How to Navigate an International Digital Preservation Conference
Whether this is your first time or your 19th, here are some hot tips and nifty tricks for a successful week.
First day of the conference
For the love of Gaia, map out your walk from the hotel and get there (at least) a little early, lest you be impeded by long registration lines. Determine quickly whether food and beverages will be allowed in the presentation rooms – that policy will impact the rest of your mornings. Without this knowledge, you might purchase a piping hot coffee on the way to the first session, see a sign on the door forbidding said beverage, then be forced to take two scalding gulps and throw it wastefully away, rejoining the crowds scorched and uncaffeinated. Or so I’ve heard.
Stopping by tables and talking to strangers
The 15-minute break between sessions arrives. You have two options: go on the defense (lurk near the edge of a table and hope somebody engages you) or the offense (walk directly up to another attendee). Better still, visit a vendor table that isn’t amply peopled. Your peers that volunteered to table are trapped on these table islands for the duration of the break – take pity on them and offer the solace of your company.
If you do find yourself standing alone, avoid taking refuge in your phone. Sure, it might make it seem like you are very important and must attend to emergency emails. Instead, stand boldly looking out among the crowd, as though any of your multiple friends might converge on you at a given moment. This will either make you seem more approachable – increasing your potential for Professional Networking – or at the very least, it will give you an aura of intrepid confidence.
Badges, swag, and other visual insignia
Your conference name badge will be your identification, and you can optionally adorn the badge lanyard with swag – pins and ribbons that externally define you, so you can shout from the rooftops: you’re on a committee! You’re a newcomer! You have an affinity for felines! And the vendor tables will be teeming with abundant stickers with which you can embellish your work laptop – the adult equivalent of slathering our childhood binders with Lisa Frank stickers. Alternatively, keep it minimal and mysterious – both valid life choices.
Either way, name badges will hang awkwardly on your colleague’s mid-chest region. If you are greeting someone new, this is a useful excuse not to make eye contact with strangers. However – if the person seems vaguely familiar and you have forgotten their name and they seem to know everything about you – the badge placement will make it painfully obvious if you are searching for their name. Instead, make vague overtures and wait until later in the conversation to glance down at their badge.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a scholar in possession of new research must be in want of a conference. If you are such a scholar and your proposal was accepted – congratulations! The world is your oyster, and the masses will congregate to watch your presentation and hang upon each precious syllable to fall from your lips.
But wait – the day has come to present, and everything you have to say seems to pale in comparison to what you imagined. All your peers – ones you haven’t met, ones you have seen present, ones you imagine have more expertise than you – are watching you.
Fear not, dear colleague. You were accepted for good reason. Your presentation doesn’t need to be a viral TED talk to be genuinely beneficial. Even if you fumble your way through and botch the landing, you will be appreciated and your contribution will be valued.
There is no saying what to expect. Meals and snacks will be generously but compromisingly crafted to accommodate the widest range of food sensitivities (said realistically but with immense gratitude to conference organizers!). Like any kind of travel, it doesn’t hurt to bring some of your own snacks. If you don’t eat it during the day, perhaps at night when you are in your hotel room, battling insomnia and mentally replaying a day full of social interactions.
You find yourself hanging with colleagues outside of the professional confines of presentations and kindly coffee chatter. There is alcohol. Digital preservationists are going rogue. They may laugh louder and threaten to dance and sing. Surrender to this strange alternate existence, where the Severance veil is lifted and your work and personal lives intermingle. Alternatively, go back to the hotel and take advantage of extra sleepy time and that snack you saved.
Ah, it’s over. Though fatigued, you will feel a renewed sense of professional passion. You are in league, your herd has moved together to prowl on the prey of broken bits and unstable storage architectures, and they are breaking up to return to their home environs. Now is your chance to tinder those dying flames by igniting virtual connections that will glow like embers until your next chance meeting at a future international digital preservation conference. Exchange emails. If you’re fancy, exchange business cards. Follow each other on social media sites or seek them out in corners of Slack workspaces. They are now forever indebted to be nice to you at future conferences.
Tricia Patterson, Harvard Library