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Although the front row was near empty, the room was packed
The Awesome Con audience listens as Preservation staff speak at this year's convention. Photo Credit Kelli Stoneburner, 2024.

For Library Preservation Staff, Everything is Awesome

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This blog post was written collectively by the panel attendees. aka “The Guardians of Memory!”

Deep beneath the bustling halls of Capitol Hill…

                 behind the façades of grand monuments…

                                on secret bases and forgotten floors…

                                in the quiet of their laboratories…

                                the cold of their warehouses…

                                the glow of their monitors and task lights…

they are…

the GUARDIANS of MEMORY!

Protectors of the past and champions of the future, a bulwark against the forces that seek to distort the very fabric of history!

That is how Preservation Director Jacob Nadal introduced the panel of Preservation staff to great fanfare at the 2024 Awesome Con at the beginning of March. This event, featured as part of the convention’s Science Fair, drew over a hundred audience members to the second floor of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest Washington, DC. The story, though, starts over a year ago with discussions between Preservation Specialist Kelli Stoneburner and the Head of the Scientific Laboratory Section, Eric Monroe, from the Preservation Research and Testing Division (PRTD).

Stoneburner had been attending Awesome Con in 2022 when she first asked Monroe “would we have any interest in hosting a panel?” and got the response “that could be fun to do.”  This led to Stoneburner and Monroe applying for and being awarded Pro badges in 2023 in order to explore options for Preservation or PRTD to become involved in the future as well as how the panels were put together in an effective manner. Following the 2023 Awesome Con, both sat down to come up with several options for involvement. According to Monroe, this ended up “coalescing around making an initial pitch to include each of the Divisions in Preservation to share what the Directorate does and tell interesting stories in a more informal manner with the hope of having a good response and doing more specialized panels at events like Awesome Con, that reach new audiences in the future.”

Brief bit of quiet and peace in the Science Fair before scientists discuss alien life in the universe.
Room 204 at the Convention Center sits nearly empty before the previous panel to the Guardians of Memory. Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024.

When Monroe pitched the idea to Nadal at the end of another meeting, he found a willing audience. As they discussed the concept and finalized the plan, they reached out across the Directorate to approach staff who they expected to be interested to be on the panel. Kristina Dorrough of the Collection Management Division had previous experience attending Awesome Con and other conventions and jumped in to support the pitch.

”I just came back from New York Comic Con when my Assistant Chief, Matt Martin, told me this opportunity would be a possibility. Since I’ve been going to cons for over a decade I jumped at the chance to sit on a panel promoting the Library instead of being in the audience for once!”

With their enthusiasm on display, Nadal saw this as a prime opportunity to represent the Library, and specifically the functions of the Preservation Directorate.

“As my team talked about this, I got excited about this chance to make a connection,” Nadal said. “Preservation is literally hands-on with on so many things that are part of popular culture: ancient documents, forensic science, the ways that art and craft and science reveal mysteries and solve problems. Plus, if you want to find a room full of people who care about the stuff that fills a library – books, music, movies, ideas, and imagination – something like Awesome Con is a pretty rich environment!”

Out panel is highlighted for easy deciphering among the heavy hitters the first night of the Science Fair at Awesome Con 2024.
The Guardians of Memory fit in the middle of a major lineup at the Science Fair on the first night of Awesome Con 2024. Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024.

Next it fell to Monroe to assemble a team, the likes of which had never before been seen by the Awesome Con audience.

”When planning for the panel, I really had no idea how easy or difficult it would be to have volunteers and/or how excited people may be to come and join us,” Monroe recounted. “I do not know everyone in the Directorate well but inferred that we have enough people of diverse interests that we would have at least one person from each Division that would jump at the chance.”

After an email went out to the Divisions asking for any volunteers, the panel came together almost immediately. “It just came together so quickly that I started to panic that we would have too many people want to be involved and I would have to turn someone away,” Monroe said.

Audience members watch as the panel introduces themselves
Director Jacob Nadal introduces his Preservation staff. Photo Credit: Carrie Beyer, 2024.

Moderating, Preservation Director Jacob Nadal!

From Conservation Division, Lily Tyndall!

“When Eric first approached me about being on the panel, I didn’t realize how fun it would be (or that this was something the Library could actually do)!” Tyndall said. “It felt like a natural continuation of my work with comic books, but after having done it, I feel really connected to the con world now not only through my own fan experiences but also through my work!”

From Collection Management (CMD), Dorrough and Steve Brooks!

“CMD’s assistant chief asked me back in November if I would be interested. My immediate response was something to the effect ‘Awesome Con…sure!’” Brooks said. “Initially, my thought was that this would be an opportunity to attend some very cool panels but then the nervousness of speaking in front of a crowd set in. What would I say or how can I make my job at LC interesting for the attendees?”

Jacob Nadal starts having issues with the PowerPoint as the panel took their seats.
Kristina Dorrough and Steven Brooks talk as they prepare for the panel. Jacob Nadal attempts to load the PowerPoint. Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024.

From Preservation Services, Keith F. Shovlin!

“This completely took me by surprise when it was pitched,” Shovlin said. “I’ve been with the Library for 17 years, written for the blog, given tours as a staff docent, and worked the National Book Festival. The opportunity to reach out to this community, at a convention I’ve been wanting to attend for years, was not something to be passed up.”

And, of course, from Preservation Research & Testing, Eric Monroe!

“Kelli and I wrote the proposal to be a broad presentation of all the varied things than Preservation does as I expected that we could get a broadly interested audience in the room and at the very least show them a good time (as well as inform) with the sharing of the various stories that we have all collected in our time at the Library,” Monroe said.

The proposal was submitted on December 18th, 2023 and the Preservation team received the approval just after the new year on January 5th. With that, the team was assembled, the stage was set, and the plan came together.

“There’s a cycle of care that has delivered these collections to us across centuries,” Nadal said. “For our work to matter, it’s essential for people know about and care about the knowledge and creativity that are held in libraries. Panels like this are an important part of preserving that community and the cycle of care that thrives within it.”

Over weeks of discussion and preparation, the team had assembled a list of potential starting questions for the panel discussion, and too many stories that could be shared with the Awesome Con brethren.

Then, as the day approached, the run of show was prepared. The PowerPoint was colorful and full of pictures, and ready to go. Traffic on the Metro was light. After many of them wandered around the exhibit floor and attended other panels, it was time for the Guardians to gather at room 204, where a talk on the science of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Doctor Who preceded. As they took their seats on the stage, disaster struck!

The first panel of the day had issues with connecting to the projector, but the second and third had no issue. However, as the team went to connect to the projector in between panels, nothing… Nadal’s laptop refused to see the projector, plans B through F fell through, but with the help of a noble Awesome Con volunteer, the tech staff was called with mere minutes to spare! Armed with a different laptop, transferring the slides by thumb drive, and a bit of luck, it was show time!

”Thankfully, I came straight from work that day so I had my laptop on me, which served as a good backup computer when this problem arose,” Dorrough said.

The day was saved, and the crowd gathered in.

Watch it over and over, you'll always see something new.
The slideshow that eventually worked and was presented to the Awesome Con attendees. Photo Credit: Eric Monroe, 2024.

 

”I couldn’t have hoped for anything better,” Nadal said. “I still have a vivid memory of wrapping up our talk, closing out the PowerPoint slides, and looking up to see a line of people in front of each panelist with more questions. And end of the day, I’m a librarian: people asking questions is the win we’re chasing.”

Speaking to the crowd.
Preservation Scientist Dr. Eric Monroe speaks to the crowd as the rest of the panel looks on. Photo Credit: Carrie Beyer, 2024.

 

Kelli Stoneburner, from Preservation Research and Testing, panel attendee, shared her reaction:

“It was amazing watching the room fill up in the minutes before the panel! Eric and I had thought the panel would do well, but you just never know. I loved hearing the stories from panelists and hearing the rest of the audience’s amazement at the stories and sheer scale of work that Preservation does. Then to top it all off, there was fantastic engagement in the Q&A portion with 30 minutes of non-stop questions. I left the room not only excited about the work we do at the Library but also antsy to help plan next year’s panel!“

“I enjoyed answering the questions afterward that the audience members asked us independently,” Dorrough said. “I tried to promote visiting the Library and accessing our collections in my answers so I had a decent number of audience members ask me afterwards more about visiting and accessing the Library. “

“The question posed to the panelist from our director, Jake Nadal, ‘In your job, when have you felt like a superhero?’” Brooks noted. “That question helped me to realize that the important role we all play in preserving and making collections available to all persons. Just like superheroes, serving others! It was an amazing experience that introduced me into the fanfare that is the con world.”

With the volunteer signaling our time was up, and the last questioner returning to their seat, the panel was brought to a close. But our brave staffers weren’t done, as many attendees rushed the stage to find out more about how they could join our fateful team!

Together the Guardians spoke out as one, “USAJOBS.GOV!”

To find out more about the Library’s collections and the preservation activities necessary to keep the largest library in the world available, be sure to subscribe to this blog and check back weekly!

 

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