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Chelcie at ALA Annual 2014

Friday, July 11, 2014 4:27 pm

Despite the exotic setting in Vegas, for me this summer’s ALA felt very routine in that I attended all my old standby sessions — ACRL Digital Curation Interest Group, ACRL Digital Humanities Interest Group, and programs sponsored by the ALCTS CAMMS Metadata Interest Group, among others.

Digital Humanities and Academic Libraries: Practice and Theory, Power and Privilege

My favorite session of the conference — scratch that, my favorite ALA session of all time — was a program titled Digital Humanities and Academic Libraries: Practice and Theory, Power and Privilege organized by the ACRL Women and Gender Studies Section. The session did a fabulous job of collapsing the distinction between theory and practice; rather, thinking deeply about how the digital humanities are practiced “increases our ability to partner with and be valued on our campuses.” During this program I experimented with taking notes on Twitter—both because it enabled me to participate in a broader conversation (inside the conference center room and beyond) and because live tweeting forced me to think about to think about what I found most meaningful rather than simply transcribing. A few tweets that capture the program’s most memorable talking points are below.

ALCTS PARS Preservation Metadata Interest Group

As co-chair of the ALCTS PARS Preservation Metadata Interest Group, I was sad to bid goodbye to outgoing co-chair Sarah Potvin (Digital Scholarship Librarian at Texas A&M University) and delighted to meet incoming co-chair Drew Krewer (Digitization Operations Librarian at the University of Houston). I feel really grateful to collaborate with such wonderful people, whom I wouldn’t get to know so well without sharing these service responsibilities.

The program that Sarah and I developed focused on the use of the BitCurator tool to generate preservation metadata for born-digital materials. (I wrote at greater length about BitCurator in an earlier post.) We experimented somewhat with the format of the program in the hopes of facilitating a dialogue between BitCurator developers and current BitCurator users as well as those considering incorporating BitCurator into their workflows for processing born-digital materials. The format of our program was an in-depth overview of BitCurator from its PI Cal Lee, as well as two lightning talks from current BitCurator users, Jarrett M. Drake (Princeton University) and Rebecca Russell and Amanda Focke (Rice University). Many of the people who are on the ground using BitCurator to acquire disk images and generate metadata are SAA-goers rather than ALA-goers, but our program exposed preservation administrators to a helpful tool from the perspective of its builders and its users at more than one institution. Afterward more than one person who was in attendance expressed interest in joining the recently announced BitCurator Consortium. Fabulous slides from all the presenters are available in the Preservation Metadata Interest Group’s space on ALA Connect.

Discussion with Digitization Equipment Vendors

I valued the opportunity to speak in person with representatives of the Crowley Company (distributor of Zeutschel overhead scanners) and Atiz (maker of the BookDrive). I got a clearer idea of various models’ technical specifications and list prices, which is helpful information to tuck away for future reference.

Favorite Publishers in the Exhibit Hall

Like many people, I find the exhibit hall overwhelming, but since I’ve started going to ALA I’ve been on a quest to find my favorite small press publishers so that I know exactly which booths to visit for the best literary fiction and non-fiction of the coming year. I like visiting the smaller publishers because often the marketing staff in the booth are actually the people who did editorial work on the titles they’re promoting, so they speak from a place of deep knowledge and love when they share their favorite new works. This was the first year when I’ve felt as though I’ve found the presses that most appeal to me — Coffee House Press, The New Press, NYRB, Workman Publishing, and SoHo Press — so I’m totally indulging myself and sharing all of my favorite finds below. I hauled them all back to my office to create a tiny library of things to read during lunch, so drop by if you’d like to borrow any. I’m curious to hear from others, too. What are your go to booths for books for personal reading at ALA?

My favorite finds from the Exhibit Hall at the 2014 ALA Annual Conference in Vegas

Above: My favorite finds from the Exhibit Hall at the 2014 ALA Annual Conference in Vegas.

Chelcie at the Institute for Research Design in Librarianship

Wednesday, July 9, 2014 4:23 pm

During the two weeks preceding the 2014 ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas, I attended the inaugural Institute for Research Design in Librarianship (IRDL) at Loyola Marymount University in L.A.

2014 Institute for Research Design in Librarianship Scholars, Instructors, and PIs

Above: 2014 Institute for Research Design in Librarianship Scholars, Instructors, and PIs.

The purpose of the institute is to lower barriers for librarians to conduct research—such as unfamiliarity with the research process or research methods, lack of support (both moral and monetary), and lack of confidence. Selection for participation was based primarily on the promise of an original research proposal submitted during the application process.

The Institute’s nine-day curriculum was designed around components of the research process from question formation and strategy of inquiry (qualitative or quantitative, exploratory or experimental) to sampling design and strategizing for publication. In addition to a methods bootcamp, the Institute also offered participants the opportunity to consult with instructors and each other as we continued to revise and refine our research proposals.

In addition to the luxury of focusing all my attention for two weeks on understanding methods and revising my proposal, I loved getting to know librarians whom I might never have met if not for IRDL. Another aim of the Institute was to enable us to construct a personal learning network of possible collaborators for future research projects, and already I am benefitting from an expanded network. We have formed topical Zotero groups and exchanged drafts of research proposals and brainstormed future research projects and (of course) hung out at ALA.

William H. Hannon  Library Exterior

Above: The William H. Hannon Library at Loyola Marymount University provided a beautiful setting (inside and out) for the Institute for Research Design in Librarianship.

My research proposal is motivated by the desire to gather evidence for organizational decision-making. As a member of the newly formed Digital Scholarship Unit, I am interested in identifying potential research data management services for ZSR to consider providing to researchers at Wake Forest University. In order to do this, I plan to look outward to service models of libraries at peer institutions as well as inward to data practices of researchers at Wake Forest University. Currently, the discussion about research data management services is dominated by ARL or R1 libraries, but as the policy environment continues to evolve, more and more researchers in more and more disciplines will be impacted. Consequently, a broader range of research libraries than ARL libraries will grapple withthe question of what is the library’s role in advancing the research mission of the university.

If you’d like to know more about my research proposal, I’d be delighted to chat. But fair warning—I will make you look at my color-coded infographic of my research objectives, research questions, and data collection processes!

Chelcie at CNI Spring 2014 Membership Meeting

Thursday, April 10, 2014 4:31 pm

A few weeks ago Lynn and I attended the Spring 2014 Membership Meeting of the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) in St. Louis, MO. I had never attended CNI in the past, but was pleased to discover how much overlap there is with the Digital Library Federation (DLF), the community that I consider to be my professional home. Like the DLF, CNI is a rich mix of back end and front end; thought leaders and on-the-ground people; and deans, directors, department heads, and a few early career librarians.

I also gave a presentation (my first as ZSR’s Digital Initiatives Librarian!) on Wake Forest’s participation in the Digital Public Library of America, or DPLA. Although the DPLA has been very much a part of the CNI conversation in past meetings, DPLA staff delivered presentations and focused on its vision rather than its implementation. My presentation was part of a two-person panel that shifted the focus to local participation in the DPLA. Alongside Chris Freeland, Associate University Librarian at Washington University in St. Louis,who shared his experiences leading an initiative to organize a DPLA service hub in Missouri, I spoke about our approach as a contributing institution to the DPLA.

Both of our slides are below.

A Pond Feeding a Lake Feeding an Ocean: Wake Forest University as a Contributing Institution to the DPLA from Chelcie Rowell

We contribute our collections to the DPLA via the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center service hub, which aggregates the metadata of contributing institutions across the state of North Carolina and feeds it to the DPLA. We benefit from a relationship infrastructure already in place in North Carolina that Chris and others are working to establish in Missouri. Their goal is to contribute digital collections from Missouri contributing institutions by October 2014. I’m excited to be a part of the DPLA community. It’s not just a national interface to digital collections; it’s an ethos and a movement.

Organizing a DPLA Service Hub in Missouri from Chris Freeland

Compared to other conferences I’ve attended, the #cni14s Twitter stream was particularly active—recording, commenting on, and sometimes challenging the perspectives shared by speakers. As a first time presenter, I used the Twitter stream as an informal assessment mechanism to see what talking points resonated with listeners.

Chelcie at ALA Midwinter 2014

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 4:26 pm

This was my first ALA conference as a librarian rather than a student and my first ALA as an interest group chair. Since I was back in Philly, where I lived between college and library school, I also had the chance to catch up with one of my mentors, Elizabeth Fuller, librarian at the Rosenbach Museum & Library.

ALCTS Photo Scavenger Hunt

This year ALCTS sponsored a photo scavenger hunt on Flickr. I snapped photos of designated ALCTS programs, events, and people and Philadelphia landmarks in order to compete for great prizes such as ALA Store vouchers and ALCTS continuing education credit. The winners haven’t been announced yet, but my fingers are crossed! Below are some of my entries in the scavenger hunt.

At the ALCTS Member Reception

At the ALCTS Member Reception.

With 2013-2014 ALCTS President Genevieve Owens

With 2013-2014 ALCTS President Genevieve Owens.

Where ALCTS Executive Director, Charles Wilt, used to work in Philadelphia - The Franklin Institute

The final item on the photo scavenger hunt was where ALCTS Executive Director, Charles Wilt, used to work in Philadelphia (hint: it was featured in National Treasure). An ALCTS staff member tipped me off that the solution to the puzzle was the Franklin Institute, so luggage in hand, I trekked over to snap a photo before I caught the train back to the airport.

ALCTS PARS Preservation Metadata Interest Group

My co-chair Sarah Potvin and I developed a call for proposals that focused on involving content creators in preservation metadata. We aimed for our program to feature case studies and practical examples of how libraries are working with content creators to contribute metadata that supports long-term preservation of materials, e.g.:

  • Promoting the use of tools such as DataUp or building tools, processes, and/or policies to enable content creators to describe their content in a way that better supports preservation and re-use
  • Working with data creators to produce legible “Read Me” documentation
  • Encouraging creators to embed metadata in born-digital documents or photographs before deposit
  • Using crowd-sourcing to solicit, evaluate, and/or store additional preservation metadata
  • Developing apps or tools for users that collect preservation metadata

Our presenters were Lorraine Richards and Adam Townes (Assistant Professor and PhD candidate respectively at Drexel’s College of Computing and Informatics), part of a research team that is working directly with scientists, engineers and program managers at the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) William J. Hughes Technical Center (WJHTC) in order to understand metadata requirements for facilitating re-use of data sets. In this case study of the FAA, there are preservation metadata implications for intervening early in the lifecycle.

Our other proud accomplishment was successfully moving the ALCTS PARS Executive Board to change the name of our interest group from the unwieldy and out-of-date “Intellectual Access to Preservation Metadata” (a vestige of a time when the conversation around preservation metadata centered on particular MARC fields) to simply “Preservation Metadata.” Sometimes the simplest accomplishments are the most satisfying!

In the Exhibit Hall

I also really enjoyed meeting representatives from vendors of digitization equipment that we use—the Crowley Company, which sells Zeutschel overhead scanners, as well as Atiz, which sells the BookDrive. I brought some specific questions about workflow snafus we have encountered in the digitization lab here at ZSR, and my questions were answered.

Facility tour of George Blood Audio and Video

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 12:53 pm

On Friday, the day I arrived in Philly for the 2014 ALA Midwinter Meeting, I attended a facility tour of George Blood Audio and Video, an A/V digitization vendor. At their studio, we saw a range of playback machines for audio, video and film material; squeezed into their climate controlled vault; and learned a little bit about their workflows.

One of the most memorable comments that George made during our tour is that the point of quality assessment is not to correct errors, but rather to identify the source of errors upstream in order to eliminate errors and improve processes for the long term. Because of their rigorous item-level QA, as the volume of their production has dramatically increased, their error rate has actually decreased.

The staff of George Blood Audio and Video have varied backgrounds – some with an MLIS, others with audio engineering degrees, many of whom had never heard of A/V preservation & reformatting. Either way, in making hiring decisions, George says that he looks for people who recognize the artifactual value of content captured on obsolete media.

George Blood showcases the quad format

The man himself, George Blood, showcases the quad format. It was surprisingly heavy!

Quad playback equipment

Quad playback equipment. George is constantly on the hunt for playback equipment from old studios that he can purchase and incorporate into digitization workflows.

National Be Kind to Video Tape Technicians Week

National Be Kind to Video Tape Technicians Week.

Physical storage (Ampex 196 1" Master Video Tapes)

Physical storage (Ampex 196 1″ Master Video Tapes).

Head cleaners often rarer than playback equipment

Head cleaners are often rarer than playback equipment.

Quadruple styluses! (styli?)

Quadruple styluses! (Styli?) There are analog considerations when it comes to digitizing grooved disks. How well the stylus fits into the groove can impact the digital capture, so audio engineers at George Blood Audio and Video hacked a device that places four styluses on the disk at once. Then, within their software environment, they can switch between the channels associated with each stylus in order to decide which channel to digitize.

George Blood pretzels

George Blood pretzels.

Chelcie at CurateGear 2014

Monday, January 13, 2014 12:23 pm

Last Wednesday I traveled with Rebecca and Tanya to CurateGear 2014 in Chapel Hill, NC. In its third year, CurateGear is a day-long event that showcases tools that facilitate digital curation. The three tools I found most interesting were MetaArchive, a TRAC review tool, and BitCurator.

MetaArchive

MetaArchive is a co-op of university libraries and independent research libraries who work together to preserve their digital content. Each MetaArchive member institution contributes a secure, closed-access, preservation server to the MetaArchive LOCKSS network. After an institution ingests content to its own preservation server, six other servers in the MetaArchive LOCKSS network replicate that content. Servers are assigned to content in order to maximize geographic distribution.New or changed content is stored alongside the original, and in fact, this support for versioning is a huge advantage of MetaArchive’s preservation strategy. The seven servers check in with each other periodically in order to perform fixity checks and verify that all seven copies remain identical. If a mismatch is identified, the servers reach consensus about which copy is “correct” and repair the mismatch. The repair is treated as a version and stored alongside the original. The co-op model offers economies of scale, and membership in MetaArchive seems very reasonable. The knowledge community of MetaArchive strikes me as an appealing alternative to preservation-as-a-service vendors such as DuraCloud and Preservica.

TRAC review tool

Acronyms abound in our profession, and for those who aren’t familiar, TRAC refers to Trustworthy Repositories Audit and Certification (TRAC): Criteria and Checklist, which is now ISO 16363. Essentially, TRAC is a method for demonstrating that a digital repository meets certain criteria for trustworthiness. There are 88 criteria on the checklist, and they fall into three categories:

  • Organizational Infrastructure – e.g. mission statement, succession plans, professional development, financial stability
  • Digital Object Management – e.g. metadata templates, persistent unique identifiers, registries of formats ingested, preservation planning
  • Technologies, Technical Infrastructure, and Security – e.g. detecting bit corruption, migration processes, off-site backup

While TRAC is designed for repositories to become certified as trustworthy, many institutions simply use it as a self-assessment tool. Developed by Nancy McGovern, the Head of Curation and Preservation Services at MIT Libraries, the TRAC review tool enables the assessor to provide evidence of how well a repository meets a TRAC criterion and rate its compliance on a five-point scale:

  • 4 = fully compliant – the repository can demonstrate that has comprehensively addressed the requirement
  • 3 = mostly compliant – the repository can demonstrate that it has mostly addressed the requirement and is on working on full compliance
  • 2 = half compliant – the repository has partially addressed the requirement and has significant work remaining to fully address the requirement
  • 1 = slightly compliant – the repository has something in place, but has a lot of work to do in addressing the requirement
  • 0 = non-compliant or not started – the repository has not yet addressed the requirement or has not started the review of the requirement

Of course, knowledge of whether a repository meets all of these 88 criteria isn’t the purview of one person, and another benefit of the TRAC review tool is that it enables the lead assessor to assign certain criteria to other people (such as admin or tech team), making the whole process of assessing repository activities more transparent across an organization.

Technically speaking, the TRAC review tool is simply a Drupal instance with a page for each TRAC criterion, so it’s very lightweight and easy to begin using after download!

BitCurator

BitCurator bundles open-source digital forensics tools to help memory institutions manage born-digital materials and perform tasks such as:

  • acquiring disk images of floppies, hard drives, laptops, or desktops
  • generating technical metadata for the disk images
  • identifying and retracting sensitive information such as SSNs, credit card information, etc.

Most of the tools that BitCurator is adapting for use by memory institutions originate in the law enforcement world, whose purposes are very different from our own. BitCurator repurposes these tools for the curation tasks of special collections and archives. For example, capturing a disk image (rather than file by file by file) not only preserves the environment in which the creator worked, but also in a certain sense preserves the “original order” of the records. Last summer I attended a BitCurator hackathon hosted by the Open Planets Foundation, where my main output was a detailed draft of a workflow for ingesting born-digital materials. At CurateGear 2014, I was pleased to hear about some updates to BitCurator 0.5.8 and pleased, too, that my draft workflow doesn’t yet need revision!

Chelcie at 2013 DLF Forum

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 1:51 pm

I have attended the DLF Forum every year since I began library school, but this year was the first year that I attended as a full-fledged librarian. It was a very different experience to attend the Forum while constantly asking myself “What will I bring back to ZSR?” Below are three of my major takeaways, culled both from formal conference sessions and from informal conversations with other attendees.

Investigate moving towards large-scale digitization of archival materials.

The digitization of rare and unique materials broadens access to those materials beyond the reading room to any screen that can access the Web. Early digitization projects often cherry-picked specific items to digitize and created rich descriptions of those items, similar to how items might be selected for a physical exhibition. Increasingly, however, digital collection managers recognize that completely digitized collections support scholarly inquiry better than boutique digitization efforts. Both an access model and a content strategy, large-scale digitization¹ selects entire collections (or entire series within collections) for digitization, and online access replicates the reading room experience by contextualizing individual items within the archival arrangement of a processed collection. Rather than painstakingly creating metadata at the item level, large-scale digitization makes use of existing metadata from the finding aid at the container, series, and collection level. This approach can both streamline production workflows and better meet the needs of researchers.

At the DLF Forum, a panel presentation titled Big Archival Data: Designing Workflows and Access to Large-Scale Digitized Collections focused on how the principles of large-scale digitization were put into practice in different institutional contexts. Michael Doylen and Ann Hanlon of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee discussed the digitization of the Kwasniewski photographs, the collection of a Polish-American photographer who captured images of the Polish community in Milwaukee. 80% of the digitized photographs re-used existing item-level metadata transcribed from negative sleeves during processing of the collection; 20% of the digitized photographs were designated for further image processing and metadata enhancement – e.g. titles that are unique and more specific, description, and additional subject headings. By taking a comprehensive approach, this digital collection makes available “the rare, the lesser-known, the overlooked, the neglected, and the downright excluded.”² Following Michael and Ann, Karen Weiss of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art discussed the workflows that her institution have developed in order to link container lists in their finding aids to digital materials in their digital asset management system. Starting from a collection summary page, the researcher can browse to a particular series and then view all of the items that are contained within a particular folder. In this way, the digital collections experience better approximates the in-person reading room experience.

When performing digital humanities outreach to faculty and students, lead with content.

Another advantage of a large-scale digitization approach is that it enables the library to market its digital collections as corpora for digital humanities research. During THATCamp Digital Humanities & Libraries following the DLF Forum I had the opportunity to chat with Zoe Borovsky, who is the Librarian for Digital Research and Scholarship at the UCLA Library. Zoe shared with me that one tack that she is taking more and more frequently is to demonstrate that UCLA’s digitized special collections support digital humanities modes of inquiry -because the more faculty who build digital projects on top of existing digital collections, the more digital projects the library can support. Thus far, I’ve reached out to a few faculty that I’ve met at social events to learn more about their digital scholarship and pedagogy and how the library might support those aspects of their work. But in the emerging area of digital humanities it’s not always the case that there’s an existing library solution to a faculty problem. At this stage, my goal is to build relationships and gather requirements. Do some faculty want to create crowd-sourced collections, which they could eventually contribute to WakeSpace? Do other faculty want to text mine newspapers? Do still other faculty want to use Omeka to incorporate building digital collections into course projects? These needs are quite heterogenous! In the presentation Testing Omeka for Core Digital Library Services Jenn Riley (formerly of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, now of McGill University) said that she is planning for a future when every humanities faculty member at her university is interested in creating a digital project. With that kind of scalability in mind, when I meet with faculty, in addition to gathering requirements, I will also market ZSR’s existing digital collections as potential corpora for digital humanities research.

Investigate adopting the DMPTool to support data management planning for faculty.

The DMPTool enables universities to provide investigators who are writing data management plans with custom guidance. The DMPTool has been available for some time now, but a new version was recently released, and the development team presented at the sessionDMPTool2: Improvements and Outreach at the DLF Forum. At our last Digital Scholarship team meeting, we discussed investigating the DMPTool as a goal for next year. When an institution adopts the DMPTool, admins are able to provide suggested answers for each question on a particular funder’s data management plan form. After modifying the suggested answers supplied in the DMPTool, the investigator can generate a PDF of their data management plan and append it to his or her grant application. Customization of the DMPTool now includes the option to provide Shibboleth authentication. DMPTool2 improvements for plan creators include the ability to:

  • copy existing plans into new plans
  • work collaboratively with colleagues – e.g. add co-owners of plan
  • request review of plans
  • share plans within institutions
  • provide public access to plans

DMPTool2 improvements for administrators include:

  • a module that enables direct editing of customized responses to different funder templates or the ability to create your own templates (before administrators had to email the DMPTool development team in order to enact this sort of customization)
  • several new administrator roles – e.g. institutional reviewer and institutional administrator
  • enhanced search and browse of plans
  • mandatory or optional review of plans

Outside of conference hours, I enjoyed exploring Austin. Highlights included visiting the flagship Whole Foods store, watching the bat colony emerge from under the First Street bridge at dusk, and eating fabulous mole at El Naranjo (an authentic Mexican restaurant recommended by the Texas Monthly). Work hard, play hard!

(1) For a formal definition of large-scale digitization, see page 55 of the 2010 OCLC Research report Taking Our Pulse: The OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives.

(2) Flanders, Julia. (2009) The productive unease of 21st-century digital scholarship. Digital Humanities Quarterly,3(3). http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/3/3/000055/000055.html

Contributing ZSR Digital Collections to the DPLA!

Friday, October 25, 2013 4:07 pm

Tanya, Craig, and Vicki all mentioned the keynote about the DPLA (Digital Public Library of America) at the Tri-State Archivists’ Conference. Before Emily Gore of the DPLA headed to Greenville, SC to deliver her keynote, she was in Greensboro, NC meeting with digital collection managers. I attended the meeting to learn more about the nitty gritty how-to of contributing ZSR’s digital collections to the DPLA.

For those who aren’t familiar, the DPLA aggregates metadata from the digital collections of libraries, archives, and museums across the United States. In addition to providing a slick search interface at dp.la, the DPLA also makes its API open to developers and encourages the building of apps on top of this platform. By contributing our metadata to the DPLA, we will expose our collections to a national audience. In addition, we will drive traffic to our site from both the dp.la site and apps built on top of the DPLA API.

DPLA App Library

At DPLAfest 2013, the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center was recognized as one of three new service hubs that will aggregate metadata from their regions and serve as a conduit to the DPLA. Over 120,000 records from North Carolina institutions are currently available at dp.la, including records from the State Library of North Carolina, State Archives of North Carolina, and the libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, East Carolina University, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in addition to all the records made available by the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center itself at digitalnc.org.

When an institution contributes collections to the DPLA via a service hub such as the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, they share an item’s metadata as well as its thumbnail.

The DPLA record recognizes both the service hub (in the example above the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center) and the contributing institution (Transylvania County Library). Clicking on either the item’s thumbnail or “View Object” takes the user to the item as it appears on the original site, in this case digitalnc.org (see below).

One more interesting thing to note about the DPLA’s approach to aggregating digital collections is that metadata shared with the DPLA is made available under a CC0 license. By participating in the DPLA, we agree that others may re-use our metadata. However, it’s important to recognize that metadata rights are not equal to digital object rights. Rather, the digital objects we make available via Wake Space remain available under whatever terms we determine.

The North Carolina Digital Heritage Center is currently in the process of evaluating our feeds before adding selected collections to the DPLA. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions!

Chelcie at NCLA 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 11:01 am

The NCLA 60th Biennial Conference was the first conference I attended in my first professional library position – and what a great time it was! I enjoyed meeting lots of North Carolina librarians, including those who are doing similar work to me right now and those who like me are just starting out.

Most of the sessions I attended fell in the broad category of digital projects – North Carolina’s contribution to the National Digital Newspaper Program; social media strategies for special collections and digital projects; and the new NC ECHO, which harvests the metadata of digital collections across the state of North Carolina and provides simple keyword searching across the collections whose metadata was harvested.

But two of the most memorable sessions I attended were those that fell just a little bit outside my comfort zone but nevertheless still touch on my work.

Always Be Closing: Liaisons As Sales Force

Nathaniel King and Jacqueline Solis of UNC led this session. Drawing on both Karen Williams’ Framework for Articulating New Library Roles and Neil Rackham’s SPIN selling techniques, Nathaniel and Jacqueline argued that engagement requires offering library solutions to solve user problems – in essence, being a salesperson.

Applying the SPIN framework to liaison work looks something like this:

  • Situation questions
    • How long have you been in this department?
    • What are you working on now?
    • What kind of data do you collect in your research?
  • Problem questions – Get the customer to talk about difficulties or dissatisfaction with their current situation.
    • Do you have data sets without a way to easily store & retrieve?
  • Implication questions – Take the stated problem to its logical conclusion. How is the problem affecting the research/teaching/productivity of the customer?
    • How does not easily accessing data affect your research?
  • Needs-payoff questions – Customer describes the benefits of solving the identified problem and tells you the payoff they would receive by solving it.
    • How would it help your research if you had one secure place to store all your data? We have an IR…

Nathaniel and Jacqueline used role playing to demonstrate the framework and encouraged participants to practice during the session, as well. This framework gave me a lot of food for thought about strategies that I’d been using implicitly when engaging with humanities faculty at new faculty receptions, but having an explicit framework within which to place my strategies will, I’m sure, help me to close the sale more frequently in the future.

Telling Your Story with Data

Joyce Chapman and Beth Hayden of the State Library of North Carolina led this session, which focused on using data to support arguments. Joyce was the person behind the beautiful digitization progress charts for a collaborative digitization project among Duke, UNC, NC State, and NC Central so I was excited to attend her session. Most of the data sources Joyce and Beth highlighted were targeted towards public librarians, but the framework they provided for substantiating either claims of need or claims of excellence in service is applicable to all library contexts.

For me, the most useful exercise from their presentation was to take an anonymized example paragraph from an actual grant application and consider how its argument could be strengthened with data:

“This type of special collections materials is frequently accessed by users. The papers of X, Y, Z are among our most requested. The papers of A, B, and C were recently processed and therefore have been accessible for only a couple years. Nonetheless, they have seen growing research interest during that brief time.”

A reviewer of this grant application might ask “Well, how frequently are these materials requested or accessed by users? How do you know research interest has grown?” so it would be helpful to incorporate evidence into the claim. One might say a collection is among the top 10 most requested each year, or that it has been requested more than 40% of other collections. The most important takeaway was to contextualize your data – not to provide numbers in isolation but to answer the question “compared to what?”.

Attending this session gave me food for thought about how to track our digitization stats in such a way that we have data at the ready when we sit down to make an argument – either when reporting on the strength of our services or applying for a grant.


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