There is definitely a movement afoot to jump on the data band wagon. This is nothing new. But it is becoming more common to hear how librarians are becoming data driven and how catalogers and metadata work with data. The number of workshops on how to handle the data deluge, how to help manage data, etc. continue to proliferate. The discussion that is conspicuously absent is about technical infrastructure. Working with data often means working with big data sets. What are big data sets? There’s a lot of variation. In the admissions office at the university where I work, the average data set is approximately 250,000 rows in a spreadsheet. As for myself, it ranges from 9000 to 12000 records at a time. The biggest problem isn’t the size of the data set in my case but the technical infrastructure that I have to work with to do everything I have to with these data. The cables in my old office were “cat 3” perhaps the original cables from the 70’s. My network speed was 10 mbps! At that time, I could only handle data sets of 2000-3000 records at a time. I moved to an office with better cables and network speeds hovering around 100 mbps. Now I can handle sets around 8000-10000 records at a time. The problem at the high-end of this scale are time outs or the circle of death where I have to restart my machine. In terms of my work computer, it is the base computer that most academic institutions acquire en masse. That means no extra memory, the base processing power and a short lifespan. Having the connection speed and the cables is only half the battle. Working with data and especially big data requires a machine equipped to process that amount of data and the memory to do what is needed to that data and create results that are big or just as big. My work computer is a good and solid machine. But its primary purpose is processing documents suited for your typically office job. As we move towards being data manipulators and data managers, we also need to be wary of the technical infrastructure that supports this work. If we don’t also invest in this technical infrastructure for our work, no amount of skills will be able to work around these hardware issues.
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.
In several of my past posts, I’ve talked about change. In relation to the metadata services, I put out the survey because I feel that a change is needed where I work. More specifically, as users’ needs change, the way we help them, aka do business, also has to change. I’m not advocating for giving up cataloging or saying goodbye to MARC. Our users also need our expertise in describing materials that the library owns, borrows, leases and might potential lease, own or rent. This is one aspect to metadata services that is complex. It means advocating for change while also keeping the same services levels that we’ve kept with other workflows. This is not always easy or wanted because unfortunately it does mean extra work and inevitably training and skill building.
This week, I read a fantastic post by Sally Gore at “A Librarian by Any Other Name” called “Follow the leader”. She refers to an article, “Convincing Employees to Use New Technology” by Didier Bonnet at the Harvard Business Review. Briefly the article provides tips on how to go beyond technology implementation and how to successfully have technology adoption. According to the article, one of the primary reasons for not adopting a technology is that the effort was in the technology’s implementation and not its adoption. Further, new technology tend not to affect a change in how business is done creating a noted conflict from the start. To help adoption and change business practices in our digital working environment, Bonnet provides the following tips: do fewer things better, plan and budget for adoption, lead by example, engage true believers, engage HR and organizational people sooner and better, align rewards and recognition.
Sally Gore focuses her post on leading by example. She explains that many still say no to new technology. I would go further and say that many still say no to change that makes one feel vulnerable in the workplace. Her post has some great examples but finishes with the idea that in library land, our leaders need to be examples.
We need this same kind of leadership in libraries, in the Academy, and in other areas of science. Those of us who see and/or have experienced the value of implementing new technologies into our work need to be fairly tireless in banging the can for them. We need to continue to lead by example and hopefully, in time, we will all reap the rewards.
This is a great post and the original article is worth reading. I agree with Sally that our leaders need to be examples for not just new technologies but changes that help us meet the changing needs of users. However, it is not always the case that our leaders are ready to lead by example. It is important to incorporate the change and new technologies into your own workflow. In other words, everyone needs to lead by example.
In my last post, I ended with the question of how to get the resources you need to create and deliver metadata services. I should say right now that I’m not sure really how to do this effectively. One issues is that metadata services is a very vague subject. What are metadata services? And then who delivers those services? There’s also the question of change and how change is accepted in your institution.
One of the reasons I put out a survey on metadata practices in digital scholarship was to find out what these practices were. Further I wanted to see it people had any suggestions or things that they tried at their institution that helped create and deliver such services. The second reason was that I was interested in seeing what is meant by a “public” metadata service. I wrote the survey around the time of the ALCTS e-forum on public service and cataloging. The majority of participants told stories of how they work at a public “desk” in the library and how their cataloging skills helped them find information faster and more efficiently for the patron. With metadata services, I believe there is a public component. You might not sit at a desk for a couple of hours per day. But you are on call to answer questions from staff or patrons and then also you set up appointments for longer consultations. For myself, these public reference and consultation services concern almost exclusively digital initiatives (research data, digital humanities, and our digital repository).
Let me return to resources because I wanted to know how people responded to needs of metadata (creating, enhancing, transforming between various standards, best practices, etc.) in digital scholarship with a small staff and few resources for training. There was one respondent who described a pilot project at their institution. The respondent explained that the pilot project was a new attempt to provide services to those who work with research data. Essentially this pilot brought together several staff across units: metadata librarian, subject specialists, programers, digital librarians. Their goal was to draw on each others strengths to create a toolkit for faculty who produce research data (most likely in the sciences). This toolkit included tips and ways to get help from this team in the library. What I found interesting was that to have the staff resources necessary, this institution brought together a team of people who work in different areas. To help with training and time, this team helped each other learn together as they developed this toolkit for faculty.
This is something that my institution has had to do as well. No one person can handle all of these services together. This includes metadata services. With research data, often the researcher has the best handle on their data or at least you hope so. They might need guidance in terms of making it more accessible to a certain user base or more consistent for re-use for visualizations for example. However, they are the data owners not you. This allows the metadata specialists to work with a fellow data expert. When you add a subject specialists, you add another specialist who understands the researcher, their work and their “framework”. In some cases, the subject specialists has or participates in the researcher’s type of project. What is more is that the subject specialist also understands the library’s goal of helping the researcher with whatever they need help with (perhaps a data management plan, a digital humanities project, creating a timeline, submitting research to a repository, …). When you add a digital initiatives or even a programmer, then there are more people to share ideas and move forward. Instead of one person or one unit trying to respond to needs, you have a group working across silos.
With the survey, I would say that a majority of respondents worked across silos in their institution. I would venture to say that even the largest and well funded institutions don’t have all the resources they would like. To offer services, it is necessary to have a group effort. That way staff rely, learn, teach, and help each other.