Firstly, I would just like to say that the overall vibe of AMC was not really my sorta thing. The whole “let’s constantly talk about/process our feelings” thing is SO not my thing. At one point I was in a session and I jokingly texted a friend “let’s bring repressing feelings back.” So as a conference I think it was one of the most emotionally draining conferences for me as someone who is both an introvert and a private person. Sometimes I don’t want to introduce myself and get to know my neighbor! Sometimes I just want to sit in the back of a lecture and participate minimally.
On the other hand, AMC was exactly what I needed. It was the first non-library conference that I have ever been to. And I think the panel I was in (Librarians of Color Survival Guide) was one of two “academic-y” sessions that I saw throughout the entire conference. And it was amazingly refreshing. Cause like I can do the academic jargon. I can speak like an elitist dick. But it takes a mental shift and doing it exhausts me. Whenever Ana and I are working on something I will explain a concept, and she will make it all academic-y and it’s like….right I’m in academia now. If only we all had such good friends/colleagues who can take the simple language and make it jargon-y! But then like at the same time, why is that the norm??? Like why is that we say things in 15 words that can be said in 5??? Being at AMC really drove home just how academic the twitter chats are (so not just critlib but others as well). When I reflect on the vast gulf between the casual language spoken by the librarians at the AMC panels and the “casual” language of the librarians on twitter it blows my mind. Like to the point where multiple times during the conference I had distinct moments of just marveling on the true accessibility of language being used by the session organizers.
Many of the sessions were done in a breakout-reflective style which had its pros and cons (more on the cons later), but it meant that there was more time to actually talk to other librarians and community organizers about things. Often I hear about how the best parts of ALA conferences are the conversations had over dinner or during downtime. Many AMC sessions cut out the middle man and created an organized and safe space for those conversations. In fact, the thing I liked most about AMC was the mixed crowds of the sessions. Librarians, artists, community organizers, non-profit workers, all spoke and contributed their thoughts and experiences. It made for truly interesting conversations about what can be done in communities.
In contrast, library conferences such as ALA feel speaking in a giant echo chamber. For the most part, those conferences are librarians speaking to other librarians. And while there’s definitely a need for that as well, it sometimes feels like that is all we do. We talk about library communities without any actual community members in our audiences. After a while the gulf between what we think the community wants and what the actual community members want can grow wide. Librarians were connecting directly with those working in the community and talking about change. It was awesome.
Also in terms of just respecting the conference goers it was pretty great. The conference badge had PGPs (preferred gender pronouns) on them, the lanyard color changed depending on whether or not you were comfortable being documented/photographed in some way, and on the back of the badge, there were helpful numbers including ones for medical attention.
But in some ways it was incredibly inaccessible. The sessions as I mentioned before tended to be breakout style. So it meant constant moving around within the actual sessions. And many sessions had icebreaker-type openings which again resulted in a lot of movement throughout the day that I wasn’t really prepared for. There must be a way to break away from the lecture style session that isn’t as inaccessible as the breakout/world cafe style session. But that balance was not seen at anything I went to.
I think the biggest difference between AMC and any library conference I’ve been to is the community of people. Perhaps because the focus of AMC is very grassroots and social justice, and it takes place in Detroit, I was not the only black person there. I was not one of 2 or 3 or 5. I was one of many! I was not the only queer black femme, but one of many. I met queer API folk who understood the anti-blackness in their community and worked to fight it. It was one of the most welcoming (too welcoming at times for my grumpy misanthropic heart) spaces that I have ever been in. It didn’t feel lonely or alienating like library conferences can feel (even the small ones). It felt…safe. Like a truly safe space.
And so because of that, I would definitely go back to AMC. Despite all the overabundance of processing =P