Digital Cultural Heritage DC Meetup: 4 Years in & Going Strong

DCHDC 2012
Folks at one of the first DCHDC meetups, September 2012

Four years ago, some of my colleagues in the NDIIPP program thought it could be neat to try and start up a monthly meetup for digital cultural heritage professionals in DC. Butch Lazorchak found a bar in DC that would give us free space upstairs once a month and signed up for a meetup account and we were off.

I love that we ended up sparking something that has become an anchor monthly event for folks from libraries, archives, museums, universities and related non-profits to share ideas and perspectives. I know it’s been a key element in various people finding internships and jobs and for sharing ideas and approaches to working in this area. To that end, I decided it would be worth looking back and checking in with folks who have joined the group. So a few months ago I put together a survey.

4 Years, 40 Meetups, Almost 500 Members

Jamie Mears talking about personal digital archiving at DCPL at a recent meetup.

Over the last four years the Digital Cultural Heritage Meetup group has hosted more than 40 meetups. It seemed like a good point to do some legwork to figure out how the meetup is working.

The meetup continues to draw anywhere between 20-30 some folks a month and I thought it would be useful to survey the 492 people who have signed up to follow the meetup. The loosely organized group of folks who organize the events are working to improve them based on the survey.

Along with that, I thought folks in other cities might be interested in the results too. For an event that makes use of free space and takes a bit of time each month from a handful of people to volunteer to organize I think it has been having a rather substantial impact on the scene in DC.

Info on the survey sample

68 people responded to a survey I put together. This is less than 10% of the total set of people who have signed up to the meetup, but given the way meetup works I would hazard to guess that something like 60 or 70% of the people who signup for the meetup don’t ever end up coming. This is to say, I think responses from 68 people likely give a good view into the whole of who participates.

In the interest of transparency, you can see survey results (PDF), download the tabular data an see what the survey form looked like. As an aside, I would love to see other people take a look at the responses and write up their own reactions and interpretations of the survey results. Along with that, I would love to get further discussion of the results of the survey in the comments on this post.

Who participates in DCHDC and to what extent? 

Survey respondents represented a range of different profiles of DCHDC participants both in how frequently they participate and in where they are at in their careers.

In terms of the frequency of participation, they represented a range of levels of engagement.

  • 19 had participated more than six times,
  • 12 had come at least 4 times,
  • 21 had come two or three times,
  • 14 had participated once
  • 1 respondent had never participated

In terms of their stage in their careers, the survey mostly drew in folks who were either established professionals or in the first five years of their careers.

  • 3 respondents were current students,
  • 25 were in the first five years of their career and
  • 38 were established professionals who had worked in their field for at least five years

There weren’t that many students, but I think that likely represents trends in who participates. What I would note here is that this underscores how well the meetup functions as a middle ground between established and emerging professionals. I would also underscore that the students who do come have clearly gotten a ton out of being able to network with established and early career professionals. So grad students, if you’re listening, I think there is a huge opportunity here for you.

How DCHDC Matters

Across the board, respondents to the survey were largely united on the positive aspects of participating in DCHDC. For those participating, it seems clear that there is consensus that it has become a community that plays an important role in their careers.

  • 97%  of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that through DCHDC they have learned about projects and issues that are relevant to their work.

  • 97% of respondents reported that DCHDC has become a community they value participating in.

  • 95%  of the respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that participating in DCHDC has expanded their professional network.

  • 80%  of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that Participating in DCHDC has made them more aware of career opportunities.

Examples quotes of how DCHDC has been Helpful:

The free text responses that respondents provided give some of the best specifics of what has been working about the meetup. I thought I would include some of those inline here.

  • Connecting with professionals at different stages in their careers: “As I am just now beginning a career as a librarian specializing in digital preservation, having the opportunity to hear presentations on related to this area in librarianship is really helpful, as it is still evolving (and will continue to do so). Furthermore, actually having the ability to speak with individuals about their workflows, the politics of advocacy, standards, etc. has enabled me to gain a better understand my work.”
  • Finding professional opportunities: “DCHDC helped me get an internship in my field and lead to a greater understanding of what kind of jobs were out there and what direction I’d like to head in. Beyond the networking and professional advancement aspects, DCHDC has given me the opportunity to learn more about technology and aspects of cultural heritage that weren’t touched on in my program. While I have been unable to attend DCHDC in recent months I speak highly of it and recommend it often.”
  • Getting perspectives from outside a particular field: “I’ve strengthened my digital humanities network outside of the museum sector, and I’ve been able to bring a digital humanities perspective to my museum work. (I also discovered that one of my DCHDC friends was living upstairs from me. :))”
  • Personal/emotional support in career pathways: “The breadth of my knowledge has been expanded. I’ve made friends that have helped me emotionally through some hard career-related stuff. DCHDC has also helped me maintain consistent relationships with key people in the community, and I truly believe this helped me get my last job.”

Common Requests for improving the Meetup:

Along with understanding what people were getting out of DCHDC, I was also interested to learn a bit about how to improve the event.

  • Shorter talks: Originally the idea was to do 5 minute lightning talks, but over time they have become longer. So we decided to shift back to short talks with a quick bit of time for Q&A.

  • Further planned out schedule: This is an entirely volunteer run and organized event series, so planning is a bit of a challenge. That said, if we can get better at lining up a schedule then folks can make sure they plan on coming to weeks that are of particular interest. I think it will also help to bring new folks into the fold who might be drawn in by a particular topic.

  • Recaps/notes/links from talks shared online: This was a request that came through from several people. I don’t have the bandwidth for it, but if anyone wanted to take on something like this it would be welcome and appreciated.

Example Suggestions from Survey: Below are some examples from the survey responses of particular individual requests.

  • “I think it’s great as-is! I’m happy with whatever meeting time/place. earlier was mentioned last time like 6:00 and that would be great too.”

  • “Back to the short talk format. An hour lecture that starts after 7:30 pushes the event FAR TOO LATE, and removes the opportunities for networking and socializing that the above questions address. 20 minutes socializing, 20 minutes max presentation (including Q&A), a few minutes for announcements, and 20 minutes to whenever for after-socializing and closer convo with presenters would make it much more valuable.”

  • “At the beginning dchdc had *very* short presentations bookended by plenty of time to meet people and have free-ranging discussions. It seems that over time the presentations have gotten longer and more dependent on power point. Since not every presentation is relevant to everyone in the community, some might be less likely to attend based on topic, whereas before they might come just for the excellent company.”

  • “Be clearer on the MeetUp about time to socialize vs. presentation time, so that people who want to chat know they either need to come a little early or stay later. When the only information is the time and who’s talking, it makes it seem like the talk is at that time or just shortly after.”

  • “Scheduling or at least soliciting ideas for presentations a bit further in advance could be a good step. A formal call for ideas/volunteers could help bring some new faces and organizations to the fore. That said, I really have no idea how scheduling works and don’t want to mess up a good thing.”

  • “Given the locations in which we’ve met over the past couple of years, a consistent audio-visual/computer setup is key. Ad hoc talks are valuable but are almost always enhanced with graphic examples.”

  • “A Facebook group or some other way to share information about jobs, events, etc in between meetings would be a good supplement.l, especially for when we can’t make it to meetings in person every time.”

Distributing Credit for DCHDC

I should note that while I’m one of the co-organizers for the group since the beginning,  I have not been one of the folks who have really carried the water on this. At various points I’ve missed big chunks of the meetups when I have had to teach classes that meet on the same night. On that front, Bill Lefurgy gets credit for scheduling and running the events for most of our run so far. This is a touch which has recently largely been passed to Atiba Pertilla.  There are also several other folks who have been involved almost all the time and stepped up to run events at various points, I’m thinking of Jennifer Serventi and Patrick Murray-John. There are probably about 5-7 more folks I could list out here, but this is just to say that I think the strongest part of the group comes from a core set of folks that are incredibly generous with their time and welcoming to anyone and everyone who we can encourage to participate.

Going forward

The survey largely confirmed the things I hear from lots of folks about what is valuable and useful about this group. I don’t think we had any clear expectations of what this would be when or how long it would run when we launched it. But here we are, four years out, having moved between three different venues and still going strong. I’m personally very excited to see how this keeps going into the future and always interested in talking more with folks about how it can be improved/enhanced. I’m also happy to talk with anyone who might want to set up similar meetups in other places.

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