As promised, Michelle is back with her second blog post about the SLA 2014 annual conference in Vancouver. Michelle won one of SLA Europe’s Early Career Conference Awards, in partnership with the Academic Division. To see Michelle’s first post about her conference reflections, click here.

I talked a lot in my previous post about how SLA is all about its members. And the members made the sessions too – so I wanted to write about some of my favourite sessions.

One of the things I really liked about the conference was all the different formats, from longer 2 hour sessions to the 15 minute quick takes to a mini unconference. I managed to attend a mix of session types, along with many of the obligatory social events!

My favourite longer format session was ‘Digital Humanities: What does it really mean for libraries and cultural institutions?’ And I was glad it was good as it had an 8am start the morning after the IT Dance Party! Digital Humanities (DH) is something I’ve heard mentioned a few times over the past few years so I was interested to find out more about what it was and how libraries are involved in it. The session had three speakers from universities in the US and Canada, all of whom had a slightly different take on what constitutes DH and how they were involved in it.

Trish Rosseel from the local University of British Columbia talked about the ways in which UBC library supports DH, primarily through their collections. It was interesting that their completed digital projects have a local Vancouver and British Columbia focus which includes indigenous history (BC is the westernmost province in Canada). Academics at UBC like this as they want to teach local history courses; this in turn benefits the collections as students can get involved in adding value to objects through transcribing and analysing them as well as geotagging. Trish also talked through future services UBC Library are going to offer, including data management for DH files and digital notes management, and the impact this will have on the library in terms of service and space planning. Overall it seems like a very exciting time to be working at UBC Library!

Next up was Amy Buckland from McGill University in Montreal. I really like Amy’s style of presenting – I also saw her doing one of the quick take sessions, and she’s relaxed and funny (see photo). Amy said that McGill’s library has been a key partner in building a centre for DH on campus and showcased some of the projects they’ve been involved in. Unlike UBC they don’t have a local focus – the Ming Qing Women’s Writings project is digitizing poetry from China. However, in common with UBC they are also involving students in projects – for example getting them to proofread as optical reading is only 90% accurate. Amy encouraged us to advocate for the library as the logical home for DH on campus, something that this session convinced me is entirely correct!

Amy's opening slide. We don't envy her 8am start! (ed.)

Amy’s opening slide.
We don’t envy her 8am start! (ed.)

 

The final presenter was Laurie Allen from Haverford College in Pennsylvania. Similar to the previous two presenters, Laurie’s institution also gets students involved in projects. She also noted that you can do projects using data from outside your own collections as well as inside; an example of this was the ‘Who Killed Sarah Stout?’ exhibit. Laurie had some great advice for those thinking of getting involved in DH, including that you should just go for it as DH has a hands-on approach!

Some final tips from the session included that you should start small but be public and don’t wait for perfection; be open and honest about expectations and finally to have patience with everyone. I came away from the session no more enlightened about what DH actually is, but certainly enthused and interested to learn more and get involved if possible.

My final highlight was the All-Sciences poster session which, I hear you cry, doesn’t sound all that exciting. But for me this was really interesting as I’ve recently become the sole Science librarian at my university. It was great to meet other Science librarians of all types and hear about what they’re working on with faculty and students. My favourite poster was by the very interesting Dorothy Barr from Harvard University, who uses cockroaches as therapy pets!

Cockroaches as therapy pets?! We've definitely heard everything now!

Cockroaches as therapy pets?! We’ve definitely heard everything now!

 

There’s a definite trend in UK universities to bring animals on to campus during stressful times for students – whether it’s a puppy room or farm animals in the student union. I really liked that Dorothy had taken this idea and adapted it to her environment – the Ernst Mayr Library is at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. I had a fascinating chat to Dorothy in which she told me that she used to be a researcher into this type of cockroach so had a personal interest in them. She said that the cockroaches also act as an engagement point for her and colleagues; the cockroaches attract questions which turns into a way to get to know users and can also lead into a discussion about the user’s needs. Whilst I’d definitely still prefer a puppy room for my library, I really appreciated the way Dorothy had taken an idea and adapted it to her own context.

There are so many other sessions I could rave about, but hopefully this has given you an idea of the diversity of offerings at the SLA conference.

 

We’ve still got one more post coming up from Michelle, who has kindly written up the conference theme ‘Beyond Borders’ session from SLA 2014. Look out for this post next week! 
 

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