes on my experience:

  • Getting funding and traveling to the conference is only half the battle. With the increase of session information available online, in-person interactions at conferences become even more valuable. However, you will be in rooms full of strangers and this can be very scary. Few (or no one) will know you. Talking to new people can increase the serendipity of your connections and learning. Try to suck up the fear, and avoid people you can find at home.
  • Can you tweet and learn? Come to find out, people can become distracted in one audience while creating tiny translations for another. I realized this by the middle of day one, scraped by with retweets and replies on day two, and gave up on day three. Developing a regular habit of tweeting or carrying on twitter conversations post-Forum may aid this situation.
  • Staying at the conference location is a luxury. Using the commute time saved for extra networking/hacking time instead of snooze time may improve the feeling in your stomach upon viewing the bill at checkout. When in doubt, guzzle more free coffee.
  • Should you stick with what you do? I mostly went to talks directly related to my current position. For example, this means I was busy learning how to scale up digitization projects instead of drooling over Schema.org, Common Crawl, and linked data in action. Variety in interests and session topics can become a double-edged sword. I found a point where strong interest begins to outweigh the benefit received from a session, so it may be better to step out of your comfort zone.
  • Life/work balance can seem non-existent. Projects and student workers do not pause while you are away, and sometimes being at a conference on a weekday can feel like double the effort of a regular workday. Three conference days in a distant city do not lend themselves to exploring the sights. Also, when too busy to visit nearby loved ones you will feel like a heartless archivist/librarian robot.

Despite my personal failings, the DLF Forum was awesome. The organization’s title can be deceiving, and hides an array of work that expands beyond generic digitized collections into researcher produced datasets, and digital files created by universities and donors. I plan to encourage fellow digital archivists to attend and hope to witness broader incorporation of discussions on archival materials created in digital form. I also intend to reflect further on the challenges outlined above. Mainly, I regret starting the conference with a 98% stranger rating and leaving at about 85-90%. At future Forums, I want to unlock this missed potential and be sure to take more advantage of other DLF conference attendees.

My 2013 DLF Forum session pick list: