Thoughts from an OpenCon2014 Alumna

Let’s talk OpenCon.

OpenConlogoAs Martin Bentley so accurately summed up, there are already great review posts out there about the conference. See: Karin Purshouse, Ross Mounce, Hilda Bastien at Scientific American, Emilie Champagne. Because of their awesome reviews, I won’t attempt to review the conference itself, but instead put on my two hats and relate my experience as an OpenConner.

I came to OpenCon in two capacities. First, I was there as library staff, someone who works in Open and encourages graduate students and early career researchers as part of my job. (Also those were the folks who paid for me to go, so that must go first!) I was there to learn about what I could do to be more encouraging to people who wear the researcher hat and about the tools and language I could give them in their quest to be Open.

But secondly, I was there as a researcher myself. Although I have stepped away from a traditional academic job (eschewing the tenure-track race, but that’s a post for another time), I still try to do research and find ways to continue to apply my skills. I am a linguist with an anthropological bent, and I really love researching language and identity in our digital age. (You can read a bit more about my research on my research page.)

Wearing these two hats alternately was an exhilarating experience. I went to the Text and Data Mining workshop with Peter Murray-Rust and Ross Mounce and could only think of who I could give this knowledge to so that they could run with it and create something great. Yet, I also sat stone still in Audrey Watters’s talk, listening to the social justice aspect of the movement, and all I could think of was yes, this speaks to me as a scholar. I admit, I could only half-pay attention to Victoria Stodden’s keynote about Open Data and reproducibility in research because I was engaged in the Twitter backchannel, contemplating with my colleagues what does this mean for us in the social sciences, in the humanities? 

You / us. I came into this conference in a tension between you, the students and researchers that I support in my day job, and us, the community I felt when I put on my linguist hat and thought about the victories and problems that I, too, have with openness, reproducibility, data, sharing.

By our Advocacy Day on Monday, it was all us. And more than that, we had taken an agentive role by walking the walk and talking the talk ourselves. Us became we. 

I saw in the office of my representative and introduced the three people with me. I had never met them before this weekend, but it was we. My colleagues from Europe doing psychology research. My colleague from Wisconsin who manages her university’s data repository. It was all weWe are open, we want to share, we need your help. 

It was a powerful feeling, and it still is.

What will we build? We, the librarians and the scholars? We, the researchers from all over the world who convened in one city for a weekend of openness? We, the scientists and the humanists and the social scientists, the writers and the gatherers, the disseminators and the coders?

Let’s find out.