Note: This text is cross-posted from the Winnower in response to the ARCS/Winnower essay contest. You can also view the original version. I am grateful to Stacy Konkiel for bringing the contest to my attention and encouraging me to share my story.
For a long time I let the things I am not – namely, a researcher and an expert – stop me from having an impact. I wasn’t quite sure that my words carried any weight, especially as I struggled with how to classify myself as I transitioned from graduate school. Though I work for a library, I am not a librarian (by training, sure, though not by job title). I am not even a data specialist (not by training, though maybe through experience). I don’t consider myself to have any specific expertise, not really, but I am conversant and curious. All of this led to real uncertainty over how to direct my work and the uncomfortable feeling that I didn’t fit anywhere.
I got a lucky break, though. Open Con 2014 introduced a world teeming with ideas and energy. It didn’t matter that I was a twentysomething with pink hair and a brand new job I didn’t know what to do with. For the first time, openness felt inevitable and powerful, not just one of my weird tangentially relevant side interests. I recognized that there were passionate people from very different disciplines and corners of the world who were ready to work together. Critically, I heard directly from researchers who had embraced openness, including Erin McKiernan, Jon Tennant, and Ross Mounce.
Open Con forced me to break down artificial boundaries I’d internalized: the idea of librarians as “other”, separate from researchers, seen as helpful but somehow lesser. It wasn’t that I felt disrespected in my library role; it was just that I found myself waiting for cues that weren’t likely to come. It seems silly to say but before Open Con, my understanding of the inner workings of academic research was rudimentary at best. It felt like there were more doors closed than open when it came to interacting with researchers and really understanding their environment. I recognized that I wouldn’t get an invitation to engage, not from my library or from researchers themselves. I would just have to make openness my business and bring my library along for the ride.