The Teaching with Primary Sources Unconference was held virtually via Zoom on July 22 and August 13, 2020. For this blog post four of the main organizers of this year’s Unconference, Matt Herbison, Carrie Schwier, Cinda Nofziger, and Rachel Makarowski, sat down to tell us all more about the TPS group and how SNAP members can get involved.
What Is An Unconference?
An ‘unconference’ is a meeting format in which participants come together and facilitate group selected conversations and activities. In many ways this format is perfect for the TPS Collective. This group of professionals works together to create a welcoming, educational, and creative environment for everyone.
Teaching with primary sources as a job duty has been a growing part in the archives profession for the past 10-15 years. In many archives, archivists and special collections librarians need to be able to teach classes, small instruction sessions, or one-on-one. The TPS Collective had its beginning with the SAA Reference, Access, and Outreach (RAO) Section and the first TPS Unconference was in 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. Since then, there has been an unconference in conjunction with the SAA annual meeting.
This year the group aimed to have two unconferences: one at SAA Annual Meeting in Chicago and one at the ACRL Rare Book and Manuscript Section conference in Bloomington, Indiana. But, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed everything online and offered an opportunity to merge the two events.
In the typical TPS Unconference, the event essentials are: space, people, and room for conversations and activities. Online, things are a bit more complicated. But there were some unexpected benefits of an online unconference. This past year was the largest unconference ever with approximately 400-500 attendees. The need for additional online community has also created a number of opportunities for professionals and students of all levels to get involved, learn from each other, and grow their communities.
A Community (Not a Hierarchy)
Unlike most professional association positions, for which you need to run for a position or volunteer and be selected, the TPS Collective is completely volunteer-run. If you’re interested, you’re in.
There are certainly members who have been involved longer and may appear to be ‘senior,’ but the group is intentionally flat and avoids hierarchical power structures or thinking. This is one unique aspect of the group that makes it so exciting and welcoming. They are also happy for ‘lurkers’ to sit in on meetings, ask questions, participate if or when interested, etc. And the group is excited to learn from and with new members.
I began my own experience with the TPS Community as a lurker sitting on the planning calls for the TPS Unconference before the pandemic began. I was slow to speak at first, and ‘lurking’ offered a way to learn about the group. I had been interested in building more teaching with primary resources skills and the group made it easy to feel welcomed.
The community essentially has a built-in mentoring structure in which people are helping each other grow, but without the ‘matching’ of a formal mentor program. For anyone feeling hesitant or intimidated by jumping into a brand-new group, the flat structure and lack of bureaucracy in the TPS Community is one aspect that can help you feel welcomed and valued from the start.
“My Presence is My Qualification” – Quote from the TPS Unconference 2020
Many in this field have felt some impostor syndrome related to teaching at some point. Instruction is not always part of a graduate school curriculum and as a result, we learn as we go. The TPS Collective is an amazing way to build TPS skills, learn new tools and methods, and build connections while you learn from others and they learn from you. Because the structure is less hierarchical than other professional groups, there is space and support for everyone who participates (no matter their level of confidence or skill). The goal of the group is to learn together and gain confidence.
There have been some unexpected opportunities for the TPS Community that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic and push for telework and online teaching. In addition to the yearly TPS Unconference, the group has begun TPS Community Calls in which participants learn about, discuss, and try out new teaching methods and tools in a sandbox environment. These have been valuable opportunities for individuals to share projects, learn about and practice new skills and tools, improve their presentation skills, and collaborate regarding teaching methods and ideas.
While we have to wait for the next TPS Unconference, there are always openings for ways to get involved in the Community Calls and there are different roles for people in each call. This may be a chance for newer members to get involved slowly and grow in their confidence in a safe supportive and welcoming space. When you decide to try something, there are people supporting you ready to back you up.
Students and New Professionals
One of the many benefits of this community is that it is a welcoming environment for new members of any skill or confidence level. SNAP members might be interested in this community because:
- The Community Calls are a great way to get involved and build your skills
- You can find mentors and colleagues ready to help with questions and ideas
- Individuals in the community are often excited to help you prepare for job interviews or practice teaching
- The Community Calls and Unconference can help you learn transferable skills from everything related to online teaching tools to efficient meeting facilitation skills
- If you have an idea, this is a place to share it and try it out
Ready to Get Involved?
- Listen to Building Community in TPS: A Conversation – Opening Session Day 1 of the 2020 TPS Unconference to gain an even better understanding of this group
- Learn more about the TPS Community with the TPS Collective.org where you can find resources and events information
- Sign up for the TPS Collective listserv to get involved, and share information and resources
- Planning for the 2021 TPS Unconference is just beginning, if you’re interested in getting involved or learning more about the TPS community feel free to reach out to Matt Herbison, Carrie Schwier, Cinda Nofziger, or Rachel Makarowski
This blog post was written by Laura Bell, Processing Archivist at University of Baltimore Special Collections & Archives and Senior Blog Editor for SNAP.