PhillyDH@Penn

I went to my first unconference two weeks ago, PhillyDH@Penn, and enjoyed it quite a bit.

I still give the term “unconference” a bit of the side-eye; it strikes me as just a tad precious. But quibbles with the naming convention aside, I liked the format. I ended up doing the scheduled Fusion and Drupal workshops, plus two of the unconference sessions: one about archives apps that should exist, and another about collaboration between libraries and museums. (I sat out the third session, which was a good break.) Things appeared to run smoothly (though I’m sure organizers were dealing with behind-the-scenes headaches), from the green shirts providing directions to the caterers, and the venue was good. (A large central space–not sufficient to accommodate everyone in traditional rows-of-chairs, but enough to fit an adequate percentage–with lounge space right outside, and a number of satellite conference rooms for various workshops and sessions.)

I had The Son in tow. A baby just shy of five months can still be treated as luggage. He’s been generally chill in my presence (and generally not when removed from my presence for an extended period, much to the Spousal Unit’s dismay) and I figured I could sit near doors. The unconference was kid friendly (or everybody was doing a great job of pretending to be kid friendly). A picture of the “youngest DHer” was tweeted almost as soon as he arrived, and people seemed genuinely charmed. He was pretty sunny, smiling and vocalizing adorably. Though there were no changing tables, the bathrooms were roomy, and on one occasion when the ladies room was closed for cleaning I was offered floorspace in an office. I did end up having to duck out of all the workshops and sessions, either because of diapers or hunger or incipient wailing. (A cooing baby may be cute, but a crying baby is simply disruptive.)

This was not a problem in the workshops, both of which were introductory level. I’ve used Google apps before, so while it would have been fun to follow along and make my own intensity map during the workshop, an extended absence didn’t mean I was hopelessly lost. I’ve futzed around with Drupal a bit, including Drupal Gardens, so dropping in and out wasn’t too problematic there either. It meant that I missed stuff, but did not miss out on getting some useful information (including some discussion about Omeka, which I hadn’t known existed until I saw the workshop list last month). The session discussion was interesting, especially with people from a wide range of backgrounds and institutional experiences. And the hall programming–the conversations that happened over lunch or in the downtime between sessions–was a highlight, and the format is designed to help those interactions happen.

The lightning rounds were entertaining, and nicely scheduled for the end. Brains were fried (at least, mine was), and couldn’t absorb much more than two minute snippets of interesting projects. Michael Edson’s “Age of Scale” talk was well received. A couple non-central points have been rolling around in my head a bit.

The example of Monty Python’s sales increasing after they made free content available is the sort of thing I’ve been hearing for years (admittedly mostly in connection with e-books, and without the crazy 23,000 multiplier). It’s a discussion that needs to be contextualized in for-profit realms by talk about pre-existing audiences, long tails, etc. That’s a bit less important in the GLAM context–if the goal is public good, rather than profit, the goalposts are in a different place. But with the prevalence of commercial language and metaphors, how do we have a similar conversation about expectations while minimizing the taint of filthy lucre?

I feel like Edson’s brief reference to Chinese museums may not necessarily say what he wants it to say: the little I know of the museum building boom indicates they’re not exactly serving the public well (often closed, underattended when open). So does choosing to build a physical museum still count in the GLAM scale column, if the museum doesn’t really function as a museum? Resources are still being devoted to the undertaking, to the idea or name of a museum, so maybe there’s at least a trickle down effect. But I see it as a reminder that it’s not enough to just do a quantitative analysis.

Tangents aside, I really liked the takeaway of institutions re-evaluating their mission, and the methods for achieving it. It’s assumed that other fields/sectors/whatever will do so (whereas the archives are still dusty by default). It was nice to hear a talk involving digital issues that did not involve lots of caveats about how digitization is about access, not preservation.*

Ironically, I didn’t make much use of my phone or laptop. I mostly blame The Son, but there is something nice about face-to-face interactions. Last week I finally wound up signing up for one of those Twitter accounts all the kids are talking about. My adoption curmudgeonliness, whether Twitter or Facebook or blogging, mostly has to do with my specific use-case. I now feel like I may be missing out on–or, perhaps more accurately, inefficiently accessing–useful and interesting content. (And Game of Thrones schadenfreude.)† So we shall see if I end up using it as I expect and for the audience I expect–basically the opposite of how I use Facebook, where my friends list is pretty much exclusively populated by people I know in real life, and where my posts tend to focus on things like kids and plants and unfortunate canine dietary choices.

* Which it is, and that’s an important distinction to make. But I feel like we ought to be able to take it as a given within the field(s), so banging the access drum can mostly be reserved for talking to outsider or 101 audiences.

† I kid. If I want to see amusing reactions to a plot point from over a decade ago, I’ll let somebody else wade through the noise.

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