Trying New Things: Meditations on NDSR from the Symposium in DC

Way back in August, when I was already feeling overwhelmed by this residency, I decided that yes, I was going to join the planning committee for the NDSR Symposium. I don’t know why I thought taking on more obligations was a good idea, when I was already feeling like I might collapse under the weight of the residency. But I always have a high opinion of what Future Kate is capable of.

In terms of planning a Symposium, this one was a good one to start with. Everyone on the planning committee, staff, and advisory council was dedicated to making this a space where stakeholders across residencies could talk about the benefits of the program, the successes, and of course, the missteps. We all really believe in these residencies, and the conversations we had over the two days of the Symposium were excellent.

In terms of planning, I advocated for a group slack for the planning committee. I tracked the very generous travel grant applications. We set up gmail accounts for the applications (both travel and submissions for panels and presentations), as well as google sheets to track how much money we had in the pool. I also came up with some templated emails for the planning committee to use. If you got one, hey! I hope it was exactly like every other confirmation email you’ve ever gotten. Like I said, I have never done anything like this before, so everything was new to me. I also helped with registration and greeting, so that I could meet as many people as possible. Hi!

There were two upsets that we didn’t anticipate. After initially agreeing to making opening remarks, Dr. Carla Hayden was unable to make it. There was a replacement speaker quickly arranged, but I know I was really disappointed. She is the Librarian of Congress, however, so I understand there are demands on her time.

There was also a small issue with the chair delivery being sent to the wrong building. The staff at Library of Congress soon got it sorted out, and skipping a break allowed us to get back on schedule. Of all the things that could go wrong, I’m glad it was something that wasn’t a disaster. Many of the early speakers said they enjoyed the extra mingling and networking.

Despite these minor hitches, the conversations during the Symposium were brilliant across the board. I enjoyed hearing about the diversity of projects. The challenges some speakers raised, about sustainability, communication, and effective mentorship, are challenges that my cohort has faced. And even defining what exactly qualifies a project as an NDSR program challenged my thinking.

Of course, the AAPB crew represented our work over the past few months, which is always interesting. A goal of mine has been to become an improved public speaker. The jury’s probably still out on that one, but it’s become less terrifying. The smaller group probably had something to do with that. We’ll see if I feel the same way when Society of American Archivist’s National Conference rolls around in July.

There was another opportunity this trip to Washington offered me, something I had never done before. I met with my congressperson, Jason Lewis. I had met two of my hometown’s mayors, but this was the first time I made an appointment with an elected leader, certainly I had never met anyone from the National level. But with all the uncertainty of continued IMLS funding, I felt it would be worth a short but passionate conversation. During the last congressional recess, he had visited one of the local libraries here, so I thought it would be good timing.

It turned out to be not so great timing, as he wasn’t able to meet with me while I was there. I’m trying not to think it was intentional, and the Legislative Assistant who met with me took a polite interest.

Honestly, my anxiety didn’t even kick in, I wasn’t nervous at all. It helped that I was coming in with the full weight of my master’s degree, my ten years in library service, my position on my local library’s board, and of course, my experience as a direct recipient of an IMLS grant focusing on our digital heritage. I talked to the Assistant for 20 minutes about the benefits of libraries and how IMLS supports them. I gave him articles and a printout of the American Library Association’s Code of Ethics. I got his card and he’s already heard from me. I hope he’s being honest when he says he’s passing my concerns on to the Congressperson.

I feel this trip to DC really benefited my understanding of the NDSR program as a whole. I tried a lot of new things, I got a lot out of the conversations I had. I hope that I gave as much as I took with me.

As a resident who is wrapping up her project in the next two months, I only hope that I can continue to be connected to this wonderful community, and to advocate for our shared digital heritage.

This post was written by Kate McManus, resident at Minnesota Public Radio.

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