NTTW3 and making conferences more accessible

No Time To Wait 3: We just got finished with a truly inspiring conference, as always, and as always I’m filled with ideas about both how to do audiovisual digital preservation better. But also I’m filled with ideas on how to do conferences better.

Like mentioned at the end, this conference could not be done without everyone who volunteers their time: organizers, hosts, sponsors (along with $$$, time too), our program designer, our many volunteers doing stage coordination, livestreaming, online participant monitoring for support and questions, and all of our speakers. Also a huge thanks to the BFI team going above-and-beyond with seamless audio transitions, technical support, operations support, and catering management, along with of course offer the free space and free meals (and the many emails involved within). This conference is free and provides a free dinner, and that also absolutely could not be done without our sponsors. Thanks to Dave and Jérôme for so much, but also providing the equipment for the livestreaming hardware configuration (camera, tripod, two Blackmagics, a laptop, and many cables). Dave Rice gave a quick budget talk at the beginning of the second day of the conferece, and I think it’s well worth watching to anyone who attends or volunteers other conferences or are thinking of running their own, particularly ones that charge lots and lots of dollars for people to attend. In addition to a free event with catering, we were also able to offer four 250 (Euro) scholarships thanks to our sponsors, despite a very low budget.

We had around 130 people attend, and seemed to continually have an average of 30 people or so tuned into the livestream, and many others watching at a time-delay, or will be watching in the future when we put up edited talks. The livestream audience was engaged, and not just during technical difficulties, and were able to ask questions which could be relayed to the speakers. Special thanks to Lorena Ramírez-López for hopping on Periscope to stream a talk when our streaming computer’s battery died (it legit could not keep up with its own power usage and kept shutting down and I learned that Macbooks are eager to let themselves be overclocked in this way by continual double-hdmi input streaming and writing video files to usb-attached storage).

A special shout-out is in order for Erwin Verbruggen (@erwinverb), Joshua Ng (@joshuatj), and Micky Lindlar (@MickyLindlar) for their seriously amazing live note-taking skills, providing valuable documentation and conference access to everyone in addition to the livestream and recorded video – as well as for people that prefer a quick skim, are hearing-impaired, or need a link to something referenced in a talk). It’s worth emphasizing that Joshua and Micky were both attending remotely, but were as engaged as (and probably more than some) in-person conference-goers (although I do think we have a very engaged audience, as conferences go – which is a bit amazing since its free as well!) The notes are right here, by the way!

If I have one regret about the conference this year, it’d be that we didn’t verbally articulate the code of conduct more thoroughly at the beginning of the conference and emphasize that we do take it seriously and have acted upon it in the past, and to know exactly who the organizers were and who to contact about it. As far as I know, there were not any issues regarding this, but I hope that was due to an actual lack of issues rather than a lack of ability to feel comfortable bringing them up or not know exactly who to reach out to.

My other regret is not staying hydrated, rested, and properly fed enough. We do our best to provide all of our conference-goers with equal access to food despite dietary restrictions, but on top of having one (hunting down and waiting for a gluten-free sandwich), I was running around too much to fill up properly on balanced meals (and for me, personally, eating an apple takes FOREVER and I can’t be bothered when I have to dash back to livestream monitoring).

We had a comment at the end of the conference encouraging women to speak and give feedback, since their voices are often underrepresented. I spoke for a tiny bit about how compared to a lot of technical conferences, our gender representation is overall better. I didn’t think to mention the behind-the-scenes work that went into creating a schedule with diverse representation (beyond gender, and especially including diverse levels of technical expertise), and reaching out to people specifically to ask them to consider engaging and giving presentations, or sitting in on panels. Some of the people that initially said they weren’t sure because they didn’t think they had anything to contribute ended up being some of the favorite talks and insights given during the conference. We have a long way to go here (especially in terms of inclusion beyond just “more (mostly white) women”), but we are working at it. We don’t collect gender identify information but I’d roughly estimate the speakers to be 40% non-male-identifying, and the attendees to be slightly less than that, which is in line with my expectations for technical-oriented conferences that make efforts to bridge these gaps (both within and outside the GLAM field). Location is an issue as well, as places like the United States and England are making it harder for people from other countries to visit, which this year directly affected our scheduled presentations, our ability to give scholarships, and determines who is allowed to attend in ways we never hear about.

We also had a comment at the end of the conference about wanting to keep the conversation going, and something I think about often is wishing I had the capacity to think more about how to better engage ourselves as a community and also do that in a way that is more accessible to everyone in the field. Despite our conference being free, it still takes a lot of time and money to travel and attend. I’m happy that a large part of NTTW seem to be practitioners too, but often for other conferences, it is the managers and higher-paid folks who get sent out, leaving the paraprofessionals and technicians to not get the opportunity to level up their skills or make the connections that help get them better jobs and establishment in the field.

As discussed a bit (but not enough) in the Developer-archivists roundtable and beyond on Twitter is that a lot of the tools created and depended-upon by us as preservationists were developed as hobby projects outside of the scope of work. I myself am one of the most guilty at this: ffmprovisr was mentioned several times during the conference, and I got thanks by several people individually for my training documents, but those, my other amiaopensource work, and whatever else I get up to, have all been done outside of the scope of my “day job,” which usually has had little to do with any of these things, up until my most recent and current full-time job, in which I finally get to work on open source preservation full time. So all the things I am “known for” doing up until this point have all been things I’ve done outside of a steady day job (including, although compensated for it, MediaConch and QCTools) and that is due to a large amount of privilege of having no dependents (my two sweet cats don’t count) and salary/class. For example by having jobs that pay more than paraprofessional roles, and all the quiet, hard-to-quantify benefits that come from a lifetime of more-leisure-time due to class, nationality and health. I think about this often when I travel internationally and am exhausted from a conference, how this is what daily life is for most people. I also think about the CO2 emissions and how travel doesn’t just totally exhaust me, but is totally exhausting our planet. This is justification enough to think about alternatives to conferences and definitely worthy of its own blog post.

So back to my other point, I wish I had the capacity to think through better ways to engage with each other online, and figure out a way to successfully do an online-only event. I’ve wanted to attempt this for such a long time, a sort of mini-NTTW held as a series of webstreamed talks, where people can engage from anywhere with a solid internet connection and speak alongside in a chatroom. It’s the kind of gap I think we aren’t quite ready to close in yet, technologically, but I see that increasingly improving every year. It will never fill the gap of in-person interactions and the benefits I get from traveling and meeting people casually at the conference, but in terms of bridging the educational gap in our field, I think it could help a lot. As I spoke about briefly at the second NTTW, I grew up in a very remote part of the United States during the early wild west days of the World Wide Web, and I feel I have always carried that with me this sort of techofuturist optimism that the internet can be used to connect and educate like never before, even as we unfortunately see it used to oppress and worsen these gaps in this modern era of the internet.

I’m also writing a lot of this the day after the conference because while I’m a pretty active conference-goer and not at all shy to talk to people, I am deep down truly an introvert and my social energy gets very depleted (and manifests in the negative both physically and mentally), and the only way to get my energy back up is to be alone for a while. (Ironically #MozFest is currently happening in real life in this same city, and if I was the type of person to be filled with energy, I’d be trying to hit up that very-aligned-with conference, bringing my technofuturist ‘tude with me.) For me, this is hardly a hinderance and honestly keeps me from drinking more than I should, but I think an online-conference approach would be of great benefit to people with different cognitive and physical abilities, and allow them to have the same level of experience as other conference-goers, rather than feeling like they are missing out due to inability to handle very loud environments or become fatigued more often (or just more) than other people or have difficulity moving through spaces with steps. The conferences I choose to promote and recommend are every year doing a better job at making more welcoming, more affordable, accessible for people who have small children, and safer, but I think there’s a long way to go for making conferences more accessible in terms of class, geographic location, and especially ability. In terms of online spaces, there are regularly-scheduled webinar series hosted by organizations like NDSA and SPN, which are great for an educational standpoint just like recorded conferences are, but how can we create more of an “event” in online spaces? Why not try to move the conference style format online? Has anyone attempted to have a day-long online-only event with planned presentations given by a range of speakers and with a shared platform for audience communication and participation? I’d love to hear about this, ideas around this, plans to work on this, or if anyone wants to get wild and give it a try.