30 Jun 2016

Conference Report: The Drew University Transatlantic Connections Conference – January 15-18 2016, Part I

Guest post by Jane Burns, School of Information & Communication Studies, University College Dublin, one of the winners of the A&SL National and International Library Conference Bursary Scheme 2016

The Drew University Transatlantic Connections Conference –

 January 15-18 2016


Sometimes I forget the distance and difference there is between Ireland and the USA after living in here for just over a quarter of a century.  So I was keenly interested this time last summer when the call for papers for this conference went out. I was taken by the strapline of sharing information, ideas and connecting people and immediately thought this was solely a library information focussed conference. In fact it turned out to have a much a broader scope, with a range of presentations, participants and formats but all with a similar purpose to connect people to ideas and to enable them to share them in a meaningful way in order to make a range of connections.


I submitted a paper based on a research project I had undertaken with 4 other researchers whilst completing my Master’s Degree in Digital Humanities at Trinity College Dublin, entitled The Mary Martin Diary – A Mother’s Story of 1916 under the stream of Multimedia Narratives: Collaborative Research with Historical Material.  The Academic & Special Libraries Section had a call out for bursary funding and I decided to apply. This generous assistance not only allowed me to attend the conference but also provided funding for two of my MLIS students from the School of Information & Communication Studies, UCD, Hanna Bush and Dermot O’Leary to attend as well. Their reflections on attending this conference will be published in Libfocus tomorrow.

The conference was great. The range of speakers and conference participants was impressive. What I enjoyed the most was to see how others inside and outside of traditional library environments were creating and sharing content and research approaches and outputs.  I always think it is a good idea to see how others are processing, perceiving and personalising information – it certainly helps me refocus my understanding and perspectives as a LIS professional and as a Researcher.



The sponsors and organisers of this Transatlantic Conference was Drew University, which is a private third level institution located in Madison, New Jersey, USA. This was the second year this unique conference was organised through the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies at Drew University, in partnership with the Institute of Study Abroad Ireland, based in Bundoran, County Donegal. The Conference gathers together academics, experts and local guests to discuss the connections between Ireland, the US and the world, in an interdisciplinary context. This was not a library themed conference, but there were many librarians and information professionals such as archivists from all Ireland, the UK and the USA in attendance.

The Programme can be found here. The focus on cultural history and in particular music, the Irish language and education were very impressive.  There was a real emphasis on the relationships between Northern & Southern Ireland and the joint research and cultural understanding that has taken place, especially since the Peace process. 


The discussion panel about Hedge Schools and the Diaspora was very informative, particularly the perspectives by Liam Kennedy, who is the Director of the Clinton Institute at University College Dublin, and roles and opportunities for the diaspora not just in the USA but globally. 

For those of us involved in managing, developing and promoting archival material, the topic of the Ethics of Archiving and Commemoration: The Fluctuating Status of the Stolen Irish in the New World given by Michael McKenna from Queens University Belfast was thought provoking and insightful.

A different approach to the exploration and understanding to experiential learning from a surfing perspective was fascinating. Ethnographic research is a very topical subject in the understanding of how information users experience library spaces. There were many insightful approaches to the sport and philosophy of surfing that could be transferable to understanding how people behave, interact and engage with their environments.

Cathal Cavanagh’s presentation (Cathal is a PhD student from the University of Ulster) on his multimedia project Grace Gifford: The Woman behind the Song was the highlight of the conference for me. Not only did he beautifully capture the love story of Grace Gifford, an Irish artist active in the Republican movement, who married her fiancé Joseph Plunkett in Kilmainham Gaol only a few hours before he was executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising, but Cathal demonstrated the use of and linking of primary source information into an online platform that could reach a range of users, from ordinary people, to researchers and historians. 

Concluding thoughts

Library & Information Professionals are involved a range of subject areas, delivery methods and a variety of research initiatives. While it is so important for us to attend exclusive library centric conferences it is important for us to realise that our research and our interests can also be promoted at broader conferences with a wider audience. It allows for those outside of our primary circles to understand the range of work we are involved in and it also provides for us different perspectives and approaches to user research and interest.  If we only talk amongst ourselves we are limiting the space we occupy and narrowing the lens by which others see us and our amazing skill sets. 

Many thanks to the A&SL, a truly progressive committee, for their support for me and my students to attend this event.

Please follow me on Twitter: @JMBurns99

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