Sowing Seeds: A New Librarian at DPLAfest

By DPLA, May 3, 2017.
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This guest post was submitted by DPLAfest Travel Awardee Amanda H. Davis.

DPLAfest Awardee and guest blogger Amanda H. Davis

This April I was honored to receive one of five travel grants to attend DPLAfest at the Harold Washington Library Center, the central library in the Chicago Public Library System. That’s right—in a library named after the first black mayor of Chicago, hundreds of dedicated, inspired people gathered for two days to discuss the work they are doing to allow greater public access to this country’s cultural and historical resources. As a public librarian interested in diversity, social justice, and technology, this location and subject matter couldn’t have been more relevant.

I’d anticipated a jam-packed conference, so I arrived in Chicago a day early to do some sightseeing. After checking in to my hotel, I braved the rain and hopped on the Pink Line to Pilsen to visit the National Museum of Mexican Art. It was a nice pick-me-up after a long, cloudy morning of travel–all of the art conveyed a sense of energy, through the vibrant colors, as well as through the passionate sociopolitical and historical messages. In hindsight, visiting a museum was a great way to prepare myself for DPLAfest. Engaging with artwork reminded me of how important it is to provide access to our world’s vast cultural knowledge.

The following morning I arrived at Harold Washington for Day 1 of the conference, and I couldn’t have been greeted more warmly than I was by the DPLA staff. I registered, attended a brief plenary and panel discussion, and then I was off to my first session, Partners in History: Chicago State University Archive and International Society of Sons & Daughters of Slave Ancestry Digital Collaboration. This is definitely a project I plan to follow in the coming years, as they’re doing amazing work to digitize images of enslaved people and their ancestors. I also attended sessions on living archives, interoperable tools for digital image delivery, and primary source sets for K-12 educators. The day ended with a reception where I and the other travel grant awardees met with Dan Cohen, DPLA’s founding Executive Director. I did some networking, took myself on a tour of the library, checked out the famous Harold’s Chicken for dinner (YUM!), then turned in for the night.

DPLAfest Travel Awardees Nicole Umayam, Valerie Hawkins, and Amanda H. Davis with Executive Director Dan Cohen and Board Chair Amy Ryan.

Day 2 was all about social justice and K-12 education. I attended a session about Tennessee librarians teaching archival skills to teens and exposing them to careers they may not have considered, and I attended a HathiTrust lesson plan jam where I learned some tips for teaching technical skills (Tip #1: Always state the obvious). After lunch, my afternoon (and my mind) exploded when I attended what ended up being my favorite presentation, Cultural Heritage and Social Change: Libraries Measuring Social Impact. Several presenters spoke about projects they were working on to support social movements in their communities, from developing Black Lives Matter conversation guides to creating an impact assessment model in Colombian libraries to respectfully recording Native American experiences.

All in all, DPLAfest was a conference focused on collaboration—libraries and archives collaborating with each other, with their communities, and with countries all over the world. It was heartening to see so much good work being done, and I left with a renewed sense of purpose, which I desperately needed.

When I graduated from library school about a year and a half ago, I knew I wanted to use my research and writing skills to meet a need in my community. But knowing and doing are two different things, and I’ve struggled to find my natural fit within the profession. The sessions I attended at DPLAfest gave me some new ideas to consider, and I’m grateful for the seeds that were planted in my mind. It’s funny; as I was touring Harold Washington, I noticed the library was giving away actual seeds to market their One Book, One Chicago selection, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I picked up a packet and planted them when I got home, and they’re already growing. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.