Cool conferences = mental overload

My brain is completely overloaded at the moment after the two absolutely fabulous conferences I've attended in the past week. I'm going to do individual posts about each conference, but I thought I'd give some initial impressions in this post first.

As a reminder, the conferences were BookCamp Toronto and Managing Data for Science.

First of all, BookCamp Toronto, an unconference attended mostly by people from the trade book publishing industry, the Canadian version of which is centred here in Toronto. There were quite a few authors in attendance as well as some publishing people from other parts of Canada and the US. The library contingent was pretty small. A fairly large unconference with about 200 attendees, it was probably the maximum size for such an event. The four tracks of the program were set in advance by the organizers based on suggestions from attendees rather than being set at the beginning of the event, which probably makes sense for a fairly large one-day event.

The sessions themselves mostly had a very good balance between the moderators talking and the audience asking questions and making comments. The level and quality of participation was excellent. Also, there was no PowerPoint at all. Just people talking.

Most significantly, however, was the tenor of the discussion. It was clear that most saw the purpose of the meeting was to figure out how not to let what happened to the music industry happen to the book industry. Innovation and experimentation were in the air, but a strong link to tradition kept things from getting too theoretical. These are book people, after all, guided by their passion and love for both the format and content of books. The book industry is still fairly healthy, sales-wise, so this is probably a good time to start the ball rolling. Of course, there were no answers, only a lot of questions. But it was great to see that so many were willing to get the ball rolling. And it's worth noting that pretty well everyone was a blogger or Twitterer, so it was an online, connected crowd, probably more than most conferences I've attended. Great energy. I'll give a few more details about the sessions themselves in a later post. (Twitter here and here.)

Next up is the Managing Data for Science conference, the ICSTI 2009 annual conference. This year it was organized by CISTI, Canada's national science library, and held at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa.

A fairly small conference, with about 100 people. About a third at least were from CISTI. It was also mostly librarians but with a very good sprinkling of science people as well, in particular for the presentations. I'll give details of the presentations in a later post, but overall the science people gave lots of interesting details on how they manage data intensive projects and what roles they thought that librarians could play. The library people for the most part talked about their vision for what role libraries and librarians could play in managing data for science. In particular, there were some hints on how to actually get there. Overall, an excellent conference.

Oddly, it wasn't as much of a hotbed of Twitter or blogs or social networking as I expected (see here for some of the coverage on Twitter). The presenters were nearly uniformly offline people -- no blog urls or Twitter handles on the slides, although I may have missed one. Also, and these two may be related, aside for some notable exceptions, for the most part the slide decks were terrible. Jumbled, packed with text, multiple only vaguely related points on one slide. Some did see the need for pictures on their slides, but then surrounded the image with text -- quotes, lists, bullet points. One presenter even noted at the begining, "The good news is that I only have ten slides," but then packed ten slides worth of text on each of those slides. Sigh. Of course, it's not the end of the world and many of the presentation were excellent anyways. I guess I'm just spoiled by seeing so many colleagues' wonderful presentation online in places like FriendFeed or blogs; seeing what other people do has certainly inspired me to try and improve my own presentation material.

Finally, it's worth noting that I met two online friends for the first time at these conferences. At BookCamp I met Peter Brantley, Director of Access at the Internet Archive; we had dinner the night before the conference and it was great to get to know Peter and exchange a lot of cool ideas about the future. At the ICSTI conference, I met Richard Akerman of CISTI for the first time in person and had a chance to get to know him a bit during the conference. It's odd that we'd never met given that we're both scitech library bloggers in Canada and that Ottawa and Toronto are fairly close. Oh well.

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Re: offline-ness and your (and Michael's) comment(s) on your FriendFeed for this post (what? I lurk.) - Most people *are* offline people. Online, you keep running into the same people over and over. Most people just use e-mail and Google (and Facebook, but not for work). There *is* a big difference in mindset. It's a thing that both annoys and fascinates me.

Eva, what's that line from The Godfather movies, "Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in." You'll de-lurk one of these days.

And yes, I agree. The online world is a bit of an incestuous echo chamber where the same bunch of people constantly reinforce the same few ideas over and over. Of course, that's the way we like it.

It annoys and fascinates me too, especially at work when when I say, "Hey, did you read what so-and-so said on her blog the other day!" and am greeted with blank stares. Or, "Hey, I finally met Cool-Online-Person!"

Like I said in FF, I think I'm just spoiled.