Keeping up-to-date with the cool conference scene

Aug 12 2010 Published by under academia, librarianship

I recently had an interesting online exchange with Andrew Colgoni, Science Fluencies Libraries at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON. (blog).

He's interested in how I somehow seem up-to-date on all the various cool conferences and happenings in the Science 2.0 space. While I'm not sure I have all the answers on this issue -- and that we all really need to find our own way in our professional development activities -- it is interesting to be able to provide some mid-career advice to an early-career librarian.

Here it is, a slightly edited version of our FriendFeed DM conversation:

Andrew: John, I'm wondering how you keep 'up' on the science-related conferences that also merge with information and librarianship interests (like Science 2.0 or others). I seem to find about them after they've happened. Advice welcome.

John: Hi Andrew. I guess a few things

  • First of all, those conferences have generally found a way to find me. I've definitely had periods where I've written a lot about science 2.0 stuff on my blog so people who are interested in those issues end up finding me through those posts. If people know you're interested and engaged in the issues, they'll put you on lists, send you emails, call you up and visit you at your library, invite you to help organize, whatever. At one point, a certain mover & shaker in the field literally called me up and asked to come visit me at my office because of my blog.
  • Part of it is also figuring out who the significant people are in the movement and make sure you follow them, on FriendFeed, Twitter, Nature Network or or wherever. Cameron Neylon, Bora Zivkovic, Jean-Claude Bradley, Martin Fenner, Eva Amsen are good people to follow internationally and probably Michael Nielsen is a good person to follow locally. If you pay attention to what they're doing, there isn't too much that's going on that you're going to miss. I would definitely recommend following at least as many scientists, science educators & communicators and science publishing and scholarly communications people on Twitter as library people. And the science types that follow you back present an opportunity for dialogue and sharing. After all, most of our job involves dealing with their needs. A cool thing about getting involved directly with the community is that I've met all the people I mention above.
  • Also, just find something and go to it. Science Online London is coming up in a few weeks and that would be a great one to go to (although timing-wise and distance/cost-wise it might not be ideal). Science Online 2011 is coming up in January in North Carolina and that's probably the best single conference to attend annually. Following Bora will definitely keep you up to date on that one. It's a great conference with usually a fair number of librarians in attendance.
  • And I can't emphasize enough the importance of going to non-librarian conferences. This year I also went to and presented at the Canadian Engineering Education Association conference in Kingston and that was a great opportunity to meet faculty and get to know what their issues are -- and to talk about our issues/opportunities/programs with them. I've been to four conferences this year and the Ontario Library Association was the only library one -- Science Online, CEEA and Science Foo Camp being the others.

Thanks John. To give myself a *little* credit, I am doing some of those things (like following directly or indirectly many of the people you've named). Even so, just because of sheer information overload, sometimes I miss the critical bit that would clue me in. I suppose I wish there was a central place to see all these kinds of conferences in one place. Having said that, I'm not sure what's stopping me from making that list myself, and posting it somewhere.

The reason I asked you is basically what you said in point 4, above. I agree that we librarians can get a bit insular if we're not careful (as with many professions). I try to get to various university internal conferences, but outside of the Science 2.0 conference in Toronto last summer, I haven't been to any science-related conferences. I have been to the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) conference twice now, though.

Actually, you're right, you're doing fine. Don't stress it too much. You're at the beginning of your career anyway so the natural tendency will be for you to build up your librarian network, and that's ok. In the long run, if you decide the STLHE conference is the most useful non-library conference for you then go for it. We don't all have to go to the same conferences so if some librarians go to Science Online because that's what interests them and others go to STLHE or ASEE or CEEA then that's actually kind of the ideal situation. The problem is, we all tend to go to the main librarian conferences and mostly just hear ourselves talk in kind of a librarian echo chamber.

Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate going to OLA and I think most everyone should try and attend their local association annual conference to help keep up to date with what's going on in the library world. But we're all pretty well going to have some external interest or link that should take us out of our comfort zone, be it a music conference for music librarians or Infomation Architechture or UX for techies or something like Book Camp TO or JCDL for collections librarians or education/literacy conferences for instructional librarians. Believe it or not, I have a Theory of Conferences.

Any other tips for Andrew?

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