Stranger In A Strange Land: Librarian Observations From The AAM Conference

By Kenn Bicknell, Digital Resources Librarian, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Library & Archive—

At some point, the LAM (Libraries, Archives & Museums) Conference Exchange members will set foot into an unfamiliar environment: one or more national conferences hosted by the professional associations of the other information sectors.  I approached our first in-person meeting as a visit to “the other side of the island.”  I had the feeling that there were other tribes living over the mountain but with whom I had not much contact until now.

Tweets from AAM 2016 conference

Cohort members Kenn and Christina tweet about their experience.

Compared to ALA (American Library Association) and other national library conferences, the AAM (American Alliance of Museums) conference impressed me as smaller in size but with robust content.  The programming was highly diversified, but I was personally interested in comparing my professional experience with what the other cohort members were bringing to the table in person that had not been discernible in our online meetings.

Our all-conference ice-breaker networking event was a valuable introduction for Cohort members meeting each other face-to-face for the first time.  Over the course of the conference, we fell into group discussion, smaller chats and one-on-one talks.  Despite our varying backgrounds and career paths, we shared our experiences with resource challenges, keeping up with technology, and helping our organizations move forward in response to user expectations.  I found myself wavering between feeling unsure about our charge and feeling confident that something wonderful was happening in the moment that would lead to a productive outcome at the end of this process.

Some of our conversations focused on how we should determine and pursue our project focus and outcomes without jeopardizing or stunting our information gathering and exploration of conference cultures.  One “aha” moment was shared when a Cohort member suggested that we compare the high-level mission statements of AAM, ALA and SAA to find the most visible or valuable intersections providing possible launching points for our work.

I shared my interest in determining the extent to which IMLS is interested in non-organizational professional conferences such as Internet Librarian, Computers in Libraries, Museums and the Web, and Museum Computer Network.  These meetings also offer high-interest content in a manageable (i.e. not overwhelming!) environment outside the confines of professional association conferences that sometimes seem bogged down in business meetings, elections, and interest group gatherings.  In my experience, while these other conferences focus more narrowly on emerging technology and their scalable application, they do attract a broader attendance from across the LAM landscape.  Is this not already a demonstration of the blurred distinction between our LAM sectors?  I think the national professional organizations offer obvious opportunities to investigate cooperation, collaboration and needs, but there is some outstanding cross-sector stuff happening outside that construct as well.

Near the end of the conference, I ran into a Cohort member from the museum sector reading a book about collections.  I stopped to say hello and it turned into a 3-hour conversation.  We talked about the concept of active collections in museums vs. libraries offering up multiple copies of collection items, yet dealing with collection management issues just the same.  I was not aware of the “active collections” movement in museums, but mentioned how excited I was about the nascent History Relevance Campaign (which my Cohort colleague had not heard about).  The concept of bringing in a “hoarding expert” to speak to museum curators and a new national movement to promote the importance of history turn out to have both emanated from institutions in Kentucky.

As if that were not serendipitous enough, I arrived back home in Southern California to find an Op-Ed piece in the Los Angeles Times the next day titled, “History Isn’t A ‘Useless’ Major, It Teaches Critical Thinking, Something America Needs Plenty More Of.”

Looking back on our first conference exchange experience, my AAM attendance yielded more than new relationships and friendships.  I could see much more clearly that we all hold some pieces of a larger jigsaw puzzle that should create one picture if we can determine how they best fit together.  Collective Wisdom, indeed!

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