Monday, October 5, 2015

Considering Professional Diversity

Last month I was professionally involved with TWO conferences at the same time. For four days in Louisville, the state library association (KLA) and AASLH were both hosting their annual conferences on the same days within a couple of blocks of each other. My employer, the Kentucky Historical Society, was playing host to the AASLH Conference, and I was speaking twice just down the road at the KLA Conference. My professional connection to both conferences meant I was walking a line of involvement that brought me in contact with different, yet similar, energies.

The AASLH Conference consisted of several panel sessions about the management of state and local historical societies as well as the challenges associated with applying contextual historical value to the user experience. Obviously I could relate to many of their topics and challenges. When going through the exhibit hall, attending their evening functions, and following their Twitter feeds, I couldn't help but see an overlap in the genealogy and library fields.

The exhibit hall was full of library, archival, museum, and preservation organizations/vendors. In some regards I felt as though I were at a library or genealogy conference. During the main evening event on Museum Row, the SAR Library was open for free research to conference attendees! (A genealogist's dream) As Women's History was a main theme of this conference, the challenge of researching women naturally drifted toward the records available to researchers. Below is an example of the tweets coming out during the conference:
As you can see, genealogy rose to the surface as a valuable methodology when researching the lives of women in history. Of course, we genealogists could have told them that all along, but it speaks to the value of expanding our horizons at other related conferences. Just think of the networking and conversations that could have followed such a session if genealogists were in attendance.

The KLA Conference was no different. Yes, it is a conference designed for state librarians, but for those of us who serve genealogists, the opportunities were numerous: Maker Spaces, a new trend in libraries had a demo in the Speed Geek area that covered how to build or share a story, one line at a time. One speaker outlined the challenges of serving four main generational groups and the things important to them. As part of this presentation he outlined a way to get them all to talk to each other: Hosting a History Channel Live night to allow each generation to share their local memories and tape the session. He claimed this was a great way to document the memories of a community.

We also have a Genealogy and Local History Round Table as an option for KLA membership. As the chair of this group, I invited a representative from Family Search, Jane Colmenares, to demonstrate the Wiki functions and how easy it is to change the information. With the local information for each county in place, it is necessary for local organizations to make sure their information is correct for researchers seeking out state and local collections. Our speaker had worked with the Wiki for over eight years and had some wonderful insights for us to use as soon as we got home!
So what is my point with all of this? I've heard some grumbles over the years about the national genealogy conferences using the same speakers every year. I still learn from these people, and don't always agree with that complaint, but I can see their point. Since the genealogy field is growing and changing at a rapid rate, and those that attend may need exactly what is presented there, perhaps it is now up to us to take a broader approach in our education and professional development? These are only two conference examples that related in some way to genealogy and historical research. There are so many others: Some focused on story telling/family history, ethnic specific research, women's studies, writing, etc. Lately, I've been looking at the various conferences and have decided I owe it to myself to branch out a bit. When the national genealogy conferences are not in my region and I know I'll be skipping them that year, I need to look at the other conferences nearby. Even if they don't fully fit my profession, I would like to attend as a genealogist, librarian, writer, to have our voice heard when other professionals are talking about issues that we deal with every day.

As the world takes more notice of genealogy as a valuable aspect of research, we need to be the professional voice out there. Not only can we influence in a positive way, but we can network with and learn from other professionals that can enhance our own profession. These new relationships can only serve to bring genealogy out of professional seclusion and into wider respectability. Besides, I feel the lessons of expertise can flow both ways, and will enrich our approaches to research as well as provide a whole new group of potential speakers/writers to learn from. Do yourself a professional favor and be watchful for new learning opportunities in your neck of the woods....I promise you will enjoy the change and just might come away with some new friends and a new sense of research energy!


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