Reflections on OpenCon 2017

This post was written by Jessica Coates, the recipient of the Emory Libraries’ OpenCon 2017 Travel Scholarship.

Excitement filled the air as we all scurried off to work on individual initiatives for the “Do-A-Thon”. It was the last day of OpenCon 2017. The words ‘It doesn’t end today, it starts’ were displayed on the projector of the auditorium of the Max Planck Institute for all to see. It was a mantra designed to encourage and inspire us to increase the amount of “openness” in our respective institutions.

Only four short days before that I had arrived in Germany excited to learn more about this world of open access, open data, and open education. For those of you like me, these were all relatively new terms and concepts. I had no idea what OpenCon represented for the community at large. OpenCon is a unique conference experience held annually in various parts of the world. It aims to empower the next generation to advance open access, open education, and open data. The conference brings together academics, students, and early career professionals from all over the globe to learn about issues others face, develop critical skills, and then utilize what they’ve gained to return home to catalyze action toward a more open system for sharing the world’s information.

As I sat down in a room filled with colleagues from places like South Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, and more, I was excited. I was nervous but mostly I had no idea what I was in for. On the first day of the conference, we started with a panel that included a Palestinian woman who combined education, arts, and advocacy to teach other young women in her country about photography. Her co-panelists included two individuals working to promote good science practices for data sharing and access at their home institutions. Hearing them speak was one of the most awe-inspiring moments. It taught me the importance of open resources and how we all can play a part in its advancement. I didn’t realize it but this would be the trend for the rest of the conference: amazing and motivating individuals sharing how they’d accomplished such great feats in the name of openness.

With each day came more and more stories from others at the conference from how they used open resources to improve the standard of living within their communities to fighting social justice issues for individuals in minority communities. Stories ranged from how open resources could serve as a global safe space for those in the transgender community to consensual sharing of the dialogues of sex workers. Following each panel discussion, we would have breakout sessions to talk critically through the topics presented and learn strategies on how to address them. Each day was a series of inspiration, discussion, and learning.

It was finally the last day and honestly it came so swiftly that I’d wished there was more time. As the words ‘It doesn’t end today, it starts’ appeared on the screen, I was reminded that I had a lot more time and with that time I was excited to bring openness to Emory University. Our university is equipped with wonderful librarians doing the work to make Emory a university leading the way for open education, open data, and open access. This upcoming Spring 2018 semester, I will be joining the Libraries’ Scholarly Communications Office as the Scholarly Communications Associate, working to increase awareness within our community through a series of programs designed to teach those interested about openness. So, if you are not so familiar with open access, open education, and open data, I encourage you to be on the lookout for some of our upcoming events! We hope these events will introduce you to each topic, teach you how to integrate them into your daily work and lifestyle, and train you on how to one day become leaders in openness!

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