By Lesley Parilla, Cataloger, Smithsonian Field Book Project
I’ve attended library and archive conferences, but found 2015 MCN conference in Minneapolis to be one the most relevant to my work I found in years. Why? Because the project on which I work blends library and archive techniques. It can be challenging to explain this blend of approaches and use of technology to those who work in the heart of archives processing or library description. It’s easy to get lost in the details and lose sight of the purpose. So we often share stories from the content we describe and digitize to clarify.
This is where MCN comes in…
From the keynote address by Liz Ogbu of Principle, Studio O, the conference focused on how to approach challenges as a whole, and use one’s resources for the goal, whether that involves technology, social media, or creative thinking (without the “shiny” stuff). She spoke about a project in the San Francisco neighborhood, Hunter’s Point. A neighborhood activists successfully worked to shut down a local power plant, and the company was investigating ways to physically rehabilitate the site. Ogbu was on the team brought in to suggest ways to work with the community. One major challenge was a lack of trust between the neighborhood and the company. The team’s holistic approach identified concerns about the neighborhood memory being lost, and brought in Storycorp to collect local’s stories.
This moment from me was emblematic of the conference sessions. Conference attendees and speakers seem unusually cognizant of technology as a tool. Attendees and sessions both exhibit a flexibility in thinking and approach that is imperative, so that one does not lose sight of the goal in face of the “shiney” stuff. Sessions focused on knowing a project or institution’s goals and using technology to forward those, not using technology for its own sake. Know the audience, the tools, and the goal.
The conference sessions also focus on how technology can help museums utilize the power of stories in social engagement and in person so that audiences not only feel represented in the exhibits, but also interact with the content. This included a wide range from the in MIA stories at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, content creation with the National Music Centre in Alberta, Canada; or the National Gallery’s #ArtAtoZ initiative.
I thank MCN attendees, speakers, and organizers for their passion (seen from the first night at the Ignite MCN showcases); their welcoming nature to a first time attendee; and innovative thinking. Each of these qualities has helped me rethink my approach and reset my enthusiasm as I return to my project.