Sally Gore had another interesting post on the topic of the bifurcation of data or data that is not within its context. What I found interesting about this post was that in the rush to offer services to researchers that these data are taken out of context like so many other things currently in our society. In reading this article, I was reminded of the early years of digitization and digital collections. The rush was to scan as much as possible and put it online. More often than not, there was no context provided with the digital asset, which was some stand alone artifact. Even today, I see digital collections built on the principle of a huge quantity of digital assets that will help sustain a digital repository as well as secure some long-term preservation goal. This reminds of the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Thinking back on Sally’s post on big data, what happens when those words aren’t those of the researcher or have nothing what so ever to do with the image or data? And therein lies the problem. It is not just a problem for researchers but for all those who publish data (whether digital assets, data sets, theses, etc.). The problem is that these data will be taken out of context at some point. I’m not sure how many times I’ve heard people refer to the tree that falls and no one hears it (G. Berkeley) or is the pipe really a pipe (R. Magritt). But rarely do they know the philosophies behind it or even the person who wrote about it. Unlike completely anonymous data, my philosophical references are rooted in a fairly complex context. This is the other side of the problem. If research and data are not put in context by those who understand the research and data then I would place my bet on the eventual misuse of those data and research or perhaps even their lose. In Sally’s example, she mentions that data are collected, analyzed, and managed for certain reasons decided by the researcher. To avoid complete misuse of these data or their loss, it’s important for that researcher to provide the context for these data. This is the realm of documentation or in the library world metadata. Of course metadata cannot solve every misuse of data but it can put a damper on it. In my examples, it was fairly easy to find the context of the pipe and the tree, granted with several different perspectives. But it is through that prism and the original painting or book where the quote was taken that I can read or consult for myself. This is why documentation is so extremely crucial. It is also a step often overlooked or thought of as some secondary task of filling out some silly web form to get data into a repository. Documentation is as necessary and important as the data and research. If researchers don’t recognize this, then their data risks being misused to a greater degree or even lost. To go back to the image, with no context, people will make up one of their own, sometimes for their own benefit. I saw the webinar on Diversity in Data Management and noticed that metadata often takes a back seat. Even where I work and with the workshops we provide for researchers, metadata or documentation is considered boring or too much trouble for the effort. Even with researchers with the best intentions, adding enough metadata to contextualize data in the digital repository is seen as a secondary thought. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this from many librarians and even some who add and manage content in a digital repository. Is this something that librarians can come to the rescue and resolve? I would say no, not really. This might seem pessimistic but actually it goes back to one of the central points in Sally’s post, namely it is the researcher who can provide context. I would say that as a librarian it is not up to me to provide context for that which I don’t understand. However, I can help those understand the benefit of documentation as many catalogers and metadata librarians have been doing for a very long time. Hopefully, people realize the benefits of metadata to help them safeguard their data and research from misuse or loss.
Do you know Sally Gore and her blog, “A Librarian by any other name”? Her blog is one of my favorites. Sometimes, it takes me a couple of weeks just to think about the different ideas that she addresses in her blog, which tend to be dense. Recently, she posted, “Taking Inventory“. This is an extremely positive post about transformations and transforming oneself as a librarian. Too often, change is seen as an obstacle. It causes fear, disruption, and sometimes a lot of grief. One of Sally’s points is that during her times of transition, she experienced a period of inspiration and skill learning and building. Not only that, the skills she learned in her many positions as a librarian over the years has value to her community. This brings me to another important point. These variations transformations lead up to the person she is today and the skills that she can offer her community. These changes took time. To quote Sally,
Nobody makes “The Flying Wallendas” varsity team without years and years of practice (and good genes).
This is very true. During a period where people often seek instant gratification, this might seem counter-cultural. It is not only doing our job but also re-inventing ourselves. One of my supervisor’s favorite motto is to fail fast and often. Thinking of this motto in the context of Sally’s message, this could be interpreted as “change and grow often”. I would definitely recommend reading this post. It is positive, upbeat and a much needed happy outlook on change and transformation.
I’m trying to catch up on my reading and other things this weekend. Finally, I got around to looking up the white paper that I read about in the latest issue of American Libraries. That white paper is in reference to the article starting on page 40, “The Future of the MLS: Rethinking Librarian Education” by John Carolo Bertot and Lindsay Sarin. The author’s summary of our current situation is well known to many of us: significant reductions in work force, variety of information sources open to people, changing nature of information and how people find and access it, changing communities, etc. These are arguments that we’ve heard before. Our users, how those users access information, and what information is is changing and will continue to change in the future. What I found interesting about the article was the question: how can future librarians be trained for this ever changing landscape or rather landscapes? The authors had 8 main points: inform, enable, equalize, lead, adaptable, create, lead, be tech-savy. In the white paper referenced by the authors, these points are echoed with concepts such as innovation, creativity, transformation, life-long learning, or incentives. Honestly, my library school days didn’t prepare me for much of my current job much or my other jobs I’ve had since graduating. This is partly due to the fact that the information landscape is changing and evolving all the time. It is extremely difficult to prepare others for unknown changes. On the flip side, it could be helpful to prepare others how to deal with change. When faced with disappearing staff and low budgets, being creative and adapting to new realities become necessary. This is not necessarily negative. It is necessary to think out of the box. Yes, there are many information sources available for users. However, that doesn’t mean that users get the information they need or want. Many of those information sources are confusing and hard to navigate. Today, librarians are in an amazing situation to be mediators of information. Further, we can learn from those other information sources, determine what we do best and what they do best, and grow and improve our services. Though the article was geared towards those teaching future librarians, the main points and white paper provide insight for working librarians. It is not so much the future where we have to be adaptable, creative, innovative, flexible and learn. It is right now. I would definitely recommend reading this article and looking at the white paper/poster. Though I learn more on the job than I did in library school, perhaps this is the point. This article spoke more to me now that if I would have read it during library school. In fact, this article spoke to me about what we can be doing as librarians now and in the future not just librarians in training.
I didn’t find my session on workflow efficiency. However, I attended a great session on how the role of electronic resources librarian is changing. I wanted to share with you my notes from the session because the presenter did a great job of asking the question about how everyone’s role in the library is changing. The presenter was Monica Moore from the University of Notre Dame Libraries; her slides should be up soon on ALA Connect.
Monica Moore presented a captivating topic which she introduced as how the role of electronic resources librarians has evolved. What made this topic interesting was that Monica delved into the meaning of “role”. She began by looking at how job titles have changed over the years. Is the title “electronic resources librarian” meaningful? Does it represent what these librarians do? Is it an outmoded title almost akin to the phrase “technical services”? Monica began asking these question because her role has changed. Increasingly, it is becoming apparent that librarians in technical services have to be better communicators and educators. Monica explained that her role has increasingly become one of an interpreter. As such, she must not only communicate but also educate her colleagues about the technology and systems underlying her work in electronic resources. This begs the question of how to communicate this effectively when certain issues that are brought to the attention of the electronic resources librarian might not be directly be about technology or systems but policies that affect the institution as a whole. Also, these technology and systems have an impact whose influences are felt throughout the staff and user community. Monica provided two examples of how complex this new role can be and how misunderstandings need to be fielded by an interpreter. The first example was a ticket logged that asked a record be fixed because of an inconsistent date range. The problem was not necessarily the date range in the record in the catalog but SFX and several systems that need to talk to each other to delivery information. The second example was a request to fix records to disallow a certain type of content. This was not so much a technical question but that of policy in terms of what goes into the collection or not. Monica explained that there is a lot of information that is lost in translation. Long detailed emails are insufficient in helping to really bridging the divide between those who rely on e-resources and the librarians who make it happen. It is also misleading to think that answers boil down to that of technical systems or technical services. Instead of the “who needs to address this”, we need to look at “what needs to be done”. This change in perspective will help bring this issues to the institution as a whole. Electronic resources do not fall solely under one person’s job anymore.