I recently won a DLF/CLIR Cross-Pollinator Travel Award to attend the Electronic Resources & Libraries conference. This was a productive and exhausting experience for me. The reasons for attempting to get to the conference were primarily selfish. I was knackered from a year of worry. I was knackered from a year of making sure the Code4lib Conference was successful. In many ways I needed a tonic. I needed to remind myself that my primary job as a mostly Systems Administrator in a library matters tremendously but that there’s lots more to what makes a library tick. It turns out after this conference there’s lots more.
To this end the opportunity to be a cross-pollinator scholarship was something I felt was written for me. In many ways this is the sort of conference that on first glance I would have nothing to do with. Lest you think me uncaring, unprofessional – or even if you do – this is the way we carve up my organization and I don’t think we are very different from large Academic Libraries. I do know a little bit of what the other departments in my organization do largely because in many ways they have to depend on me and my cadre of students offering them support. The kind of knowledge I have is extremely shallow however. We have to make sure their software works. Since we are heavily dependent on technology this type of “knowledge” tends to be misleading.
So what does this mean? I am partly sure it was a reminder that I’m good at one thing but I am a rubbish librarian in the large scheme of things.
To attempt to fix this I made sure every talk I attended while at ER&L would be something that would be completely new to me. If the wording of the talk was something I could actually make sense of I crossed it out. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of talks that were still left available after the exercise. I went out of my way to make sure every person I spoke with wouldn’t be someone who does the same kind of work as I do, or even someone from my department.
I expected this to work out. Most of the talks I ended up going to seemed to be a different side of the same coin (yes I am grossly oversimplifying but allow me). I dealt with similar problems but my concerns generally leaned towards stability of the product. My concerns generally when it involved software were markedly different when evaluating products. Most of the people at the conference are generous with their time (this wasn’t a surprise). Most can go on at length about
problems that on the surface appear trivial but are (needlessly?) complex. Most of the people care deeply to find the solutions to them. It truly was strange to be an outsider amongst my own people. Sure there were inside jokes I didn’t *get fully* but I think if I attend another conference like this I would probably be able to be “one of the cool kids”. Okay perhaps not.
For that I thank DLF/CLIR for the chance and opportunity to remind myself why I should care. My take away is that as organizations we need to do internal Cross Pollination within our organizations.