I grew up in the state of Ohio, and while Ohio might be the geographic home of the OCLC I never thought my first professional interaction with someone within that organization would occur over a thousand miles from home on an island in the north Atlantic. An Island where if you asked most people from Ohio why it was important and they would say Vikings or that story in the reader from school about the puffins.
So I was pretty excited when I found out that Access2013 would be held in St. Johns Newfoundland- someplace I never thought I would get to travel to. I knew the Access conference was a conference of pro-active librarians and programmers, which was why I wanted to attend, but never in a million years would I think the organizers would ask me to write a blog post about the opening keynote speaker. This year the opening keynote speaker was Mr. Roy Tennant from the OCLC, (an organization whose headquarters is maybe a two hour drive from my house). The title of his talk and the following presentation was “What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been” complete with an opening slide with a VW love bus decorated in late 1960’s imagery.
Depending on your point of view the Access conference is in it’s 20th year or approaching its 20th year. This makes the conference one of the oldest academic conferences focusing on technology as well as on the idea of open access in the world and therefore must have an interesting archive of material for scholars to access. Unfortunately in our modern world “shit disappears” (as presenters would make note of in talk after talk this year) and this is the case in the very early iterations of the access conference.
In his talk Roy puts on a brown coat, grabs a bullwhip and dives headlong into the field of digital archeology. The idea of digital archeology, and of trying to find the Access conference’s digital heritage reminded me a lot of an Episode of the early 1980’s television show “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” when Buck was accused of being a double agent and causing World War Three- as result of archeologists finding a film that survived the nuclear holocaust. What if someone found something without any context and completely misinterpreted the meaning? This is one of the dangers of allowing the digital heritage to be un-curated, as the conference ages so do participants and as people age and begin to pass away memory begins to fade and the importance of people, places and things become forgotten.
Roy began with 1993’s conference and comes full circle ending with the 2012’s conference highlighting speakers, talk topics, locations and certain participants. One of the observations made is the stunning lack of information available about the early conferences (very few pictures, notes etc). Quite a few people do not think about what happens to websites used to plan events after the event occurs and a few probably think “oh, that is the job of the host institution to make a backup” and possibly a few think “the internet archive will take care of the backup and all we have to do is use the search interface”. However with the passage of time, upgrades and administrative decisions things become lost, as Roy illustrated by showing a screen grab of the backup of the 2007 Access conference that showed the wayback machine copied a 404-page and the host institution was unable to find the folder containing the content. This is the danger of the modern world-Thankfully some of the longtime conference attendees kept a spreadsheet file containing the names of speakers and topics of the talks and activities. Roy noted, “The newer conferences have benefited by the expanded services available via the modern internet (Flickr, Twitter, Facebook)”.
This keynote while focusing on where the conference has been and noting the list of technology discussed within the conference that has faded into history versus technology people thought would go away but is still actively in use (z39.50 for instance) and how the digital inheritance can both enhance and hamper future development and ideas and the effects ACESS has had on other countries and conferences as well. Mr. Tennant then goes on to make some comparisons and contrasts between the conferences of the past with the ACCESS of 2013.
-in 1993 almost nothing was digitized
-2013 nearly “everything” has been digitized- Hathi trust at 10million volumes and the entire contents of the Library of Congress has been digitized.
– In 1993 there was no google, in 2013 google “owns you”
This presentation did a great job in setting up the rest of the conference presentations and spawned excellent twitter hashtags like #shitdissapears, #patchyourshit and #backupyourshit. (Disclaimer, when the first speaker uttered the phrase “oh shit” I gasped and looked around…apparently I was the only person that flinched and marked it as “a cultural difference”). Mr. Tennant beamed with admiration recalling the past conferences he had attended (he mentioned that he has attended roughly half of the conferences). Mr. Tennant found that without the wayback machine ½ of the information about ACCESS would be gone, and information disappears quickly- the entire 2009 ACCESS is gone.
In the final comments he notes that it is the people that plan and attend ACCESS that makes it stand out above the rest and stated his appreciation of the conference committees and the excellent job they have done to keep the Access conference series alive, relevant. The final thought that I came away from the keynote is that instability leads to innovation, as innovation is the result of shaking up the establishment.