Fellow Reflection: Deborah Caldwell


Deborah Caldwell (@databrarian) is currently pursuing a Master of Information Science at the University of North Texas, and  explores the intersections of digital literacy, data preservation, information stewardship, and cultural memory. Deborah attended the 2017 Forum as a DLF Students & New Professionals Fellow




Earlier this year at Digital Frontiers conference at the University of North Texas, Laura Braunstein and John Martin invoked Bethany Nowviskie’s words on an ethic of care. For me, this expression of care was a running thread throughout the Digital Library Federation Forum. From the opening statement by Bethany Nowviskie on the DLF community’s formation of the #DLFVillage hashtag, to meeting my DLF mentor Eliza Bettinger, to the sessions I attended on labor and civic action, I saw the evidence of that ethic made manifest in the organization and execution of the conference itself.


Empowerment can be such a tiresome buzzword, but the collective effort of all of the people that made up the forum, organizers and attendees both, resulted in exactly that for me. It is one thing to read articles on overcoming imposter syndrome; it is another to see people organizing to ensure that you are empowered to demand your value for your labor. It is one thing to see hashtags calling for diversity; it’s another to sit at a table full of women of color offering advice and mentorship. That’s not to say that these things are unique to the DLF Forum, but it is what made my DLF Forum experience so powerful and formative for me.


I’m in my fourth semester of graduate school and feel very much still new to all of this. I struggle with feeling like I have anything worth saying, letting my inexperience and ineloquence keep me silent. It’s a particular kind of cognitive dissonance to want to write about finding a community that empowers you to learn the language and the work of your intended profession, but to also feel in your bones that you aren’t the right person to tell this story, your own story. What I have to say here is nothing profound, but what has stayed with me since the DLF Forum is this: I felt cared for.


I’m a mixed race, first generation college student millennial, and being professionally encouraged to care about myself, my labor, and social justice rather than company policy and bottom line is a radically new experience for me.  Importantly, what I saw and heard were not only conversations about the role digital librarians play but how we can support each other in achieving our goals while also taking care of ourselves – care in ways that go beyond #selfcare listicles and into policy and professional development and the infrastructure of higher education.

More than any single session, the biggest impact for me was the cumulative  evidence of care in practice, as both a student of also a recipient of it.


I am only just beginning to develop the language to articulate my values. Thanks to the work of those that make up the DLF Forum, I left empowered to imagine a place for my non-white, poor, unlearned self in this work, and how I can take care to do this for others as I transition from student to professional. I am so thankful for this experience, and I hope I can do these lessons justice in my work going forward.


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DLF Digest: June 2024

A monthly round-up of news, upcoming working group meetings and events, and CLIR program updates from the Digital Library Federation. See all past Digests here. 

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