Dean's Update: Librarians Connect with Conferences Beyond Their Own

Dean's Update: Librarians Connect with Conferences Beyond Their Own
Danuta A. Nitecki
August 2, 2017

My calendar this summer justifies a question a frequent co-presenter posed to me recently: “What were we thinking?”  A natural reaction to unexpected writing requirements for conference presentations, it triggered me to wonder why librarians seek to attend conferences with professionals in disciplines beyond their own.

SCUP logo. The 2017 SCUP Conference was held in Washington, DC. I suggest it is part of our professional DNA to seek different perspectives, to be challenged by new ideas and to value multiple sources of information, whether through thoughtful presentations or social networking. This year, Drexel librarians have attended the meetings of non-librarian associations that specialize in areas like electronic theses and dissertations, big data innovation hubs, research data access and preservation, engineering education and integrated planning, to name a few.

I write this month’s update with a special welcome to a few contacts made at recent conferences, who I have included on our mailing list for In Circulation. Perhaps sharing my benefits of engaging in their primary conference may entice them to continue to stay in touch with the Drexel Libraries through our electronic newsletter.   

Leave it to popular Internet posts to encourage conference attendance, especially for early and mid-career folks—to network, to learn a new tip or tool, to break out of comfort zones, to be energized by learners in real space, to discover through serendipity, to check a new scenery, to make new friends and to appreciate where you work. But few people comment about why they step into unknown professional territory.  

Here are a few takeaways I have gained over the past few months from attending or preparing presentations for conferences hosted by colleagues outside the library community.

  • Speaking different languages triggers unexpected insights.  A chat with a conference translator questioned if there is a comparable word in French and English for “advocacy,” only to expand my understanding of different concepts across legal, marketing and political context. Somewhat similarly, there are key differences in an architect’s use of “circulation” in space and the librarians’ use of the term for a protocol to share books. Such exposure to language encourages precision in communications.

  • Branding an organization to outsiders is personal.  I represent Drexel even if I simply am present at a conference, and especially if I present there. Using the appropriate logo on slides may not always be noticed, but seeing a face repeatedly in the audience, viewing poster boards, listening to talks, waiting at registration desks or standing in meal and drink lines leaves impressions.  Sharing a relevant comment in public leaves a good impression not only of you personally, but also of your organization and field.

  • Scenario planning can be started in a number of different ways.  A consultant recently introduced the Libraries leadership group to this approach of preparing for the uncertainty of the future, but we were not sure how to utilize the method to plan new activities.  At the Society of College and University Planners (SCUP) Conference in July, a presentation by campus planners from a small college focused on starting with an environmental scan of trends. Later, once back at home, looking at the Horizon Library Trends and the SCUP Trends in Higher Education reports reaffirmed some initiatives we thought might be important and, upon reflection, felt daring to pose specific actions for the coming year.
  • Ideas and partnerships may appear in the least expected places.  Saying hello to a person sitting at a lunch table ended in learning about our shared interest in helping city school systems. The new friend was a principal from a major architectural firm, and he shared contacts and ideas from his successful work in Boston to frame thinking about how to help Philadelphia from closing more school libraries.

Yes, I’ve held some of the same reflections after attending library-focused conferences. The results over my career, for example, have included meeting my third boss who actively recruited me for a job I had not imagined I wanted after we shared membership on a board. I have had the pleasure of strangers introducing themselves as long-missed colleagues after seeing me present once.  Learning about new products, tools and techniques useful to our work is always a benefit of attending library-focused meetings.

But the sense of impact is often enlarged when you meet influential people in other occupations, or when you are recognized or your comment is heard and raised in new settings. It is in these diverse environments that I have been challenged by such questions as whether libraries will survive another decade or why no one has looked at tossing most of the collections now that the electronic library is easy to use.

Librarians seldom pose such questions, but when asked, they seriously consider what is core about libraries. Attending conferences with people from different perspectives and sharing our reflections are stimulating. Aside from all the recommended reasons to go, the experience of being challenged where it matters is great.

Welcome to our newest readers.  

Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries