Archivy etc.

opinions, occasional rants, and sometimes things that have nothing to do with archives at all. Nothing here should be assumed to be reflective of my employer's opinion(s) nor should it be assumed that at anytime afterward, this is what I still think.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

the standard caveats apply

I've written earlier in this venue about the dangers of practical jokes in a professional setting. In direct reference to that earlier posting, some of you may find it amusing/ironic/what-have-you that I've recently been appointed as co-chair of the 2014 SAA/NAGARA/COSA meeting. But that's neither here nor there and anything I post on this blog should not be regarded as any statement of position regarding that appointment especially since if you know anything about the way program committees function and the way SAA program committees function, the chairs really have very little power. The creation of the session roster for the conference program is--amazingly--a very democratic process. And I, for one, am glad of that. At any rate, let's hope I can keep my sense of humor throughout the process, yes?

Specifically related to the genesis for that earlier posting: I spent a good deal of time preparing that paper on archives in sensual fiction for the 2009 conference. And though I don't think I came to any spectacular conclusions about the topic, it still wasn't a bad paper, for all that. Not for the faint of heart, definitely. 

Here's the thing. There were some complaints about the session prior to the conference, some public, and some in less public settings that were reported to me later. And some of them raised some fair points. Not the ones that raised the dread spectre of professional nepotism, quite frankly, those were WAY off base and an insult to the session participants and to the program committee. But some people wondered why a professional conference with a focus on educating the membership would waste time on a session such as ours. 

You probably should understand: I'm one of those who tends to say "but is it archival?" when reading the session listing for any upcoming professional conference. Our session was at least related, directly, to archives. It even had it in the title! But I have tended to be biased against things that are only tangentially related to our work so sometimes I have this reaction to sessions as well. Especially those that seem all about some historical topic and very little about the archives behind it. 

And I'm WRONG about that. Broadening knowledge and interests is good for archivists. Okay, I'm still not going to sign up to go to any of the professional baseball games that seem to draw such a huge crowd of archivists when offered in tandem with a conference, but what good would the archival world be if we were all alike? It's kind of nice to know there's room for somebody who doesn't like baseball in this profession, or I'd be in real trouble. Besides, if I don't like the topic of any given session, there's always a bunch of others that I can attend. And here's another place where I've been wrong:  on those occasions when I've attended something that didn't seem immediately applicable to my world? Those were often the times I learned the most and found things that did apply to my world even if it took several years for that to happen. Go figure. Obviously the whole program can't be like that, but I still have to go with the lesson that there's still room for the lighter side or for the more tangential stuff. Not to sound too After School Special, but hey, "the more you know." 

Anyway, I'm not going to defend our session or the program committee's choice in including it any longer. Right or wrong, it happened. And of the 100+ people in the audience? They seemed to have a good time. Despite it being at 8:30-9:30 am on Friday, which is normally the kiss of death session slot. For presenters anyway, since many audience members aren't quite awake yet, assuming they even attend. Ours were. And they entered into the spirit of things quite well. 

I'm still okay with my decision not to have the session taped. Not because of my original concern, that it would kill my career mobility. That remains to be seen and truthfully, I probably wouldn't want to work anywhere that people couldn't make a few choices about what they do on their own time. But mostly because at it really wasn't an experience that could be captured effectively by audio recording. A friend's bravura exit from the room at an appropriate time, the laughter that would start in one little corner and then spread explosively across the room as people read through the haikus being put on screen or in my case, as people realized "She actually said that!", or the grabbing for writing instruments as some blog addresses were being displayed. I don't know how we could have captured that effectively. So we didn't. And I won't try to capture it for you now. 

What I do offer is a text. The text of my paper. I can't capture the presentation effectively, but the text also has a good deal of material in it that was effectively lost or overshadowed in the live presentation. And thus, there's value in it, too. But it is Not Safe For Work. Really. I didn't spend any of my work time writing it or researching it. (I used my library card to check out a few of the books, but I'm pretty sure that doesn't count.) And you probably shouldn't spend any of your work time or equipment to read it, unless you happen to have a lot more interesting job description than mine. And in the spirit of the session, have fun.