Thanks so much for the feedback! It is an interesting question. I’d love to hear from a few more people about it.
Meanwhile another independent scholars’ organization, the Ronin Institute, is approaching things from another angle: they are moving toward offering some online courses. This is still in the planning stages, but it is an intriguing possibility for independent scholars.
I’ll post more information as it becomes available.
In any case, it looks as though these two groups have different, perhaps complementary, approaches and agendas.
I went to part of the NCIS conference in June – just one day of a three-day meeting. Attendance was modest on that day: around 20-25 people at each session, with only one session in each time slot. The total attendance at the conference was probably larger.
I met some impressive people doing very interesting academic work. Some were adjunct professors, a couple were librarians or archivists, quite a few were retired, and there were many whose day jobs I don’t know.
The organization has had some changes in leadership over the past two years or so. It’s trying to raise its public profile and to increase its usefulness to independent scholars. Among its offerings are small grants for members, discounts on some database subscriptions, and several modes of online contact and conversation. The conference was also part of that effort. And there was talk of another new direction: teaching people how to be freelancers. It wasn’t clear to me whether the speaker meant freelance academic work or parlaying one’s academic skills into other kinds of freelancing, and in any case it was just a brief reference.
I did sense that the organization is trying to serve several disparate constituencies. It admits members with and without formal credentials; its stated criterion is scholarly production, not preparation. Several of the speakers (especially the social-media experts) seemed to have very little idea of what academics actually do. Others seem to be introducing fairly basic information, perhaps aimed at those who haven’t been trained in scholarly practice. On the other hand, some sessions were traditional-style presentations of academic papers.
A high point, for me, was a lovely presentation from a curator at one of the Yale art museums, a carefully prepared and persuasive discussion of the ways new media can enhance visitors’ education and the ways independent scholars might find a place in this work. I also appreciated another speaker’s fast run through the many platforms for digital humanities.