Ah what a surprise…flustered and overstretched mother/student fails spectacularly in attempt to blog regularly about professional development. Who could possibly have predicted this! Oh well…. Slightly frustrating as the last few months have been full to the brim with very exciting happenings, events, and exactly the sort of ‘professional development’ activity that I intended to use this space to write deep and meaningful reflections on. However, these months have of course also been full of coursework, deadlines, very difficult children, ill children, household chaos, stroppy children, hectic work schedule, household mundanity, overwhelming amount of studying to do, and the occasional (errr pretty regular actually) need to just lie in bed, eat ice cream and watch Netflix. So…my hot takes on the exciting things I have been to have remained sadly unwritten, or in very poor draft form that I never got around to updating… Since my end of semester deadlines are rapidly approaching and I’m enormously behind on everything due to having been knocked out by some sort of crappy virus this week, I really don’t have time to be blogging right now either. But I’m hoping that doing a bit of non assessed non formal rubbishy writing here might help to get me back into a writing mode as my brain has pretty much seized up after a week in bed..
The most exciting thing that I’ve done over the last few months (other than getting a dishwasher installed which has been genuinely life changing….) is going to my first ever big conferences-two of them, in fact. At the beginning of March I went to Jisc Digifest, described as a ‘celebration of the power of digital’ for those working in HE/FE. I went to this in my own time because it was free to attend, the programme looked really interesting and particularly relevant to my burgeoning interest in scholarly communications/Open Access stuff, and because I’m a massive loser who is so over keen about learning stuff that I’m up for using my own limited free time and money to go to library related things. Really glad I did though, as I had a brilliant time, met some fantastic people, and learnt an enormous amount by being immersed in this environment for two days. Although I felt like a bit of an imposter at times, being in sessions aimed at those currently involved in supporting OA, managing library systems, and generally doing things that I’m reading about and writing essays on, was a really good way for me to start to get a more practical understanding of challenges/developments/realities to go with my theoretical overviews. It also confirmed to me that I’m really really bloody interested in this stuff (especially OA/RDM stuff) and it’s what I want to do when I grow up. Which is good, I think. As a result of going to the Digifest and then following up with reading/looking into things that were mentioned/following new people on Twitter who made interesting comments during the session, I think I’ve broadened my perspective on things in a really good way. For example, on a whim I attended a workshop on ‘Liberating facts from scientific literature‘, about text and data mining (not even the whole thing in fact, I was brave enough to go in half way through as the tweets from it looked so fascinating and I was in another session that finished early). I’d never heard of text and data mining, I didn’t think I was that interested in scientific literature. Now totally fascinated by the whole subject and trying to learn as much as I can. Hearing Peter Murray-Rust, as an accomplished scientist, talk passionately about how he has experienced the broken system of scholarly publishing impeding the progress of science, was absolutely thrilling to me (I said I was a loser…but thrilling is honestly the right word…), and put all the reading etc. we’ve been doing on OA into its rightful context. Tony Hey’s plenary on data intensive scientific discovery and open science got me all excited about data (and science) in a way I didn’t know I could be, and I’ve now become a bit obsessed with learning more about RDM, open science, and how librarians can support more open practices (and all the debates in this area). And that’s just two of the sessions-there were loads that have given me new ideas and things to look into. I also learnt a crap load of new acronyms and jargon, and they served the most delicious chocolate and raspberry torte ever. So all in all, massive result and well worth the use of annual leave and cost of a hostel room in Birmingham.
Exciting big conference number two was extremely exciting and big-I was awarded a sponsored student place to attend the UKSG Annual Conference in Bournemouth. This was an incredible, overwhelming, fascinating, inspiring (aagh why do I always use that word), extraordinary experience. Particularly incredible as I got to go to the sunny Dorset seaside and stay in an actual reasonably fancy hotel room *alone* for 3 nights. This is not a thing that happens in my life. Nor is attending incredibly fancy extravagant 4 course dinners with aerial acrobatics as entertainment between courses and a drinks reception with an indoor fairground and actual dodgems and a dodgy disco where I get incredibly drunk and dance the macarena with loads of librarians I’ve just met BUT IT HAPPENED. (And, obviously, I had all sorts of opinions about the ethics of such publisher funded extravagance but I drank them away and enjoyed myself cos that appears to be what I do when I get a chance to taste how the other half live….).
Anyway, the whole thing was full on, and wonderful, and again I learnt a huge amount and got very excited about all sorts of stuff. There was a LOT of really interesting and useful content in the sessions, but I shall attempt to mention some of my highlights from the programme. Ann Rossiter’s rousing opening plenary, in which she vividly described the challenges academic libraries are facing and called out in no uncertain terms the unethical and obstructive behaviour of ‘some publishers in this room,’ got me all riled up and impressed me with its frankness, which is exactly what I want on a Monday morning… Michael Jubb followed with a highly informative presentation ‘How far has the UK got towards open access and what have been the costs and implications?’, which was full of fascinating statistics that really drove home quite how complex the current situation is, and some of the reasons why this is the case. I found that this was also highlighted by Stuart Lawson’s breakout on ‘Open scholarly communications data’, based on this research. These sessions underlined to me that what may at first, to the naïve and ignorant squeaky new open access enthusiast (that’ll be me..), seem like a fairly straightforward issue that just needs everyone to catch on asap, has in fact become a big old tangled confusing obfuscated mess due to the multitude of different interests and economic/social/political factors it ties into.
This idea of mess (which I’m beginning to see is a recurring theme in absolutely blumming everything, even though everyone seems to pretend it’s not) was drawn out directly by Donna Lanclos in her plenary ‘Ethnographic approaches to scholarly communications: tackling the mess of academia’. I’d seen Donna speak at Digifest as well and was thoroughly impressed by her directness and her approach of considering the very human (and therefore very messy-and worthy of careful consideration, observation, and respect..) factors that underpin everything we do in education, academia, libraries and scholarly communications, no matter how shiny our new digital tools may be. I appreciated the way that this session put everything in the context of people and communities, as this side of things (particularly the ways that universities/libraries attempt, often spectacularly unsuccessfully, to shape people’s behaviours and practices) fascinates me just as much as all the exciting tools that I’m trying to learn about, and it’s something I want to focus on in the future. To be honest, it seems pretty key to the whole darn thing. I also loved that Donna proposed asking the question ‘why do we make it closed?’ rather than ‘why should we make it open?’, as it is perhaps the most telling question of all…and is another idea I want to use to underpin my learning/research/practice….
Cameron Neylon‘s closing plenary ‘Investing in Scholarly Futures’ also highlighted the central importance of communities, and the (messy?) impact of different interests, values, investments and cultures. Although I was utterly frazzled and, yes, possibly still drunk at this point, this session was undoubtedly one of my conference highlights as it really summed up the underlying theme that I take from pretty much everything I learn about scholarly communications of it all being a bit stuck because everyone wants slightly different things and no one really understands each other or is entirely honest about their motivations. (Is it just my overwhelming negativity and cynicism that leads me to draw this out as my underlying theme or is it fairly accurate….?). I was also delighted by the way that Cameron used the discussion around Sci Hub as a very telling demonstration of the dichotomies of language and attitude that exist around academic publishing, as this is something that I’ve become slightly obsessed with and had an on which I had an essay to write immediately on my return (and I want to do more, so much more, research on this….thinking of shaping it into a dissertation somehow. Heck maybe even a PhD. Hahaha…).
There were, of course, loads of other sessions that I learnt loads from, but I’m not going to try to sum them up here as I have rather a lot of other things to do.There are great write ups from NLPN, Jo Alcock and probably loads of others that I’ve missed. For me it was an amazing opportunity and experience and it lit loads more fires of curiosity and ideas and embarrassingly excessive enthusiasm for the career that I would really really like to pursue. I also loved having the chance to meet so many new and lovely people-it’s surprising to me as I think of myself as quite the misanthrope, but having the chance to spend time with some proper sound librarian types has been a clear highlight of both my exciting conference adventures. Although there is no sodding way I’ll ever be able to bring myself to call it networking….
So that’s a whistlestop round up of my first big conferences, which I am extremely glad I had the opportunity to go to, although it has obviously added considerably to the frenetic nature of the last few months. I do have some mixed feelings about conferences, especially very pricey conferences, being such a big thing in librarianship, as it seems like it can aggravate existing inequalities and exclude a lot of people and institutions from some important conversations. However, on a personal level it has been enormously beneficial to go to these events and broaden my horizons (and my ‘networks’) and stoke my enthusiasm. It has been particularly interesting to see first hand how much professional discourse comes down to ‘we have all these problems and we’re trying to sort them out but it’s pretty tricky’, and that even the most experienced people rarely claim to have all the answers (in fact the only people who make out that they do always seem to be selling something….). I also feel like, considering how very new all this stuff is to me (scholarly communications and research support in particular), it has been quite reassuring to see that I’m not completely out of my depth in these environments, that I can keep up with what’s being discussed, that I already know a fair bit of what’s mentioned, and that I can identify where the gaps are in my knowledge and how to go about filling them. And also that I have (sometimes pretty strong) opinions on it all (although I often don’t feel confident enough to express them…). I kind of hope that all of this is a good sign that I’m heading in the right direction and doing the right things. And that one day it’s all going to click into place and land me a glorious career. Haha.
Also…I really like having the chance to go away without my kids, as if I’m some sort of grown up professional person. I am a terrible mother.
I can say with confidence that I won’t manage to blog again until after the end of the semester. And that quite it’s quite possible that my brain will be too frazzled to write a single word until September. Ah well….