Exploring Arts, Archives, and Special Libraries at SLA Boston 2015

By Megan De Armond

Image courtesy SLA B&F

Image courtesy SLA B&F

I started library school in the fall of 2014 thinking I might want to be an archivist, but not certain about which area I wanted to focus on. I attended SLA student chapter meetings at Pratt Institute (SLA@Pratt) and was inspired by then chapter President Sarah Davis’s enthusiasm about the organization and all it had to offer at the student, local chapter and national level. I joined SLA in January of this year prior to attending SLA NY’s Student Swing, which ended up leading to an internship at the American Museum of Natural History. In April of this year, during one of the student chapter meetings, Sarah talked about her great experience at the 2014 SLA conference in Vancouver and the connections she made and the sessions she enjoyed. She highly encouraged all of us at the meeting to go. I registered a few days later. I was eager to experience a library conference, but also skeptical about how fulfilling it might be. I had never attended a library conference, though I had attended other conferences.

I have found that librarians are generous with information and their time, and willing to offer suggestions and share ideas with anyone who asks. I’m beginning to believe this is a characteristic of the profession. At the SLA conference, I found the environment overall to be supportive; it seemed evident that the attendees wanted each other to succeed.

I also found several of the sessions to be inspiring, particularly Sarah Barrett’s Building a Better Web Experience. This summer, I interned with the Correctional Services Department at the New York Public Library (NYPL). The focus of the internship was the overhaul and digitization of NYPL’s Connections reentry guidebook. I was responsible for inputting information from the print book into a spreadsheet but, after returning from the conference, I began to think about the project more in terms of User Experience (UX). I haven’t had any coursework in UX but after researching resources that Barrett had mentioned, I added Information Architecture to my fall semester schedule. I am looking at the UX route more seriously now.

I also attended a session led by Matt Boggie, Executive Director of Research and Development with The New York Times Lab. His talk, Semantic Listening Can Build a Future from the Past, got me thinking about humans and computers working together. I walked away with two main concepts: learning through building and how thinking about the future helps us think about the past. Boggie emphasized the successful combination of machine and human processing to solve problems. The semantic listening table is a table that records conversations, but not entire conversations. The technology of the table allows for only key moments and important parts to be recorded. Instead of a 60-minute transcription and/or recording of a conversation that needs to be culled and read through, the table has already outlined and recorded the most important and relevant parts. He described many projects that succeeded by using both human and machine efforts. One such project is called Madison, an archive of advertising imagery that uses crowdsourcing to add metadata to images so that they can be used for research. These ads may have relevance and can now be found. Perhaps my background as a sculptor will be more relevant to librarianship than I had previously thought—my metal and woodworking skills may actually come in handy in the physical side of automation. This talk inspired me to think more about current and future technologies and how they can improve and automate parts of archival processing.

Overall the conference exceeded my expectations with respect to the knowledge I gained and the connections I made with other attendees. I had a chance to talk more with another member of SLA@Pratt at the conference—ironically it was almost easier to make friends at the conference than at school, perhaps because at school people are focused on going to class and getting home as soon as class ends. Next year, I plan to stay at the conference longer and attend more sessions if possible. In the meantime, I am interested in learning more about UX and continuing with my archival studies.

Thank you to both SLA@Pratt and SLA NY for making it possible for me to attend this year’s conference—my first library conference.

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