I attended my first ever “unconference” last weekend. And I’ll have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, learned a lot and have come away feeling that there definitely is a strong and important place for such conferences in science. I’d like to give you a quick update on what the STELLA conference was and some quick impressions, and a bit about my take on unconferences in general (now that I’m an expert having gone to one :D).
STELLA took place at the University of Denver (which is inexplicably called “DU” for short ;-)) and was an unconference for science librarians. Joe Kraus and a few others did a great job of ‘un’organizing this ‘unconference’ :). We at OpenHelix were very interested in the growing topic list, so we decided I would go. Later we decided it’d be great to sponsor Friday’s lunch. I was a bit apprehensive attending an unconference, precisely because it would be unorganized, free-form. I wasn’t sure how much I’d get out of it. I have to say, my misapprehensions were misplaced. I attended Friday sessions (envisioning library of the future, science library and web 2.0, ebooks and citation-based metrics). Though there were times I thought the discussion was not productive (for me), I found 90% fascinating, informative and I learned a lot. I particularly loved the free-form discussion. It was precisely the participatory nature of the unconference that I found so informative. Instead of one person speaking with a Q&A afterwards, there were lots of contributions. I guess that would have the possibility of becoming something less-than-informative, but I found that not the case at all. You’ll see a lot of what I learned in my tweets (#stella10 is the hash for that conference).
Saturday the grouped decided which topics to carry on to that day. I attended the continuation of web 2.0, social reference management (Mendeley is great, I’m going to do a tip on that later) and and next-generation discovery tools. Again, informative and interesting (though notes aren’t up for several).
All in all a great conference. Even as a non-librarian I learned a lot for my own work and I got a great feel for some of the issues facing information management (electronic vs. physical, funding, etc, etc).
I don’t think unconferences will be replacing dyed-in-the-wool conferences, but I do see them as very useful for getting a general sense of the zeitgeist and some real solid information. One person suggested an ‘unconference’ tagged on to the beginning or end of a larger organized conference. I love that idea, the best of both worlds.