v30#6 Don’s Conference Notes-Transforming the Information Community: The 33rd Annual NASIG Conference

by | Feb 18, 2019 | 0 comments

Column Editor:  Donald T. Hawkins  (Freelance Conference Blogger and Editor)  

Guest Columnist:  Steve Oberg  (Group Leader for Resource Description and Digital Initiatives, Wheaton College, and NASIG Past President)  

Steve Oberg

Echoing its official tagline, “Transforming the Information Community” was the theme of the 33rd Annual NASIG Conference, held 7-11 June 2018 at the Grand Hyatt Buckhead in Atlanta, Georgia.  That is a rather grand theme to tackle, but the conference delivered on it with a well thought-out program that drew hundreds of attendees from North America and many other areas of the world including Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, and the Middle East.

Program elements included Vision Sessions (one held each morning of the event), concurrent sessions, a well-attended Vendor Expo, a Great Ideas Showcase, Snapshot Sessions, and Vendor Lightning Talks.  This year was the second time the program included Student Snapshot Sessions, which were added to the program to provide an opportunity for student attendees to get their feet wet by presenting at a professional conference in a welcoming atmosphere.  This year’s sessions were perhaps even better than the inaugural version last year.

There also were several well-attended preconferences on topics such as linked data for serials, introductory serials cataloging with RDA, MarcEdit, and managing EZproxy.  During the conference opening event, we took time to recognize winners of an amazing number of awards that are given out by the organization annually. The award winners represented highly diverse backgrounds which was particularly encouraging.  Another traditional element of the opening event is a speech from an invited guest speaker. The idea behind this tradition is to provide attendees with a sense of place and local history of the conference city. The speech given by this year’s guest speaker on the history of Atlanta contained unforeseen problematic elements, for which an official apology to attendees was issued the next morning before the first Vision Session.  (NASIG is working on ways to improve this section of the program for future events.)

Sören Auer (Director, Technische Informationsbibliothek (TIB) in Germany) kicked off the main portion of the conference program with a fascinating Vision Session talk entitled “Towards an Open Research Knowledge Graph.”1  Auer stated that although he is not a librarian by training, he is a librarian by state of mind, and he went on to review some of his findings on traditional serials publishing.  Many serials are no longer published (he referenced, for example, the Sears catalog), and he pointed out how much the methods and approaches for finding information being used today have changed.  There is so much information to wade through that researchers are looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. In addition, reproducibility of research is frequently doubtful, casting doubt on the validity of research results, and because there is so much more being published, it is hard for researchers to even stay on top of who is doing what and where.  Here, Auer said, is where the need for a knowledge graph comes into play, so that researchers are able to impose some structure and order for sources of information they need.  Scholarly communication is ripe for improvement, and developing an open knowledge graph is a viable solution, built on linked data. Auer argued that such a structure would increase transparency, reduce ambiguity, increase interdisciplinarity, and consolidate terminology, among other benefits.  He highlighted a website he has developed, orkg.org, that is built to demonstrate the feasibility of this concept.  Several audience members asked questions in the following Q&A period, including whether this open knowledge graph concept could work for social sciences and humanities, and how this might practically be achieved with a mix of automated and manual effort.

The second Vision Session was given by Dr. Lauren Smith (Information Specialist, Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services in Glasgow, Scotland) on the topic of “Communities of Praxis: Transforming Access to Information for Equity.” 2 This inspiring speech talked about the importance of power, agency, and activism.  For example, Smith noted that “Democratizing access to information is a precondition for exercising rights.”  She went on to highlight her experiences working within social services in Scotland where she identified barriers to information for users of those services including a difficult-to-use online catalog and even something we might think as relatively simple:  downloading an article PDF on a site that is overloaded with traffic or when Internet bandwidth might not be optimal. She focused her efforts on advocacy (open access, make it more understandable and accessible!), learning from and engaging with others across the information community spectrum, and negotiation.  She called out our own professional weaknesses in terms of making our own data open, and strongly encouraged attendees to wield collective power to protect important values such as patron privacy and security. Those in attendance felt energized and empowered to create needed change. An audience member representing a major publisher commented afterward on how much Smith’s call for community dialogue resonated, and Smith responded by asking for input and advice on how to do that better, especially with the publishing community.  Another vendor representative noted how much collective advocacy impacts their work, especially with regard to building in and paying attention to accessibility within their products.

The third and final Vision Session was by Lisa Macklin (Director, Research, Engagement, and Scholarly Communications, Emory University).  She spoke with passion and clarity on “Open Access: How Accessible Is It?”3  Macklin, well known for her work in promoting open access (OA) and for her copyright expertise as a lawyer and a librarian, opened her talk by stating that open access and scholarly communication are for all of us, not just those with those words such as “scholarly communications” in their job title.  She went on to describe several important OA projects such as TOME,4 an initiative of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and outlined her vision of an ecosystem in which publishers, authors, and institutions work together in mutually beneficial ways.  Macklin also provided some guidelines for evaluating OA projects.  She reminded us not to lose sight of our broad objectives to preserve and make our collections available for everyone without barriers if at all possible.  She felt that we sometimes are limited, also, in how we think of what exists within OA. For example, we should include digital humanities, broader digitization efforts such as those available through the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA),5 and also we should remember and learn from collection development policies that explicitly support OA such as one recently published by the University of North Texas which has received a lot of attention.6  We also need to think more broadly still, Macklin believes, by paying attention to accessibility and findability of our collections, and also by expanding access within our profession to more people with more diverse perspectives.  Macklin was particularly articulate about the need to open doors for others within our profession, and encouraged those who are early in their careers to seek out mentors as well as opportunities to grow and learn.  There were several good exchanges afterward about advice for mentoring, language as a potential accessibility barrier, and reference to the important Scholarly Commons work coming out of the FORCE11 group.7

This article does not have the room to fully cover all of the many other worthwhile and interesting program elements.  A new development this year, spearheaded by Maria Aghazarian of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was collaborative note-taking.  Check out a shared Google Doc containing notes from conference attendees on many other sessions to get a feel for what was covered.8  There was so much good material!  In addition, all of the vision sessions are freely available on NASIG’s YouTube channel, so feel free to check them out.9  Several other sessions were also recorded and will become freely available early next year, so I hope you will check them out as well.

Next year’s conference will be held at the historic and beautiful Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh on June 5-8.  The conference theme will be “Building Bridges: Connecting the Information Community” and vision session speakers will be announced shortly.  This is a wonderful event that is well worth attending. You are warmly welcomed to join the NASIG community!  

Steve Oberg is Assistant Professor of Library Science and Group Leader for Resource Description and Digital Initiatives at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL and current Past President of NASIG.

Donald T. Hawkins is an information industry freelance writer based in Pennsylvania.  In addition to blogging and writing about conferences for Against the Grain, he blogs the Computers in Libraries and Internet Librarian conferences for Information Today, Inc. (ITI) and maintains the Conference Calendar on the ITI Website (http://www.infotoday.com/calendar.asp).  He is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, (Information Today, 2013) and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits (Information Today, 2016).  He holds a Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley and has worked in the online information industry for over 45 years.


  1.  Abstract available online at https://nasig2018.sched.com/event/DEpH/vision-i-soren-auer-towards-an-open-research-knowledge-graph.
  2.  Abstract available online at https://nasig2018.sched.com/event/DEpK/vision-ii-lauren-smith-communities-of-praxis-transforming-access-to-information-for-equity.
  3.  Abstract available online at https://nasig2018.sched.com/event/DEpN/vision-iii-lisa-macklin-open-access-how-accessible-is-it.
  4.  See more detail about this project at http://www.arl.org/focus-areas/scholarly-communication/toward-an-open-monograph-ecosystem.
  5.  https://dp.la
  6.  See more detail at https://www.library.unt.edu/policies/collection-development/collection-development-policy.
  7.  https://www.force11.org
  8.  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1oBfTnhE2-Gy3N10es8Hd3MS8Wn5awMRxyTqJZm7HJwg/edit
  9.  Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoaSD8TVbhg& list=PLfCwmKIIu_VaS-NGG3A49nax0T5SNpAX4.


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