Rachel Frick, the Director of the DLF Forum and a community builder, gave the closing keynote at Access 2013 entitled “Community, understanding, courage, and honesty”. Her diverse skills, experiences and interests clearly reflected in this uplifting talk, which underscored a few recurring themes in the conference program, and also allowed for a deeper reflection on our professional role.
Rachel began by pointing out what an exciting time it is to be in the library community, since so much opportunity and potential to reinvent the profession currently exists. In fact, according to Rachel, we are on the threshold of a new digital age of which we are not even aware. Using Johnny Cash as an icon of staying true to one’s values, she also brought up the notion of the Flipped Library. In other words, whether it is linked data that brings our local knowledge outward or the new ways we think about collection development in the digital age, it is certainly not business as usual in libraries today. While many trends and movements, such as Open Access, DPLA, RDA, Linked Data, MOOCs or Alt-Metrics are currently unfolding in library world, it is crucial for us to remember why we are in this line of work, and ultimately, remember the people we are serving. On that note, Davis Lankes’ reminder that the mission of librarians is to improve society by facilitating knowledge creation in their communities was particularly fitting.
All of these exciting opportunities are not without challenges, and as such, Rachel outlines three: openness, leadership, and courage. For example, while the discourse of openness in library service is easy to uphold, actually demonstrating it through action is often more difficult. In this way, how we digitize, describe, display, market, integrate, collaborate, and preserve our collections demonstrates our commitment to our values and mission. Traditionally, libraries held a social contract to keep cultural heritage safe, thereby acting as stewards of history. Now, however, we send our knowledge out into the wild, and must therefore think about the impact that has on a variety of potential users. Rachel cited the Rijksstudio in the Netherlands as an example of one organization walking the “openness” talk by making 125,000 high-quality masterpieces publically available to users on the web and tracking their creative, and often unexpected, use of this material. Will Noel’s Archimedes Palimpsest project, too, was one of the first to anticipate the need for machine-readable data to encourage accessibility and engagement with cultural digital content. Initiatives like these prompt us to stop and question our philosophies, values, and practices. They remind us to continue to align our actions with our larger mission.
Another key area in the changing landscape of library service is leadership – the intersection of creative ideas and people that makes things happen. Frick sees the library technology community, such as folks who come out to Access, as individuals with the aptitude to combine ideas with action. They understand the necessary questions and have the ability to respond, thereby further pushing on our leaders. Perhaps it is because they adopt what Bess Sadler calls the Hacker Epistemology, a pragmatic, problem-solving mindset, where the truth is what works and small acts of disobedience can accomplish big things.
Finally, courage is a necessity in the often-uncertain digital age. While this may be the time for the creatives, many barriers lie in the way of action. For instance, how do we get over the “big frickin’ wall” (Kathy Sierra) that seems to come between our big ideas and the current way of doing things? Rachel’s advice is:
1. get out of our backyards
2. play with others
3. connect strategic thinking to operational practice
Courage means not waiting for an invitation, but showing up to open meetings. Initiatives such as the LodLam and DPLA summits happen because people who attend them bring their best work and want to be part of the solution. Courage means staying true to a greater social purpose. Historypin, a project that inspires passion and serves a larger community is a perfect example of digital work guided by a larger social purpose. Courage means overcoming the loneliness of being a passionate person doing something new by finding allies, having faith in one’s colleagues, expecting more from each other, and by acting now.
How do we dare greatly? By asking ourselves what’s worth doing even if we fail.
These were the final words of advice from Rachel, and they succinctly capture the spirit of Access 2013 as we address the challenges ahead. What a great way to wrap up a rockin’ good time in St. John’s! Many thanks to everyone involved for putting this conference together.