How to Hack SAA

Inspired by my friend Declan Fleming's "How to Hack Code4lib," I have been motivated to put together a guide to surviving and enjoying the Annual Meeting. It can be a seemingly scary (and potentially lonely) experience if it's your first conference, and we archivists are not always known for our extrovertedness. So, without further ado, here is my brief list of suggestions - again, some of which have been shamelessly stolen adapted from Declan's guide.

Hop on Twitter (#saa11) and read for a while

Unlike code4lib SAA doesn't have an IRC channel, but we do have a pretty active backchannel on Twitter. I'm not necessarily trying to convince everyone to join Twitter, but you can search for the conference hashtag (#saa11) and see the current conversation, which ranges from discussion of session-related points to making social plans. Be warned that the level of discourse on the channel can be very similar to how a group of friends would be talking around a table full of drinks. The topics range from inside jokes about bacon and sad hairstyles to esoteric explorations of provenance.

Listen 90% of the time / Talk 10% of the time

SAA is jammed with characters who are passionate about some aspect of our profession. Ask a question or two then sit back and bask in the output. Don't worry, you'll have the chance to talk about what you are working on when your companion stops to drink beer.

If you don't have a lot to share, at least try to be funny

My dirty little non-secret is that I love SAA but I'm not really a typical archivist. I'm a technical-type, but I love hearing what's new in the field. I often don't have much to offer in terms of processing plans or outreach strategies, but most people can appreciate a sense of humor.

Don't be sexist/racist/*ist

It's great to be funny, but be careful about steering into areas that make segments of the world uncomfortable, or even feel attacked. We have a wonderful opportunity to attract and promote equality in our field and there's no reason to make an underrepresented group feel unwanted just to get a couple laughs.

One group that gets beat up on a lot is vendors. There's a healthy debate that comes and goes about whether it's good to have a place to vent, or if making vendors the butt of jokes limits their interaction in the community. One of the great strengths of the community is that the norms are constantly in flux and openly discussed and debated.

Be willing to laugh at yourself

I've found that making fun of myself is a safe outlet for being bitingly clever. And once you've shown people that you don't mind being a target, they'll let their hair down and pick on you too. Besides, why not beat everyone to the punch.

Don't be intimidated by what looks like the "in crowd"

There is no in crowd - but there are many social circles. There are people who jump in and participate - both to the conversation and the ongoing work involved in promoting and supporting SAA. You'll see them as the center of things until you actually get involved - a little at first to learn the social norms of the group, then more and more until you realize that new people are seeing you as part of the in crowd. Now your job is to make the new people feel included.

Share your passion about any one thing

Being an archivist for any amount of time infects you with the depth and longevity of the problems that need to be addressed. Supporting a profession that has such a long tradition, and helping to bring it into the present and future is more satisfying than I ever thought possible. I have a passion for technology and making things talk to other things in easy ways. I've shared this a few times in bar conversations and formal talks. Nothing got people talking to me more than this.

Be ready to learn new stuff

Listen to others' passions and see if any of it strikes a chord in you. There are times when I'm listening to a talk, or on Twitter, and I'll just make lists of things I've never heard of. Later, I'll start Googling around and end up a little smarter.

Expect 80% of the value of the conference to come from things other than the presentations

I used to feel mightily guilty about spending my money - or my employers' money - to sit in a presentation and feel like I got nothing from it. Adding the backchannel to my stream of awareness either helps me ping the crowd for more depth on the presentation, or helps me see that others are struggling as much as I am. Admittedly, the backchannel can be quite distracting, but if you let go and get all Zen and let it flow over and through you, you'll be surprised how much you come away with!

Don't feel guilty about skipping sessions to do other things

Everyone needs downtime to recharge, have a meal or drink with non-archivist friends, or even to check work email. You can give the conference the best when you're not totally overloaded mentally. You can also use session, section or roundtable time to socialize and have valuable conversations with your fellow professionals.

Relax, have fun, and go outside your comfort zone

Sure, you think you want to be a manuscript cataloger or a photo archivist, but you'll have a lot of fun with the electronic records folks, the government types, and even the academics. See you in Chicago!