Unconferences

I’m adding some other comments now that I read  this over – remind me never to blog when grumpy ever again. All new comments are in bold.

Ok, so this blog post is a little whiny. Sorry about that. I was apparently a grumpasauraus on Saturday when I wrote this. I stand by what I said, which is why I’m not changing my content, just adding this disclaimer at the top. THATcamp is so not for me. It doesn’t mean it isn’t for you, and I don’t mean to sound like I’m criticizing the organizers or anyone else involved. Most of the critique was meant to be tongue in cheek, but this is the internet, so it’s hard to be sure that you all picked up on the sarcasm. I like traditional conferences, so perhaps it isn’t a shock that I didn’t enjoy THATcamp. But I also think that part of my problem was that I didn’t really feel like I fit into any of the conversations. I don’t teach in the classroom, I’m not a digital librarian, and I felt at many times that that just left me as the weird kid on the sidelines, who totally wanted to play kickball, but who would just fall over my own two feet if I tried.

This weekend I’m giving up my two days off and instead spending the weekend at an unconference – specifically Great Lakes THAT Camp. I should point out that while I haven’t enjoyed this conference, I have coworkers who really enjoyed it when they went, and it seems like many of the people here are really enjoying it as well.

Originally I was really excited about this whole thing. I like the idea of self scheduling, I like the idea of interdisciplinary topics, and I like the idea of a more informal atmosphere. Unfortunately, I haven’t actually enjoyed it so far. It’s possible that I just chose all the wrong sessions (at least for me). Or maybe an unconference just isn’t for me (which is more likely). Still, I’ll explain a little bit about what I’ve liked and what I haven’t (keeping in mind that I’m at the end of day 1 of 2).

I’ve liked hearing different ideas. There’s a lot going on. I’ve liked meeting people from different disciplines. There’s coffee available all day and the muffins are pretty darn good.

What I haven’t liked: session topics having nothing to do with what we talk about. People acting as though we understand what they’re saying (particularly when it’s super high tech). The disorganization.

I don’t know, I think that maybe I am just not hip enough to be some place like this. I don’t care about some of these things. I don’t have trendy tattoos or funky enough hair (which is shocking since I have funky hair). All things considered, I would rather be at home snuggling my cats or working on my research project.

Anyway, I don’t think I will be repeating this. And more importantly, I’m stuck on the side of the room opposite the door, which was a bad choice. We’re talking about scholarly publishing, but it’s just turning into a complain fest that is sort of useless, since we’re all in different areas. People are complaining that they can’t collaborate, or publish practice oriented articles — but I can do all of these things. Library publishing is SO different from academic publishing, and I guess I thought that this would be a very different type of discussion than it was. I guess I’m also incredibly cynical when it comes to large publishing companies. Remember – I’m the person who has to deal with the $8000 price increases when the vendor decides to be a jerk. So forgive me if I don’t have much hope when it comes to changing the publishing world.

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6 thoughts on “Unconferences

  1. I should clarify the last bit – many of the things people were talking about that they wanted to do re:publishing are available in the library world. We have whole journals for practice oriented articles and most journals have options for short articles. I felt the discussion was so broad as to be unhelpful (to me – not to others)

  2. Can you tell me more about this informal conference. I think a few of us here are trying to do something like it.

    • I wasn’t involved at all with planning – so I can’t be sure that I’m describing that right, but I can tell you what it was like as a participant.

      We first applied with our session ideas. Then when we were accepted, we posted our session idea to the conference’s blog. Once we got to the actual conference, we scheduled the sessions (meaning in many ways the sessions chosen were for the people who were most comfortable yelling out their idea – not necessarily the most interesting ideas). It also meant that there was a chance you wouldn’t talk about your topic at all – which I hadn’t fully understood until that point.

      There were fantastic benefits – meeting people from lots of places (although I think at least half were from MSU – which was kind of unfortunate since they all knew each other). I’m just not the type that can handle the disorganization/chaos. Some people thrive on that. I like my ducks in a row.

      If you’re interested, you should check out THATCAMP’s website (I think it’s thatcamp.org or something like that). They should have some information, even if you don’t want to focus on the digital humanities.

  3. Thanks for your honesty in posting this. I have not attended a #THATcamp but am intrigued by the possibilities. The kind of flaws you point out are very much reminding me of the outcomes of other workshops I have attended though: and I can imagine them being a real risk. I suppose it’s a bit like structured conferences though: I’ve been to some brilliant conferences and some absolute duds that were a waste of time.

    • Exactly – some conferences are hit and miss and this one missed for me. That being said, I think I was neither humanities enough, or digital enough for this iteration (your experience may vary – there are THATcamps all across the country). I also think I would have had more fun if I had known people there (most people seemed to travel in groups that they already knew) – I’m used to conferences where I can just introduce myself and chat, and this one didn’t feel like that kind of a place.

      And as I said before – I think this was a great conference for many of the attendees. I just wasn’t feeling it. And since I had only seen great things, I thought I’d be that terrible person to post a really badly written blog post saying “I didn’t like it…here’s why…and you know what? It’s ok. It is ok to not enjoy a conference, even if you LOVE the idea.”

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