DPLAFest: Collectively Building Capacity

By DPLA, May 4, 2017.
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This guest post was submitted by DPLAfest Travel Awardee Tommy Bui. 

DPLAfest Travel Awardee and guest blogger Tommy Bui

Upon landing in Chicago I was pretty enthused to hit the ground running. I couldn’t wait to just dive headlong into a pizza as wide as a sewer lid and as deep as the Mariana Trench. Long-term gastro-consequences be damned. I swiftly hopped off the plane and slinked right onto the Blue Line wherein I was whisked away to the downtown area in no time flat. I lumbered into my hotel room and was good and knackered after the Red Eye flight. I was a little worried I would be wading in some kind of sleep-deprived fog for a majority of the conference.  

But very much to the contrary, I couldn’t have been more animated throughout the proceedings. I was running on pure library-ly adrenaline and was chuffed to bits about meeting my colleagues from libraries all over. Any lack of sleep was adequately supplemented with vigor for the insightful and edifying presentations that were on offer at DPLAFest. I dove right in. With both feet.

 Things got right underway with opening statements and a lively panel discussion in the spacious Pritzker Auditorium. I got to schmooze with the people I’d be seeing much of throughout the next two days. And got a nice little sampler in terms of what was to be expected. The opening remarks kicked things off on the right note and tenor. We were here to work together and toward a more constructive, collaborative, and verdant future for digital collections.

Panelists present on “The Impact of Digital Communication on Civic Engagement.” Photo by Ron Gould.

I just graduated with my MLIS last year and was kind of green when it came to these sort of functions. There was a rich selection of lectures available to me. A panoply of presentations. If I had my druthers, I would’ve attended every one. The first lecture I decided to break my duck with had a fantastic panel of speakers. All were enthusiastic about the topic and spoke with authority and poise on the matter of digital communication and civic engagement. Speaker Harper Reed offered a wealth of ideas and perspicacious opinions on librarianship. He stressed the importance of diversity and to prioritize user experience and reminded us of our perennial responsibility as librarians and archivists—that we are stewards of resources and are charged with being champions of diversity, inclusion, and social justice.

The fleeting and narrow windows of time between presentations and workshops were of supreme use as well. I traded many a business card and acquainted myself with several of my impressive colleagues. Able and full of amity, they were. And I was pleased to spend time with them during the lunch hours in the retina-threatening majestic glory of the winter garden on the ninth floor. It was a fine setting to be talking shop and sampling canapes. It was a singular treat. Both for the palate and for the professional development.

UC San Diego librarian Tamara Rhodes presents on creating a living archive at DPLAfest. Photo by Ron Gould.

The next presentation I attended was on creating a living archive with an emphasis on social issues and building meaningful community partnerships. It was staged by the talented and thought-provoking duo of Cristela Garcia-Spitz and Tamara Rhodes. They implored that there is no archival neutrality and that it is critical to acknowledge prevalent systemic collection biases. They spoke of the ambitious projects that they undertook at their respective host institutions and walked us through the implementation and evaluation processes in an endeavor to better guide our own similar projects. Components such as how to install an effective apparatus to collect real-time feedback and be truly reactive to the needs of the community. They really vivified the objective of eliminating forgotten history and bringing back a sense of dignity and diversity to vulnerable and marginalized communities. 

It was around this time that I failed to show up for a pre-designated rendezvous to take a group picture with the other grant winners and travelers attending DPLAFest. I was doing such a good job being punctual for all the presentations so far that I was bound to show up late at some point. That’s just the historical imperative making an appearance. I was about ten minutes late. I came, I saw, I was crestfallen by my tardiness. Ah shucks and double-drat. But there’s always next year.

One presentation that particularly stood out to me involved social justice and digital archives in Tennessee. The discussion was lively and the questions bandied about quite useful. This presentation heaped freights and freights of new insights onto my wobbling cranium. The presenters spoke of creating sustainable and reciprocal learning communities and how to imbue stakeholders with their own sense of ownership of their local histories and heritages. And the notion of empowering under-represented and under-resourced institutions and embracing historically excluded voices into emerging and innovative curriculums. The idea of preserving oral histories is something that is particular resonant with me as I feel there are many aural heirlooms falling by the wayside and being drowned out by the obscure traffic of time.

I attended my fair share of presentations and workshops and I was dizzy by the conference’s close. But I savored and wrung much thoughtfulness and new concepts from the two day event. I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity to participate. Memorable were the people. Pulchritudinous were the surroundings. And profound was the entire experience.  

 I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the organizers of this event. And the sponsors and wondrous volunteers who went above and beyond to ensure I felt at home away from home. A thousand and one thank yous all around. 

Now back to the leftover pizza I stuffed into my carry-on bag and lugged back home. I need to ceaselessly scarf before the cheese starts to turn.