The First Conference: SCA AGM as a First Time Attendee

Guest author: Mary Priest
MLIS student at the University of California at Los Angeles and 2016 James V. Mink Scholarship Winner

IMG_8131I glanced down at my packing list one final time before pulling the door closed behind me. “Chargers, tooth brush, business cards, baby Yoda plushy (my travel buddy)…YEP!” I dashed to my car in the early morning light and eagerly began my road trip to Santa Rosa, California for my very first conference: The Society of California Archivists’ Annual General Meeting (SCA AGM).

I was introduced to SCA at the USC Archives Baazar in my first year of my MLIS program and by my second year, I became the Programs Chair for their first student chapter at UCLA. Because SCA board members were so supportive of our student group, I knew that their conference would likely be just as welcoming. The AGM was also alluring because it seemed a little more intimate than some of the nation-wide conferences and it was more affordable for this thrifty grad school student. When looking for more information about the conference on their website, I found details about James V. Mink Scholarship which would help support a student’s attendance at the meeting and a pre-conference workshop, so I applied. A couple months before the meeting, I received an email stating that I was selected as the 2016 Mink scholarship recipient. I squealed gleefully, shared the news with my grandma, danced around my room, and then registered for the conference.

Hours of the drive passed with audio books, Cheez-Its, cattle, and windmills until I finally reached the entrance of the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel. I settled in, had dinner, and then headed down to a wine tasting being held in the hotel’s courtyard (I was in wine country, after all). Before we reached the Cabernet in the tasting, I had educated the pourer about what an archivist was and made him excited to explore archives in his area. Feeling accomplished for the day, I turned in early so that I could be well rested for the pre-conference workshop the following day.

Because I had been hearing so much buzz about email preservation but didn’t have any experience with it firsthand, I signed up to attend the ePADD workshop taught by Peter Chan and Josh Schneider. ePADD is a software developed at Stanford to help process and manage email archives. I not only learned about how to install and run the program, but was also exposed to issues surrounding email archives more broadly including file formats, identifying sensitive information, security, and linked data. The workshop also provided my first conference networking experience, as the majority of the workshop attendees went to lunch together during the break.

IMG_8137My roommates/classmates arrived shortly after the end of the ePADD workshop and we promptly readied ourselves for the opening reception at Paradise Ridge Winery. A tour bus winded up the narrow roads of a verdant hillside and when the doors opened, the stunning sight of the sun sinking down below the vineyards astounded me. The people who planned that event seriously knocked it out of the park. We snacked on cheeses, wood-fire pizza, and olives while meeting with new and familiar faces. Several former Mink Scholars introduced themselves to me and welcomed me to the family. My roommates and I rounded out our evening at the hotel restaurant, laughing over desserts with a group of friendly ladies from UC San Diego that we met while leaving the reception.

The following day began with a first time attendee meet and greet, where I largely met with incredibly good-natured, knowledgeable, and approachable archivists from Stanford. After the meet and greet, Dr. Michelle Jolly from Sonoma State University gave the plenary address which stressed the importance of primary source research for students. Jolly emphasized that primary source literacy should a key component of higher education, as it fosters more open-ended learning than the current multiple-choice educational assessments, which leave students believing that there is only one right answer.

IMG_8142Later that day, I felt like a proud parent sitting in the front row of a conference room, taking pictures of my classmates who were about to present a panel titled, “Creating a More Complete Narrative: Suggestions to Bring Three Populations into the Archives.” Panelists Elsie Doolan, Jamie Battaglia, and Jen Becker challenged the traditional notions of records by arguing that the narratives behind Chilean textiles, Native American songs, and student organizations all deserve to have a place in the archives. My heart exploded a bit when Battaglia described how Native American cultures considered people themselves to be a record and stated, “It’s such a beautiful thing to think of every one of us as a living, breathing archive.” Afterwards, we all explored Santa Rosa, celebrated over dinner, and even found a lovely used bookstore.

On the final day of the conference, I was incredibly excited to attend the session on archival authorities (which really solidifies the fact that I’m in the right profession). The main issue paper in master’s portfolio focuses on linked data and archival description. I learned about the SNAC Project (Social Networks and Archival Context) in my first year of the program and was immediately interested in learning more about it and integrating it into my research. I listened eagerly as Rachael Hu, Kelly Spring, Sue Luftschein, and Bill Levay discussed their work with archival authorities and linked data. During the presentations, I realized that all of the things I had worked so hard to understand I the past two years actually made sense! I rushed to the presenter’s table after the session to introduce myself and in my fanaticism about the topic and afterglow of realizing I had learned something, I likely frightened some of the presenters (sorry, guys).

IMG_8155The final event of the conference was an awards luncheon, which featured Dr. Erica Peters’ discussion the History of San Francisco Street Food. When I entered the main hall, one of the SCA board members ushered me straight to a reserved table at the front of the room. I knew I would be recognized as the Mink Scholar during the conference, but didn’t realize that so many people would be watching or that I’d have special seating…eep. I nervously pushed food around on my plate until my name was called. After assuring myself that I did indeed know how to walk, I moved onto the stage and received my award. I made sure that I obtained pictures of me with the award for my grandma, I thanked everyone I could find, and then I headed home.

Although it was a very full few days, I found my first conference experience to be exceedingly valuable and rewarding. I met with passionate professionals from across the state that were genuinely interested in the things I’m working on. Everyone I met made me feel like I was being welcomed into the SCA family and I have to say, I couldn’t be happier to have been adopted by such an awesome bunch. First conference: success.

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