In November 2016 I eagerly boarded a train in Raleigh, NC headed north to Washington, D.C. in anticipation of attending the mythic, life-changing “OpenCon” conference. It was only two short days after the U.S. presidential election, which had shaken me to my core, and I had been looking forward to this trip to get myself through it. “I’m going to be around like-minded people,” I thought to myself, “And we’re going to change the world.”
I didn’t know what to expect from OpenCon. Beyond the fact that it would supposedly change my life, I hadn’t heard too many concrete things. The programming had only been released a few short days before, and was still evolving throughout the conference. Being a planner (and a librarian), this made me nervous. I like knowing what I’m getting into, carefully picking and choosing which sessions I will attend. I like seeing learning outcomes and outlines down to the minute ahead of time (any instruction librarians out there?). Needless to say, this was not the typical librarian-type conference I spend time at, and I was out of my comfort zone.
Walking in on day one, though, the room was buzzing with energy, and it was easy to put that all in the back of my mind. By the time I had grabbed a tea and sat down, I’m pretty sure I had met people from at least 4 continents. I was immediately in love. Though I found the librarians (we tend to gravitate to each other), I had also met students, activists, lawyers, researchers, and a mish-mash of other genuinely wonderful humans who, out of the goodness of their hearts, felt pulled to the open movement. I got to have conversations with many of my twitter-crushes over pizza and salad. This was clearly a one-of-a-kind opportunity - a unique, wonderful bubble.
and of course, librarians
We heard panels of experts mixed among early-career go-getters, we had intimate conversations, we tweeted at each other, striking projects up on the spot, and then clamoring through the crowd to try to say an in person hello to whoever’s great idea we had just agreed to get on board with. We attended “unconference” sessions, proposed after day one of the conference, and voted and organized by day two. I even presented a rapid-fire, two-minute lightning talk (right under time).
Look! It’s me! Look how much fun I’m having!
It was wonderful, and yet, things were swirling around me, and I was quickly and easily overwhelmed. By the end of Day 2, all I wanted was a quiet moment. And then we went to Capital Hill.
Marching around from office to office, on a bleak day less than a week after the election hit me hard. This strange mix of inspiration and exhaustion, of feeling defeated while marching around in suits with so many of my heroes left me unsettled and blistered. I had never been happier to sit down for a quiet and intimate drink. I slipped out of the closing reception well before the after party started, slept for ages, and then sleep-walked to the train. I was so happy to have been a part of OpenCon, but I worried that I did not have the energy or stamina to be an open hero.
But that is the beauty of OpenCon As I pulled into the train station in Raleigh, I wasn’t sure what would come of my OpenCon experience. Yet my OpenCon experience did not end when I slipped out the door. Over the coming months, I repeatedly found myself in physical and virtual spaces with my fellow OpenCon alumni. I was working on those projects. In meetings, I was starting sentences with, “That reminds me of this thing at OpenCon…” I even planned an OpenCon satellite event, which brought the spirit of OpenCon to my campus. Every time I saw another OpenCon alumni at an event it was like coming home. These people are not just colleagues, they are life-long friends. OpenCon may have changed my life a little in November, but it continues to shape my experiences as a professional and a person every day.
- OpenCon itself is amazing.
- The benefits of OpenCon stretch beyond the three day meeting.
- If you care about “open” (science, data, source, education, access, culture), OpenCon may be just the place for you.
OpenCon 2017 is accepting applications through August 1, 2017. It will be held in Berlin, Germany this year, and they have so many scholarship opportunities if traveling to Berlin feels out of reach. Throw your hat in the ring, you won’t regret it.