Allana Mayer is an MLIS student at McGill University in Montreal. She recently gave a presentation at the ARLIS/NA-MW Virtual Conference titled From Commons to Open Content: New Perspectives on Visual Resources in the Public Trust. You can see our post about the conference here.
An art and media focus is hard to incorporate into your MLIS classwork, especially if you want to do more than re-hash ideas that are in the literature but outside of the lecture materials. I’ve found ways to incorporate my interests in photography, multimedia, and digital art as best I can — but I’m finding that the things I’m most passionate about are the hardest to reconcile with my curriculum.
I wrote a first-year paper about archival materials posted online via the Flickr Commons, which was a great initiative that fell short in a few specific ways. I was rewarded for this effort with a scholarship to the SLA conference in June, and I think that this positive feedback made me a bit more passionate for projects that make digitized visual resources freely available online. So, of course I paid attention when I started hearing about open content initiatives over the summer, via listservs like ARLIS. This was also how I heard about the ARLIS/NA Mountain West virtual conference, when they sent out a call for proposals.
I find the hardest thing to adapt to is the pace of academia: submitting a proposal two to six months in advance of an actual presentation means lots of time to get bored with an idea, fail, watch an emerging field die, go off on a tangent, get distracted by other things …. It’s nothing like the wham-bam of a three-month semester. This conference presentation happened almost by serendipity — I had just started reading about open-content releases online when the CFP went out, and I was sure there was some potential in the idea, so I kind of went out on a limb.
Instead of some polite rejections to learn from, I got a very welcome acceptance. I don’t regret taking the chance to move outside of scholarly publications and tackle an emerging field. The majority of my sources are new initiatives (e.g. the Open Knowledge Foundation), videos, blogs, and press releases by institutions themselves, far from academia.
There were few people interested in open content around me, and I didn’t have a visual-arts-librarian perspective to work from. If I could give my presentation again, I’d definitely think more about my ARLIS audience: I did well to present on a topic that wasn’t yet being covered in academic research, but I was speaking as though I was trying to convince institutions to participate, when I should have been talking about how to find, use, and provide these resources to students and patrons.
Luckily, a week after my presentation, I volunteered at a museum-technology conference here in Montreal, and attended multiple sessions dedicated to opening up cultural content. I used that opportunity to discuss making a multi-institutional repository where users can easily access open content. I also had a chance to advocate for the Getty and other open-content instigators to publish their processes and case studies, so that other institutions can follow suit and expedite their projects. This sort of confirmation and involvement can really beget itself early on in a career: after being validated like this, I feel a lot more confident about my future work interests.