When given the opportunity to participate in a major international conference, you take it. That is exactly what I and fellow student Pam Lutzker did in November 2017 when we travelled to Mexico City to attend the ALA-ICA Conference. Student participation was promoted by Dr. Ian Wilson, former Director of the Library and Archives of Canada, former Vice-President of the ICA and current advisor to the National Archives of the United Arab Emirates. The trip also had the support of Dr. Sandy Hirsch of the SJSU iSchool. In addition to participating in conference sessions, Pam and I were extended an invitation to observe the annual meeting of the Forum of National Archivists (FAN). The overall intent of the trip was to grant students who had worked on the International Directory of National Archives the opportunity to converse and network with some of the archivists of those archives.
The theme of the conference was “Archives, Citizenship and Interculturalism.” It marked the first time that the ICA conference was hosted by a Latin American city. The Latin American Association of Archives provided a culturally rich atmosphere for professionals from around the world to discuss achievements and challenges within the archival community. Both ALA President Mercedes de Vega and ICA President David Fricker felt that it was imperative to provide an opportunity for professionals in the field to reflect upon the challenges facing the archival community. Sessions at the conference focused on the following topics: interculturalism and native cultures, human rights, illicit trafficking of documentary heritage, archives and artistic creation, archives and academic projects, access to information in relation to personal data protection, natural disasters, regional cooperation, copyright and intellectual property, information systems and digital preservation, big data, and information governance.
As someone who has attended conferences in other disciplines, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of inclusion I experienced. It did not matter to a single person that I was “only” a student. Whether I was speaking with another student or the director of a National Archive, I was treated with respect. There was not a sense of intimidation so commonly found in a room full of established professionals. I felt completely at ease participating in sessions and working with the United Arab Emirates delegation to advertise and promote the 2020 ICA conference in Abu Dhabi. The experiences I have had due to my participation on the IDNA project have far exceeded my expectations.