Fellow Reflection: Marianne Swierenga

Marianne SwierengaThis post was written by Marianne Swierenga, who attended the 2023 DLF Forum as a GLAM Cross-Pollinator. The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Digital Library Federation or CLIR. 

Marianne Swierenga is the Cataloging and Metadata Librarian at Western Michigan University where she provides oversight to metadata creation and cataloging for library collections. She has a MLIS is from Wayne State University and a MFA in creative writing from Western Michigan University. As a member of the Metadata Committee of the Michigan Service Hub of the Digital Public Library of America she assists in funneling digital collections from the Western Michigan sub-hub into DPLA. And as chair of the steering committee for the Linked Data Users Group of the Midwest Collaborative for Library Services, she has been able to host a couple really exciting Wikidata edit-a-thons. Her research interests include the future of library systems, metadata creation and management, and linked data in libraries.

It was a privilege to attend my first DLF Forum as a cross-pollinator fellow. It was also my first in-person conference in years due to the COVID pandemic. Since returning, I’ve been reflecting on the benefits of attending a conference in person, verses online. While I still believe wholeheartedly that there is a place for virtual learning and connection – for webinars, online workshops, virtual conferences – there is something special about being able to travel and attend in person. 

It’s always a risk to try out a new conference. Will the gains be worth the time, money, and the energy needed to socialize with a new group of people? Will I come home exhausted or energized, inspired, full of ideas and a notebook full of scribbled notes and projects to investigate further? Will the networking feel like going through the motions, or will I make true connections? Luckily, I feel as though the risk paid off, and my in-person conferencing experience at the 2023 DLF Forum was excellent.

I appreciated the carefully constructed schedule which allowed for hallway chats, time to pause, breathe, and absorb between sessions. And of course, to caffeinate. If the plenary and presentations are the bones, then the meals and coffee breaks are the meat. There was time to linger over food and drink, to talk to your tablemates, discover shared passions (even if it’s just a shared passion for coffee). I enjoyed meeting folks from other institutions with eerily similar job descriptions and issues. There was a shared language of the profession which made conversation easy.

A few moments highlight this for me. During lunch on the first day, I exited the buffet line with hands full and searched the sea of tables for a recognizable face. As I was failing in my task, I was approached and invited to take the last seat at an almost full table. In that short lunchtime, I was introduced to a great group from multiple places, and the conversation moved easily from the food options, to metadata, to artificial intelligence in libraries.

Later, I joined about 10 others at the newcomers dinearound at St. Louis’s Schlafly Tap Room. We started in the gorgeous Grand Hall of the St. Louis Union Station Hotel, just as the light show was starting, then walked a short way to our dinner destination, past the new soccer stadium. We commented on how most of us hadn’t left the building all day and it felt good to be in the city. While I don’t remember particulars of the conversation – talk of how the Schlafly name on a brewery was satisfying, and discussion as to what exactly was included in a meatloaf muffin – I do remember having a great time with great conversation. And even with later LinkedIn connections to prove “networking” happened, it was more about feeling like I belonged within this community.

Conferences are risk, potential, place, adventure, shared knowledge, experience, and community. Our initial goal is to come away inspired with new ideas; the rest of the experience is all value added.

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