And They Were There — Reports of Meetings 2020 Charleston Conference

by | May 17, 2021 | 0 comments


Column Editors:  Ramune K. Kubilius  (Galter Health Sciences Library & Learning Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine)  and Sever Bordeianu  (Head, Print Resources Section, University Libraries, MSC05 3020, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM  87131-0001;  Phone: 505-277-2645;  Fax: 505-277-9813) 

Against the Grain Vol. 33 No. 2

Column Editor’s Note:  Thanks to the Charleston Conference attendees who agreed to write brief reports that highlight and spotlight their 2020 Charleston Conference experience.  Out of necessity, the conference moved from on-site to virtual, and all registrants were given the opportunity to view recordings, to re-visit sessions they saw “live,” or to visit sessions they missed.  Without a doubt, with 173 total choices, there were more Charleston Conference sessions than there were volunteer reporters for Against the Grain, so the coverage is just a snapshot.  For the 2020 conference, reporters were invited to share what drew them to various themes and sessions, or what they learned, rather than report on individual sessions as they’ve done for “And They Were There” reports in past years when conferences were on-site.  

There are many ways to learn more about the 2020 conference.  Some presenters posted their slides and handouts in the online conference schedule.  Please visit the conference site,, and link to selected videos, interviews, as well as to blog reports written by Charleston Conference blogger, Donald Hawkins,  The 2020 Charleston Conference Proceedings will be published in 2021, in a new partnership with University of Michigan Press: — RKK


Five things I learned at the 2020 virtual Charleston Conference

Reported by Carol Fisher  (Washington State University, Vancouver) 

The 2020 Charleston Conference arrived at an incredibly pivotal time in this year [2020] and the question of “where do we go from here?” has been more present in my mind than ever before.  A civil rights movement, a global pandemic, and a tumultuous American election have reminded us how quickly things can change in our seemingly stable environment.  At its core, the 2020 Virtual Charleston Conference was a success.  The keynotes, sessions, and roundtables proceeded as advertised and the conference cultivated fruitful ground for discussion and reflection.

I was reminded of five things throughout my attendance:  libraries are not neutral, libraries will need to rethink the way we operate in order to adapt and overcome, the landscape of librarianship is in constant flux, collective action and collective knowledge are imperative to our success, and we are needed now more than ever before.

“Creativity, Conflict and Black Lives Matter” ( presented by LaQuanda Onyemeh, Howard Rambsy, and Kiera Vargas highlighted the ways that libraries and library workers systemically fail Black patrons and showcased how libraries and library workers can show up better for folks of color.  The first keynote, “Leading in an Age of Chaos and Change: Building a Community of Grace” (, given by Earl Lewis, also illustrated the ways in which libraries can gracefully work towards a truly equitable future, one that actively includes marginalized folks. Lewis also spoke of the need to reimagine some of the ways that libraries do business, including reworking established hiring and tenure practices.

The idea of reimagining the way we operate was a theme that extended beyond the keynotes. Several sessions addressed ways in which the library landscape is changing, and how collective action and knowledge is key to nimbly addressing upcoming challenges.  Bobby Reed and Stephen Rhind-Tutt presented a session titled “Virtual Reality and Libraries in post-COVID world” ( which exhibited the ways we can use technology like VR headsets and gaming to adapt to our changing world while remaining engaged with our users.

The most impactful takeaway from the conference was the reminder of how vital libraries are to our communities, no matter how our communities are composed. John Palfrey presented the final keynote, “Do Librarian’s Matter and What Might Matter to Librarians?” (, where he led a lively discussion about how indispensable libraries, and library workers, are to our culture and communities. 

Five things I learned at the 2020 virtual Charleston Conference

Reported by Cara Mia Calabrese (Miami University) 

1.  Working with Data

Hearing how my fellow librarians were working to demystify and showcase data in innovative, but usable formats was amazing.  I especially appreciated the sessions that took attendees through their development thinking, like “Close EnCOUNTERs of the 5th Kind” ( and Not just for the sake of:  from analytics to informed decision making ( 

2.  Open Access (OA)

Many sessions discussed the future of OA and models available.  I found a heavy emphasis on collectively supporting OA and how can we continue to work towards a sustainable future.  SCOSS ( was a new group I found through the session, “Crowd-funding the Open Science and Open Access Infrastructure:  Reports from the Field” ( Some other sessions discussed what changes were needed for OA to really flourish and several consortia weighed in how they approach OA and which models were currently being explored.

3.  Transformative Deals

OA is now inherently tied to transformative deals. Libraries are not only looking to change how they approach collecting content, but are exploring how to support the research and publishing process more heavily.  Libraries and Librarians have always supported the research process, but now are actively looking to meet faculty, researchers, and students where they are and looking to become participants and partners in that space, rather than just a resource to be referenced. 

I was pleased to be able to attend several sessions that touched on transformative deals and talked about workflows for both researchers and libraries, including successes and pain points. 

4.  Vendors Adding Value

More than any other conference, I see libraries and vendors share how working together created a better experience.  I felt that the vendor perspective added unexpected benefits to sessions and the dynamics between vendors and librarians as they discussed shared projects were wonderful to see.

5.  Colleague Conversations

The final thing I walked away with was the value of discussion among colleagues.  I hadn’t realized how much I missed and needed places to have important conversations with varied perspectives.  Seeing how the chats in many of the sessions I attended were conversing in parallel to the speakers or asking questions I was thinking about was uplifting.  I appreciated the opportunity to dive into these topics with others who are interested and whose work will be affected by the subjects at hand.  Having a year where distance has been paramount, the Charleston Virtual Conference managed to close the gap.

Five things I learned at the 2020 virtual Charleston Conference

Reported by Helen McManus  (George Mason University) 

1.  Consider impacts on small publishers.

In “The Big Deal and the Local Environment,” Joe Esposito outlined three categories of publishers.  In addition to the big five, there are the smaller publishers who have licensing agreements with them, and therefore rely on the big deals.  Finally, there are the small independent publishers, including many scholarly societies.  While big deals may marginalize this last group, transformative deals and the APC model of Open Access publishing constitute “an existential threat.”  Libraries exploring a future beyond the big deal might therefore be alert to the impact of emerging models on small publishers.

2.  When preparing for negotiations, do your research.

In a panel on the serials crisis, Keith Webster offered practical steps on preparing for negotiations.  He recommended assessing how important your library, or a particular contract, is to this publisher.  Librarians should research the publisher as a business, its market environment, and SEC filings, as well as the institution’s relation to the publisher — licenses, usage, and interactions beyond the library (e.g., “inclusive access” textbook arrangements with a publisher).  A key lesson:  a lot of information and connections are outside the library.

3.  Librarians have a superpower.

John Palfrey’s keynote address asked “do libraries matter?”  He seemed to argue libraries do and will continue to matter, but only to the extent that librarians use their superpower.  That superpower is “to create a world that is the one that we wish to have, and to be able to imagine that and bring it into being.”  Librarians should embrace their (our) ability to shape the architecture of the digital world.

4.  As a White librarian, I have a responsibility to address exclusion and inequity in libraries.

In a letter addressed “Dear Black Patron,” presented in the session “Creativity, Conflict, and Black Lives Matter,” Keira Vargas outlines what that might look like.  She identifies numerous specific actions librarians and staff can take, so I encourage you to read the letter in full (text and video at

5.  How to participate in a virtual conference.

I expected to treat a virtual conference much like a face-to-face event — block out time, schedule out-of-office reply, arrange all-day care for dependents.  Yet my conference experience began in October with the pre-conference “Skills for leading in an uncertain future,” and is still ongoing as I refer to recordings and slide decks.  A well-organized virtual conference permits a more flexible kind of participation, thanks to a robust platform, high-quality recordings, and file-sharing for presenter materials.  

That’s all the reports we have room for in this issue.  Watch for more reports from the 2020 Charleston Conference in upcoming print issues of Against the Grain.  Presentation materials (PowerPoint slides, handouts, etc.) and recordings of most sessions are available to Conference Attendees on the Charleston Conference event site at  Or visit the Charleston Hub at — KS 


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Save the Date! Charleston In Between

Charleston In Between Wednesday, July 28, 10:30 am - 3:00 pm Eastern The Charleston Conference is planning a very special “In Between” half-day virtual mini-conference event in late July to explore important late-breaking developments that can’t wait til November for...


Share This