I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I’ve heard that for some women the memory of the intense pain of childbirth will fade a bit with time. I’ve heard it put forward as the reason why any woman ever has more than one child. I figure something like that must have happened to me when I agree to serve as Co-Chair of the NASIG Conference Planning Committee for the second time. The first was in 2009, so I had plenty of time for the memory of the stress and worry to fade. Let me tell you, doing it at 54 was not as easy as doing it at 40. Luckily, this time around for the conference in Pittsburgh from May 22 to 25, my Co-Chair was our own Chris Burris.

So, the way NASIG arranges their conferences is that they have one committee, the Program Planning Committee, which, as the name implies, handles all of the planning for the conference program, including selecting programs, recruiting speakers, and setting the schedule. The Conference Planning Committee, while in close contact with the Program Planning Committee, handles pretty much everything else related to the conference, such as catering, registration, social events, working with the hotel staff, planning the opening reception, etc. This involved nailing down a bunch of details and responding to frequent questions and concerns. I also had to make sure that a myriad of logistics were in place. As I told the Program Planning Committee Chair during the conference, my role was to be an agent of free-floating anxiety (but it could have been worse. In 2009, we had to rent a bus and rig up our own airport shuttle service!).

With all the balls I was juggling, I didn’t have the chance to make it to any programming, except for seeing the speaker at our opening session (I had found him, so I felt an obligation to see if he was good): Dan Law, Associate Director of the Warhol Museum. Although he is so associated with New York, Pittsburgh was Andy Warhol’s hometown. Law spoke a bit about the museum itself (which you can find out about here), but the focus of his talk was about the Pop District, a six block area around the museum, which includes public art, economic development, community education programs and a future performance venue. The Pop District seeks a new kind of institutional engagement between the museum and the city. They had found that the folks in the surrounding area were not particularly interested in the museum and, rather than blame the locals for their disinterest, the museum has decided that they have an obligation to provide something back to the community. It was a really interesting talk and a fascinating model. Just to brag a bit, I received lots of kudos for booking him.

One of the fun social things we did was to go to a Pirates game. We had people pay for their tickets through our registration system. One of the less fun aspects of it was that Major League Baseball no longer sells physical tickets that you can just hand out. We had 54 attendees and I had to make sure that everyone who bought a ticket downloaded the MLB app to their phone and then contacted me with their email, so I could forward it to them. It all worked out, and I managed to shepherd a huge gaggle of librarians for the 20 minute walk to the stadium without losing anyone (or at least, not that I heard about). And the view was really nice.

Since the conference ended at noon on last day, I had some time before my flight and was able to walk down to the Warhol Museum. Of course the art was really cool, but my favorite part was the exhibit on the band the Velvet Underground (Lou Reed was their leader and songwriter). Warhol was sort of their patron, he incorporated them into his live shows, and is technically credited with producing their first album The Velvet Underground & Nico (aka The Banana Album, because of the cover by Warhol), which came out in 1967. It was a huge commercial failure on initial release but has gone on to be considered one of the greatest rock albums of all time and is arguably the most influential rock album ever. It spawned punk rock, goth, post-punk, noise rock, and indie rock. The album ranges from pretty folk rock songs to frightening noise freak-outs and still sounds fresh today. Artists from David Bowie to R.E.M. to Joy Division to Sonic Youth cited it as a major influence. Brian Eno once joked that even though it only sold about 30,000 copies in the first five years after it was released, everyone who bought a copy started a band. The exhibit at the Warhol displays the master tapes of the album, as well as a 1969 letter from Columbia Records stating that they were clearing out inactive tapes for their vaults. Seeing the tapes is sort of like seeing a Gutenberg Bible for some rock fans (okay, maybe that’s just me). If you’re interested you can read about the album here and I would recommend giving it a listen.

In conclusion, even though I griped about how stressful it was, I did have a good time at the conference. It was just NASIG’s second in-person conference since the start of the pandemic, and, while last year’s conference felt kind of awkward and attenuated, this year’s felt like conferences from the before times. Also, if you ever find yourself planning a conference, and need some advice on handling anything (catering, registration, etc.), I’m your boy!