I attended my first Access conference last month. Access Conference 2012 , “Canada’s premier library technology conference”, took place in Montreal over October 19-21. Um, I was impressed.
I’ve shared my complete notes here, but I’ll also reflect on a few highlights and take-aways below.
A Different Kind of Conference
Attending this conference was a good reminder for me that I’ve really only been to a few different conferences in my career as a librarian thus far, and that I should continue to look beyond the ones-I-always-go-to and push myself to attend ones that look like they’ll be a bit of a stretch for me, content-wise. When considering attending Access, I reviewed the programme and worried that it would be too technical, or just beyond my realm. As it turns out, they had the full spectrum and the majority of the conference was entirely accessible (*wink wink*) for me.
I really appreciated the ‘human touch’ that the organizers brought to this event. They went above and beyond to make it a great few days in Montreal, whether that was in the form of a Sunday morning bagel run, an organized morning walk & run up Mont Royal, or the Google Map with recommendations for the best latte in between the conference location and hotel. Dude, I want one of those Google Maps for OLA & I lived in Toronto for several years — I just don’t know the Front St. area & always end up eating at the over-priced hotel or chain restaurants.
The high calibre of presentations was impressive. I don’t know if this is as a result of their newly instituted peer review process, or just the Access tradition. The speakers were knowledgeable, prepared, and a strong presence at the front of a room of 200+ . In a single stream format, we moved smoothly from grand ideas to more modest pilot projects, valuing them both. If there was one drawback to the single-stream style, it would be that attendees tended to sit in the same spots & with the same people — you don’t get those smaller-scale conversations or mixed-up mingling from attending different sessions together.
Ok, but what did I learn?
Enough of the meta stuff, on to the content: I appreciated that this conference filled in some gaps for me. I mean sure I’d heard about “big data” and read about all sorts of digital humanities projects, but my understanding of these ideas was pretty abstracted. At Access, I was able to be immersed in them for ~45min and come out finally able to wrap my head around them.
Lisa Goddard’s Adventures in Linked Data presentation was a glimpse into the complexity of a semantic web project coming out of the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory, complete with machine-readable definitions for the relationships between people and texts and places … I don’t think I can summarize it very well. But she made this type of work visual and meaningful for me.
I also appreciated Alistair Croll‘s discussion on Big Data, Answers, and Human Rights. Not only did he clearly explain Big Data, he also identified some significant ethical issues around how we use this data or the inferences we draw from it. Looking at big data’s potential through a human rights lens, Alistair highlighted the precarious relationships between prediction and prejudice, and personalization and prejudice.
Mike Kastellac pretty much blew my mind with a description of the new Hunt Library under construction at NCSU. They are really pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a library, and what sort of work, study, and play we support in our spaces. He suggested that the library’s traditional services focused on ‘supporting the consumption of documents,’ and while we still need to attend to this, we cannot ignore the growing needs of what he called ‘the technographic paradigm.’
In a similar vein, Marc Comeau, Riel Gallant and Michael Groenendyk of Dalhousie shared their early results aftera brief stint of offering 3D printing and scanning in the library … (wait for it) at the help desk. It sounds like they’ve already made some interesting connections with certain faculties and user groups, and they made a pretty convincing argument for the feasibility of this service in an academic library. Fascinating.
Finally, the conference wrapped up with a very thoughtful keynote presentation from Bess Sadler of Stanford ( an adapted version of her talk available on her blog). I won’t even attempt to summarize a talk with a title like Brain Injuries, Science Fiction, and Library Discovery, save to say that she drew some compelling connections between the impact of emotion on decision making, and how this could look in our online library interfaces.
As you can see, I struggle to extract a few pithy quotes from this conference experience. Truthfully, it was a real exercise in thinking deeply and pushing outside my comfort zone for 2 1/2 days & I’m grateful for it.