There are a variety of “unconferences” devoted to certain aspects of the library and information science field. Examples are BarCamp (for open web technologies), THATcamp (for humanities and technology), InfoCamp (for general information enthusiasts), and CURATEcamp (for digital curation). Zack wrote about unconferences in his post InfoCamp and the Unconference. We also had a guest post from some students at University of Michigan about Quasi-Con. Rather than explain the unconference model again; I’ll just quote Zack:
The unconference structure is extremely flexible. Sessions grow and are scheduled organically, normally on a whiteboard, bulletin board, and/or Wiki, as the conference happens. This minimizes the planning ahead of time. Unconferences can take as much time as you would like to give them from one day to a week. Further they allow conference participants to democratize their usage of time by choosing where and on what time gets spent.
Last week, I attended the two-day CURATEcamp at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. There were about 35 people there. While some people were on the front-end of curation services (i.e. interfacing and interacting with the customers), the group leaned towards the technical, backend of curation services (i.e. repository developers and programmers). Many of the sessions were highly technical in nature. I attended a couple of those, and the discussion was generally over my head. The sessions I enjoyed and found most beneficial were the ones dealing with research data management planning, education, and metadata.
The unstructured, dynamic nature of unconferences is popular. Because of this characteristic, time could have been used more effectively. For example, the first objective in an unconference is to develop the schedule. First thing Monday morning, attendees pitched ideas for discussions, grouped similar topics, and assigned them to time slots and rooms. This took up three full hours. We could have accomplished this more quickly if all attendees suggested their topics on the wiki ahead of time.
What did I like about CURATEcamp and the unconference concept in general? I liked how everyone was on equal footing; everyone’s ideas and comments were given equal importance. People asked many questions and offered many ideas. There was no condescension from anyone. Furthermore, it was an excellent opportunity to network with others doing the work I hope to do someday. Additionally, I learned things I didn’t know, such as what Hydra is and how it works with Fedora. I learned about Omeka and how it can be used to create personal collections. The sessions I attended on research data management and metadata were quite informative and interesting.
While I did enjoy certain aspects of CURATEcamp, I am not convinced the unconference model is the best forum for bringing about real change and improvement on important issues. Large group discussions like this can only scratch the surface and can’t dig deeply enough to get to the root of issues and make significant progress. Nevertheless, there is benefit in this style forum if it ignites the spark that then can develop into deeper discussions.
Have you ever attended an unconference? What did you think about it? Do you think it’s a useful tool?