Conference quality is a crapshoot, and their entertainment value is limited at best. This is why when I attended Digital Directions, 2012, in Boston this summer, I was completely surprised how refreshed and energized I felt, even after three days of almost non-stop sessions. My path to attending this conference, however, was both convoluted and serendipitous.
Planning ahead is key to finding and funding interesting conferences in the academic world. At the beginning of each academic year I trudge through a litany of conference announcements and CFPs (call for papers). Is the conference going to be interesting? Maybe. Is is going to be expensive? Probably, unless it’s local. I usually walk away from the process thinking that it’s easy to settle for the TLA (Texas Library Association) conference since it will either be in my backyard (San Antonio) or a short “Texas drive” away.
This spring I received an invitation that appeared mildy interesting. “Digital Directions 2012” from the NEDCC (Northeast Document Conservation Center) arrived in my junk email, and I actually read it. I had planned to send it to a colleague who actually managed our digital library, but low and behold, I get word, within days of receiving this invitation, that all digital library plans would be on hold. Again. Why? Because my colleague’s “big hat” was planted with a new non-librarian title. And just when I thought we might get this train going again.
Earlier this year my knowledge of digital libraries sat blissfully planted in 2006, the year we launched the Lanham Digital Library (LDL). An Amigos course here and there gave periodic boosts to my waning expertise, but I believed that my involvement with the LDL would be limited to archival item selection. My institution has a knack for identifying uncelebrated strengths among faculty and staff, and thus the primary librarian for the digital library was crowned with a new, additional title just a few short years after arriving here. The digital library would have to wait.
Though it may sound like it, I’m not griping. I know what it is like to get that call. My own passion for Holocaust education was tapped and I was whisked away with a throng of students to Germany and Poland, twice. All expenses paid trip to Europe? Yes please.
This development was an opportunity. Back in the day I actually enjoyed working on the LDL when I had time, but sometimes the weight of so many hats can crush a person’s will to take on more. Thanks to the presence of an amazing workstudy (thank you, federal government), I seemed to have a little more time on my hands, and thus, energy. Energy, however, doesn’t mean there’s money unless you jump through some hoops, so I did what needed to be done for a faculty development grant and crossed my fingers. Low and behold, 76% of my costs would be covered. Odd number, happy me.
So I made my flight and hotel reservations, checked to make sure that childcare would be available, and hoped for inspiration.
So what does a person do when you start a digitization project, and momentum, money, and expertise wain after the launch? What do you do when the project pretty much grinds to a halt because the website is static rather than dynamic? Who creates content when no one has time to spare, even for scanning? How do you find the time or energy to restart such an enormous, but important, project? The answer I received at DD Boston? Reset and restart.
It’s important to keep moving forward no matter the obstacles. Perserverance is key to successful digital projects, and digital projects help keep history alive. They make history more accessible to the current generation and to those more than 50 miles away. They provide fodder for the creative and evidence for the historian. Serendipity and hat titles aside, this project is worth the time and energy. Let’s see if we can this train going again.
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