My experience at AMICAL was overwhelmingly fantastic, and fantastically overwhelming.
I have tried many times to reflect with some clarity about the many strands of learning that were going on for me at AMICAL. And I still feel like there’s too much for me to really follow any one of them into a coherent piece of writing. So instead of full thoughts on the whole experience, I’ll sketch a few threads:
My presentation / What did I have to offer
I was so flattered for the opportunity to lead a workshop on planning for a digital scholarship program at a Liberal Arts College. In my talk and workshop, I shared the program that we built at Haverford College, where I worked until February of this year, and talked about its development. Roughly the program has three parts: engagements with courses in producing new forms of scholarship; student and library-driven projects, especially in the creation of digital and hybrid exhibits; and faculty-driven longstanding research projects.
It wasn’t until talking with the AMICAL folks, though, that I think I really fully recognized the key to our success. It was the student workers we relied on and trusted that allowed us to do the work we did. I really wished I’d re-done the workshop to focus explicitly on all of the things I learned about managing student workers over time. What we did focus on was pretty straightforward planning practices: build from where you are, use the resources at your disposal, start small and build outwards. But the more I talked with folks, the more I came to realize how much of our growth was in developing strategies, approaches and workflows for working with student workers on complex and substantive projects.
Does Ed Tech have an ethos?
Maha Bali and Jim Groom led one of the most open and brave conference sessions I’ve ever been to. It was a conversation, it was tough, it was welcoming, and I was really impressed, in addition to truly enjoying it. Maha and Jim did a great job writing it up already, so I won’t say more than that. But the opportunity for real conversation across ways of working and thinking is so rare. And they moderated an important, difficult, and fun conversation about the question of neutrality in our work. For me, most of tensions they brought up were not new, but I really admired how their approach was so open, and so generous in acknowledging the complex and layered day to day work of educational technologies as well as the simultaneous context that it is part of. I think I (and likely the #critlib movement) could learn some humility and openness from their approach.
The Archives session
There were a lot of sessions that resonated for me, and even more conversations, lunches and relaxed opportunities to hang out. But one session I wanted to call out in particular out was the session on Archives that Demetra Papaconstantinou led. I was a librarian for 12 years before my work turned entirely towards the digital. It was only when I started working fulltime in the creation of new scholarship using technology that I really appreciated the importance of archives, and of the work of archivists.
There is a range of archival activity across the AMICAL schools, but honestly, I have to say that I wish there were more. That’s not a critique of the activities of AMICAL librarians, more a reflection on the absurdly large job responsibilities of so many librarians. The are expected to simultaneously support research and pedagogy across all academic disciplines and serve faculty interests so that they’re conserving resources for what will be most used for the current faculty. And yet, this focus leaves so little room for the work of maintaining and documenting the history and records of these institutions. I felt some sadness at the loss of these amazing institutional histories. It’s nobody’s fault, but it was hard to hear about, and I couldn’t help mourn for the loss to us all from the inattention to the stories that these institutional records might tell. Once again, I want to find ways to create networks of support across borders. It seems like a tough task, one I hope to continue working on.
Networks and distance
Spending time seeing the amazing work going on at AMICAL institutions through the Community Idea Exchange was fantastic. There are so many creative, thoughtful projects going on. It did make me feel really grateful for the THATCamps, conferences, and local meetings I go to, where I’m exposed to a variety of cool and useful projects. That session, combined with so many others, left me really hungry for ways that US and international librarians could find easier ways of sharing our experiences and learning together.
For all of my amazement at the cool stuff there, I was frustrated that my colleagues in the US don’t have the benefit of learning from AMICAL schools more often, and that the staff of these AMICAL institutions don’t have more easy contact with all of the networks that have benefited me so much in my work. I’m very interested in ways that we might create more opportunities for networking across borders, time, and distance. I love the work going on through Virtually Connecting and the GO::DH crew, and will try to incorporate their practices into some of my future work. But I also want to look for other ways of connecting with my international colleagues in the digital world.