In October 2020, I had the opportunity to attend ASIS&T’s 83rd Annual Meeting. From my desk in my Boston, Massachusetts apartment, with my cat snug in my lap and house shoes on my feet, I logged into my very first professional conference. Although I never would have expected to attend my first conference virtually, it was a wonderful experience that left me feeling enlightened and inspired.
The 2020 conference theme was “Information for a Sustainable World: Addressing Society’s Grand Challenges.” The theme, alongside ASIST&T’s Vision, “Establish a new information professionalism in a world where information is of central importance to personal, social, political, and economic progress,” served as a call to action for the information professional community to respond to the United Nations 2030 Agenda – “Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” Our international community’s prioritization and dedication to sustainability and sustainable development, and the opportunity to meet and learn from other professionals inspired me to apply for the NEASIS&T Conference Support Award.
Additionally, I was extremely excited to see the wide span of jobs and positions in the information science and technology field, and to hear professionals explain the work they do on the ground. As a person with a variety of interests whose job search was halted in March 2020, like so many others, I was able to witness a glimpse of what my potential future could look like through the presenters and their presentations.
The Opening Plenary Keynote speaker was Houman Haddad, the Head of Emerging Technologies at the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and the founder of WFP’s “Building Blocks” project. His keynote address, “Depoliticizing Information Through Blockchain,” was followed by the ASIS&T President Clara M. Chu’s President’s Opening Program, “Information, Immunization, and Infodemic During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” These two presentations were a wonderful kick-start to a great annual meeting.
Because the conference was held virtually, I was able use funds that would typically be needed for travel to attend quite a few workshops. I attended Sociotechnical Change Agents: ICTs, Sustainability, and Global Challenges; Ten Lessons for the Age of Disinformation; Public Engagement for Information Researchers; and Best Practices for Grant Proposal Development. By attending the workshops, I gained practical information and tips that I was able to immediately apply to my life and academic work, and ones to hold in my back pocket to apply in my future professional ventures. The Ten Lessons for the Age of Disinformation workshop was particularly impactful to me, as it was held a mere three days prior to the U.S. presidential election. My interest in the topic was growing stronger with every passing month and I am thankful for the chance to learn from Dr. Thomas J. Froehlich.
At the Annual Business Meeting, President-Elect Dr. Brian Detlor’s words meant so much to me. He explained that, like me, his first experience attending a conference was at an ASIS&T Annual Meeting. He expressed that ASIS&T is an incredibly welcoming association, especially in comparison with other professional associations. The ASIS&T community is comprised of folks who care, who are compassionate, and who love welcoming others into the fold. Based on my experience, I wholeheartedly echo this sentiment. I attended two of the Social Hours where I was able to meet and speak more personally with other conference attendees in a smaller setting. I encourage everyone in the future to attend a social hour at an ASIS&T Annual Meeting! Those that I met at the Social Hours were so kind and welcoming to me, giving me the feeling that ASIS&T will be a community that I will happily be a part of in the future.
Most of all, I came away from the conference feeling incredibly proud to have been surrounded by a global community tirelessly taking on the COVID-19 Pandemic, in addition to acknowledging the killing of George Floyd and the imperative need to confront institutional racism, systemic biases, and other forms of injustice across the globe. I walked away with a desire to think innovatively and with a determination to use my professional information science knowledge to make the world a better place.