This reflection was provided by Laura Capell, Head of Digital Production & Electronic Records Archivist at the University of Miami. She attended the Forum with support from a Library Juice + DLF Forum Fellowship.
Since returning home from Milwaukee, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my experience at the DLF Forum, as well as the role of libraries and archives in promoting and preserving our nation’s democratic values. The timing of this year’s Forum with the presidential election marked the conference for me, placing an even greater emphasis on the importance of inclusivity, respect, and equal access to information in a time when our national discourse seems to focus increasingly on post-truth politics, fear, and divisiveness.
Thanks to the generosity of the Library Juice Academy and DLF, I was able to attend this year’s Forum as the Library Juice + DLF Fellow and participate in the rich discussions that often tied back to Stacie Williams’ keynote address focusing on labor and caregiving. I’ll paraphrase one of her statements that particularly resonated with me, that our work has little value if we don’t care for the people carrying out the work or the communities we are serving. This is true not only at the individual level, but also for libraries as institutions. Stacie’s keynote seemed particularly relevant given the contentious nature of this year’s election, and it also gave me a new lens to view my role as a librarian and a caregiver.
I have a tendency to get caught up in the minutia of the everyday, and if I’m not mindful, my work can morph into simply checking things off an ever-growing to-do list. This year’s forum was an excellent reminder to step back and refocus on the bigger picture. To illustrate my point, my colleague and I recently finished a year-long project to evaluate the copyright status of over 50,000 items in the University of Miami’s digital collections. In the back of my mind, I knew the larger aim of our project was to help our users better understand how they can interact with our online collections, but it was easy to get swept up in a seemingly endless series of spreadsheets and copyright conundrums. Often, the project felt like a very long to-do list, and instead of remaining focused on our users, my main satisfaction was checking off each completed collection from our list.
Attending the Forum helped bring everything back into perspective. As I talked about copyright with various folks at the Forum, it was a reminder of how our local project fits into the larger context of institutions across the nation who are grappling with similar concerns over copyright and access. Sometimes I feel that we tend to work on our projects in the silos of our own local environments, and conferences like the DLF Forum are a great way to come together so that we can share our work and our ideas and remind ourselves of the larger communities that we serve. Since many of us are approaching similar projects with a different perspective, these opportunities to come together are especially valuable so that we can continue to learn and grow together as a profession.