NASIG 30th Annual Conference: some memories and impressions

NASIG has been my professional organization home for most of the past two decades, so it was with excitement and anticipation that I travelled to Washington, D.C. to attend its 30th annual conference last month. It did not disappoint. Here are some of the memories and impressions that stood out for me:

  • The day-long joint session with the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP). The last time NASIG and SSP got together in this way was in 1992, when I was a newly minted librarian working as a serials cataloger at The University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library, and the joint meeting was held at the University of Illinois at Chicago. On the surface, these organizations have a lot in common in terms of goals, interests, and objectives, but they are actually very different. SSP is formal whereas NASIG is informal, for example. SSP has a bigger draw for attendance and a bigger membership now, too, I think. It seems like the joint session went well overall but I’m sure it wasn’t an easy task to put together. Still, for me, this was perhaps the programming highlight of the week. Lots of memorable one-liners — “Data is the new bacon,” “You can’t herd cats but you can move the cat food,” “Print is not dead.” All of the speakers did a great job, and I learned a lot. Although I found them hard to follow, the panel of two legal experts who talked about various aspects of copyright policy was fascinating and I learned from their talks.

  • Stephen Rhind-Tutt’s presentation on the future of scholarly publishing. I had not heard the president and co-founder of Alexander Street Press speak before this and as one of the vision speakers, Rhind-Tutt did not disappoint. My takeaways from his thought-provoking talk are his belief that everything will be open access by 2022; the huge (and largely unsung) importance of interlinking (in my head I shouted YES YES YES, thinking for example of OpenURL — his actual words were, “We don’t respect linking as much as we should”); how remarkably similar the topics discussed 25 years ago at NASIG are to those we are still talking about; his point that we need to think about function not form, e.g. reading journals is not the function, discovering and interpreting new ideas is the function; and so on. He did a good job of articulating our tendencies to be afraid of the future while trying to hold tightly to the past and how this manifests itself even in terms we use, such as “e-journal.” He challenged his audience to understand the medium, not fight it, and to think about information at the atomic, rather than linear level. His presentation was quite compelling but I am not convinced that it holds (or will hold) together, e.g. how we can best navigate a hybrid fee/free environment.

  • Seeing and visiting with so many friends, and making new ones. I’m a bit of an introvert so social interaction can be challenging. But the strongest aspect to NASIG has always been the fact that it is a bunch of great people who get together, and who are full of warmth and kindness. For example, I missed most of one day due to a migraine and was sincerely touched by the concern and care shown by those who knew about it. I was thrilled that my friend and best man in my wedding, Rick, and his wife and daughter were there. We’ve known each other since library school but rarely get to see each other any more. It’s one of those friendships where you pick up right where you left off, every time. I was also glad to have two evening meals with a family friend who was there to report on the SSP meeting. He picked two great places to eat! And I saw so many “friends of long standing” that it warmed my heart, it really did. I wish that there had been more time to visit with them all. Particular mention needs to be made of seeing Jean Hirons, former CONSER Coordinator at the Library of Congress, thanks to an invite to dinner by Ann Ercelawn; Lisa Macklin from Emory; and Steve Murden, Dan Tonkery, and many others. I was also happy to make new friends including fellow NASIG Board members, among others. I got to introduce myself to Dorothea Salo, one of the vision speakers, someone who’s writings I’ve long enjoyed.

  • The party to celebrate NASIG’s 30th anniversary. Wow. What a party, put on by Eleanor Cook, Christie Degener, and other partners in crime! Unfortunately I came from a full meal at a nearby seafood restaurant, Legal Sea Foods, so I didn’t have much of an appetite. But there was so much food, so many yummy things. There was a dance floor and DJ and yes, lots of librarians dancing and having fun while doing it. It was special to be mentioned as one of the top NASIG memories in the context of when I was NASIG President at Carnegie Mellon in 1999, and wore a kilt (as a joke) to the opening ceremony. I was particularly caught off guard when current NASIG President (now Past President), Steve Kelley, spoke to party-goers about his first conference (at UC San Diego in 2000). He talked about his memory of me chatting with him and Clint Chamberlain, which made them feel welcome and helped them feel at home in NASIG. Honestly, I don’t deserve any credit for this but his kind remarks made me feel very thankful. This is what so many NASIGers do, all the time, and it’s why I continue to feel so strongly about supporting the organization.

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