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Intro to #asist2015, by Anmol Kalsi


Anmol Kalsi, the author of this post, is a student volunteer at #ASIST2015. 

Conference Chair Lisa Given in the program notes welcomes us to “beautiful” St. Louis. Anyone who’s had the pleasure of meeting her will know she is delightful but Lisa, “beautiful” requires quite a stretch of the imagination which is asking quite a lot of academics. In the 24 hours I’ve been here, St. Louis has been described as “a ghost town,” “dead,” and desolate.  Such descriptors are also inaccurate as these imply that at some point in the past St. Louis has seen better days, I’m not so sure it has. Perhaps the beauty is there, it’s always there but only visible to those discerning and aware enough to recognize the beauty in all things, yeah, I think that’s what our Lisa was getting at. Also, let’s not forget that we’re not here on holiday are we? We’re here to share ideas and learn which ought to be fun. I am optimistic.

I don’t think I’m alone here but I didn’t have high expectations for the plenary session because I never do and always gradually lose interest. I must admit that Aaron Doering’s presentation [Building community online: Connecting people, places and ideas through innovate design] did the opposite, it drew me in because ultimately Doering was telling us that surely there is a better way of doing this [educating the youts (see second definition in urban dictionary)] but not merely emphasizing new technologies as the solution. Fundamentally he stressed the importance of passion and inspiration, qualities that feed off each other. These can be enhanced through expanding our understanding of learning environments and enabling learners to experience whatever that environment is more fully. Often, technology can take us away from the present moment and where we are so that our external environment becomes secondary to the virtual space or activity being experienced. These are some of the thoughts I have. The audience seemed to grow in interest too, which is the opposite of what usually happens. If you’re thinking “what were you doing watching the audience?”  I’ll tell you that it was my job as a volunteer to do a headcount of attendees at the start and end of the session, so there!

In between sessions you will encounter quite a range of characters putting to bed any ideas you might have had about needing to avoid the stereotypical librarian type. Generally we, the attendees look alright I must say. So who might you encounter?

The ASIST virgin

This first-time attendee is just grateful that somebody is willing to talk to her/him. They’re usually cheery, quite attentive in conversation and actively want to meet people. It’s definitely worth the time in going out of your way to make this person feel welcome because we’ve all been there and s/he’ll remember you.

The Butterfly

Now, the vagueness of butterfly as a description is deliberately chosen here because I want to emphasise that this is quite a beautiful person (I know we all are, ultimately). These creatures flit around and get to know almost everyone and go out of their way to speak to people. These people are lovely because they’re naturally gregarious and have the ability to remove any awkwardness that naturally arises when academics are involved. They’ll connect the newbies to the old guard too.

The quick fix

Similar to the butterfly in their loveliness, the quick fix will lift you if you’re feeling slightly overwhelmed, tired, bored, lonely, whatever… S/he will remind you why this conference is worth attending and replenish your energies if you’ve run into too many of the characters you want to avoid. A smile from the quick fix can sometimes be enough to restore any lost faith.

And you’ll want to avoid:

The disinterested professor

S/he is so poor at even feigning interest in talking to you that in mid-conversation, s/he is looking through you, yes scanning the space to see if they can see someone they actually want to talk to whilst they nod away enthusiastically at all the wrong moments.

The sycophantic student

S/he deserves slightly more sympathy than the disinterested professor because s/he is also driven by a need to find a job. Yet s/he remains oblivious to how repellent desperation can be and like the disinterested professor, can be just as dismissive albeit for different reasons, such as when it becomes clear that the person in front of them is not an professor.

The “Hi, my research interests are” I’ve already fallen asleep

OK, I know we’re all here cos in one way or another we’re here to share our research. However, there comes a point where every single conversation begins and ends the same way. Often, this person hits his/her internal mute button once it becomes clear that your interests do not directly coincide. You will feel like you’ve aged ten years if you solely hang around with such persons.

Late afternoon session

Information and Social Good was one of the best sessions I’ve attended here at ASIST, the presentations tackled various aspects of examining the impact of our research. Topics covered in the session addressed sexual human trafficking, civic engagement amongst young people, and coming up with measures for assessing the wider societal impact of our research endeavors. Check out the conference proceedings if you were not able to attend.

Now, it’s time for the reception. Back soon.