Librarians seem to love conferences. I don’t know of any other profession that has quite as many conferences (though my digital humanist colleagues say their profession has more). I could probably go to a conference every day, if I tried hard enough. There are just that many of them.
Last week, I was at the Digital Library Federation in Las Vegas, to talk about Oral Histories. And sure, I got a presentation to list on my CV. And yes, I learned a little about GIS projects in libraries, how to support each other in times of violence, teaching primary sources, etc.
But that really wasn’t the highlight. Conference presentations (mine or others’) are never the most important part of the conference. So, what is the most import part of the conference?
The people I meet.
And it might not be the best thing to say, but it’s often not the people I meet at the conference that are the most memorable. (Though, I have made at least one friend at a conference/training.) There are so many people “on the peripherals” of the conference that I come into contact with – from the shuttle driver to the food service personnel. And often, those are the people who who I find most important in my conferencing.
At DLF 2018, the most important person I spoke to was a man from Afghanistan, who had served as a translator for the US Military for about 3 years. For his safety, he and his family were moved by the US Military to the United States. (He didn’t know anything about the geography in the US, so he let the military decide where he would live – and they put him in Las Vegas.)
We talked about libraries. He mentioned how the public library’s English-as-a-second language programs were at no cost; and that they were incredibly useful. His wife had come to the US only speaking Farsi, and through the program at the public library was able to learn English and then begin taking classes at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Then, I told him about my work with library acquisitions, including my work with Middle Eastern and South Asian acquisitions. That included bringing in Hebrew, Arabic, and Farsi (and Urdu, Hindi, and Tamil) materials. I even tried to plant the idea that he could join an R1 library as either a cataloger or acquisitions specialist for Farsi materials. (I don’t think he was sold.)
I was thrilled to meet him. To learn a bit about his history (and how libraries affected his and his family’s lives) was wonderful. And he is the most memorable person I met while at a conference.
So, my recommendation for conference goers: consider the people you meet when you go to these conferences, no matter if they’re a librarian or a taxi driver. You’ll have a more positive experience if you meet people and discuss your work and expand your idea of “what you learned” from the conference.