HASTAC 2013

Posted by on Jun 20, 2013 in Blog | No Comments

Better late than never, right?

HASTAC stands for Humanities, Arts, Sciences, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory. I was selected as a HASTAC scholar this past fall and got to know several library-related people through the organization over the course of the past year. When the conference was first publicized last November, I suggested that we pitch a panel at the conference. Separately, I was approached by someone interested in creating a panel  featuring different perspectives on digital publishing.

Both panel proposals were submitted and accepted.

HASTAC was the conference that made me the most nervous, for sure. There were so many unknowns. And it was in Toronto, Ontario, so that added this layer of oh goodness this is happening in another country, anything could happen. Both exciting and terrifying.

The lead up to the conference was worrisome. We heard that the panels were accepted in January, but it took much longer to figure out the schedule. And then it turned out that the schedule was only a draft schedule, not the real one.

The calamities continued. One person from our three-person library panel shared a month beforehand that he could not afford the plane ticket–so he would not be going. He asked, Could he Skype in instead? We agreed. Then after checking in a week beforehand he told us he couldn’t Skype in anymore, leaving just my friend Mel and I with a two-person panel and two topics that no longer seemed all that connected.

In the meantime, the plan for the digital publishing panel was rapidly changing. There was the suggestion that we “wing it” which I just about had a heart attack upon hearing. There was also the suggestion that we turn the panel into a performance piece; cue heart attack #2. No, I’m not joking. Sure, maybe I’m just uptight, maybe these things would provide a fresh approach or something–but I was certainly not comfortable doing so with people I had never met in my life!

Clearly, this was my first taste of thrown-together panels rather than those with people you know.

Anyhow, I arrived in Toronto on a Thursday. I had Tim Horton’s in the airport and headed to my hotel. The introduction was that evening, including a keynote talk by Cathy Davidson, whom I had heard a lot about. She didn’t disappoint. Her talk helped ease my worries about “fitting in” at HASTAC because she highlighted the idea of not needing to fit in, that interdisciplinary is messy and it doesn’t necessarily need to be tidied up. Afterward there was a social hour (open bar!) in the Mozilla Headquarters. I could easily imagine all the hip employees brainstorming digital badges and making things happen in that space. I certainly felt smarter for being there.

Next there was a special meetup for HASTAC scholars at the TIFF Lightbox. It was great to meet other Scholars, including one I recognized from DHSI last year and another who worked freelance with the Cyberinfrastructure for Network Science Center. Probably the most memorable from this experience was the drink that I ordered, though. Fiona Barnett, who leads the Scholars program, was kind enough to buy Scholars a drink at the meet up. I looked over the menu and I was about to order a bourbon drink–my favorite liquor, by far–but I asked the waiter if there were any specials that would take me out of my comfort zone. He strongly suggested that I try one special in particular. I acquiesced. A free drink is a free drink and I was happy to branch out.

But then it arrived and I immediately thought, Oh dear. A champagne glass with light pink liquid topped with a puff of cotton candy. It was the girliest drink I’ve ever seen and it definitely commanded attention. Here I am, hanging out with these smart alt ac-ers, and I get a wildly frivolous drink. Clearly it was fine–just one of those moments you grimace through–but internally I was aghast at the attention it received. Should’ve stuck with bourbon.

The next day my roommate arrived! We discussed plans for our panel and roamed around the city a bit. I grabbed dinner with the chair for the digital publishing panel. Emailed–trying to stay on top of end of semesterly things.

Then on Saturday it was panel time. We arrived at our room 15 minutes early. In a petrifying incident, I had trouble with my powerpoint. I plugged my flash drive in, downloaded the powerpoint to the desktop of the computer, removed my flash drive, then tried to open the powerpoint. It sent me the message that the file was corrupt. Uh-oh. I re-inserted my flash drive and tried to click on that version. Same message. I work well under pressure but I was mildly panicked at this point. I went to my email and grabbed the latest version I had emailed to myself. Thank goodness it opened.

Panel #1 went well. I discussed innovation in libraries with more of an emphasis on public libraries (see my slides here). It was a new subject for me but lots of fun–I especially enjoyed putting together my slides. I was trying to be minimalist, with more images and fewer words. My co-presenter Mel discussed social media use by archives. There were probably 10-15 librarians, archivists, and academics in attendance (including people from Harvard! what!).

My digital publishing panel also went well. It was on Sunday, so a lot of people had left by then, but we still had a good turnout–20-25 people attended. The timing was pretty skewed–we were supposed to take 10 minutes apiece for our lightning talks, each discussing digital publishing from the viewpoint of our discipline but in reality the two first speakers took 20 and 25 minutes, respectively. It was a nail-biter for me and I watched the clock nervously. Despite reminders from the chair, the talks kept going. I went third and stayed the course: 10 minutes about digital publishing and libraries.

This panel sparked a lot of discussion–which I think would have continued much longer if we had had time. Most of the audience members were academics curious about their options, or doctoral students frustrated to no end about the conflict between their tech-heavy DH work and traditional publishing requirements foisted upon them by advisers.

After the discussion wrapped up, the chair of our panel and I raced out to catch our cab, stopped at the hotel for our bags, then took the shuttle to the airport. With that, my whirlwind HASTAC experience came to a close. I enjoyed it and met plenty of great people, but all in all the changes and unknowns made for an extraordinarily stressful experience. I was relieved to have it behind me.

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