What’s a Librarian Doing Here? Or Attending Conferences Out of Discipline.

On Hack Library School, there have been a lot of articles about conferences. These have mainly focused on the advantages of attending local library or archives conferences or the big ‘un, ALA, over the summer. My goal here isn’t to rehash what has already been written but to talk about the possibilities and the fun of attending conferences outside of the sphere of LIS. Joanna did a great write up of why students should attend conferences in February of 2012, Brianna wrote an article on how to present in May 2012 and, most recently, Sam wrote about hacking your first professional conference last February.

What about those pesky and numerous non-LIS conferences?

I’ve attended four academic, rather than professional, conferences in my graduate career. One in English, one in History and two in popular cultural studies. I found these experiences rewarding not only as a budding, perhaps amateurish, scholar but as a current library science student and as a future librarian. For graduate students attending academic conferences, this is a moment to be nervous but also a memorable moment to join the club of new and veteran scholars.

  • Builds up your Conference Presentation Chops

Conference presentations are hard. Story time: My first one, an English graduate conference in desire at CUNY Graduate Center resulted in a conference room filled with laughter. My presentation about Chiquita banana, banana women and the sexualized good neighbor policy fell flat after three earlier presentations on sexual violence in wartime. (This also could be because bananas are, and always will be, hilarious) While I felt bad at the entire room laughing nervously at my well prepared presentation, it was an experience I will never forget and has made speaking in public, in class, and at conferences much easier. Not to worry, afterwards I got great questions and audience members really enjoyed and connected with my banana theory work after a few moments of laughter. Learning how to speak in public and share your ideas is a necessity for professional development during library school and in our careers. The confidence I have gained from attending these conferences is priceless.

  • Get to know what is going on in the academic fields

Especially if you’re planning on working in a university or an archive that involves working closely with scholars from outside disciplines, it is a great idea to get a handle on what is going on outside of the library. If you have a subject area outside of LIS that you would like to work reference in the future this is all the more important. Instead of reading every book ever (oh man if I could I so would do this) attending conferences lets you in on the secrets of what is hip right now in different fields. This will help you understand your role better as a facilitator of information for scholarship as well as which directions to develop collections for these disciplinary movements.

In some ways librarians are asked to be semi-experts in a lot of different fields. Knowing where the disciplines are heading and what is the next big thing in different fields is essential to building up our own confidence in reference work.

  • Get known to other scholars, some of whom you’ll assist as a librarian

Going hand and hand with number two above, getting to know scholars in different fields is a great way to network, not only for jobs but for information purposes, is an essential to attending these conferences. Through conferences I’ve met dozens of graduate students and new professors doing exciting and interesting work in fields I know very little about. Through these connections I’ve gotten to know the fields a little bit but I’ve also gotten to know sources of information. If I have a fashion history question, or a patron who is interested in it, I know some graduate students doing work in fashion that I can point their direction. My library has been working on a fashion exhibit for the summer which this networking has helped. This works both ways, as I’ve gotten my own extracurricular LIS questions from scholars I’ve met through these networking opportunities.

  •  Get to see how our work is integrated into the larger academic world.

More than once I’ve gotten the question “what is a librarian doing here?” As if I had stumbled upon a secret club and my love of the smell of old books has given me away as an outsider. I don’t at all think this question is an “alarmed” reaction to my presence but more surprise because library students don’t often present at these conferences. There was a welcoming attitude, despite this surprise. Attending a history conference as a library student, and presenting a paper that would have fit into any LIS conference, I got a sense of where my ideas and my curiosities fit into the larger academic world. I was bridging the disciplinary gap which not only let me be a better historian, but built upon the skills I was learning in my GA position and my classes to be a better librarian. I fit there as well as I fit in any LIS conference, and that was a great feeling for me.

I have had great experiences presenting and attending non-LIS conferences during my library school career. I found commonalities between my interests, what I was learning in class, and what was going on in other disciplines that made me excited to continue down the path toward librarianship. It taught me that I can contribute outside of the classroom or the library within the larger intellectual world out there. Don’t fret, send out those abstracts!

2 replies

  1. In addition to the benefits you mentioned above, finding non-LIS conferences that are related to what you do (beyond the liaison/reference benefits noted above) can help you bring new ideas into your practice.

    I’m an information literacy instruction librarian at a regional university. Instead of focusing only on library instruction conferences, I also attend and present at non-LIS conferences focusing on pedagogy. I get to learn about the ways other disciplines are thinking about teaching, which helps when I work with professors from those disciplines, but also gives me new ideas to use in my own teaching. I actually just used an exercise in class today that I learned at the International Society for Exploring Teaching and Learning conference last October. Another good one for interdisciplinary pedagogy is the Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy in February (registration is free!).


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