Number 100 • July/August 2014
ISSN 1944-7639 (online version)
On The 100th Edition of CLIR Issues
Farewell Interview with Rachel Frick
DLF Announces 2014 Forum Program
Postdoc Summer Seminar Hosts Largest Cohort to Date
Forthcoming: The Changing Landscape of Information Services
Apply Now for Rovelstad Scholarship in International Librarianship
Alice Bishop Named Senior Program Officer
Looking for a Job? Want to Post a Job?
We invite you to look at our weekly blog series, “Re: Thinking,” which features perspectives from a variety of contributors on topics relating to the emerging digital environment, research, and higher education. In the latest, “A Word is Born: A Digital Exhibit for the Dictionary of Old English,” Data Curation Fellow Alexandra Bolintineanu posts on a digital outreach initiative to showcase The Dictionary of Old English and its latest release.
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by Chuck Henry
What were they thinking? The occasion of the 100th edition of CLIR Issues prompts me to look back to the first publication in 1998, to explore what were considered the most important issues, challenges, and topics at the time the Council on Library Resources merged with the Commission on Preservation and Access to form CLIR. The impetus is not nostalgic, but rather to discern the similarities and differences during the passing of 16 years. Not surprisingly, ideas that gripped the new organization in the late 1990s have purchase today, but there are significant distinctions between those early years and now, allowing insight into the evolution of a vibrant, national organization that not only needs to keep current with the times, but whose mission is also to influence and help manage the often turbulent changes that confront us.
All of the articles in the first edition of CLIR Issues comprise themes relevant to the Council’s contemporary agenda. For this essay I have chosen scholarship and technology; the Digital Library Federation; and two essays focused on aspects of digitization of cultural heritage, “Digitization Prompts New Preservation and Access Strategies,” and “Digitization of Historical Pictorial Collections for the Internet.”
In the essay, “Joint ACLS/CLIR Task Forces Consider Scholarship and Technology,” James Morris summarizes questions that brought representatives of these organizations together: “What are the consequences of the technology’s powerful hold likely to be for the serious endeavor of scholarship, in our time and for decades to come? What changes in the process of scholarship and instruction will result from the use of digital technology, and how can we assure that libraries and archives continue to serve the research needs of scholars and students in the face of the technological transformation?”
The task forces set out to explore issues such as the consequences for scholarship and learning using digital surrogates; the impact of technologies on staffing, infrastructure, and finances; and the challenge of preserving the new digital resources and maintaining access to them over time. The first meeting of this collaborative committee focused on audiovisual material; subsequent meetings focused on discussions with scholars about their research and teaching in this new environment.
“Digital Library Federation Shapes its Program,” written by Don Waters, DLF’s first director, describes the program’s earliest activities. These include DLF’s participation in the Making of America project, which highlighted the importance of metadata and the distinctions among various kinds of metadata. Don Waters also describes some of the site visits he had undertaken to get a better understanding of DLF member institutions and their activities pertaining to digital libraries. Among the many astute observations culled during these visits was one that contemporary readers will recognize: “Many projects have arisen in response not to institutional needs but to intense personal interests among library staff members, who worry that they will be left behind professionally and that their institutions will suffer competitively if they do not engage in digital library work. The projects resulting from such motivation are useful for the professional development of members of the library staff, but they are typically small and underfunded, and they lack the institutional backing that is essential if the work is to endure over time.” The difficulty of sustaining digital library projects, whether developed by librarians or by faculty, remains a salient issue.
Two of the articles in the first edition of CLIR Issues focus on digitization of the cultural legacy: “Digitization Prompts New Preservation-and-Access Strategies,” and extracts from the publication Digitizing Historical Pictorial Collections for the Internet, by Stephen Ostrow. In the first, Abby Smith notes that “the fundamental character of preservation in the digital world and how it is to be achieved are matters of dispute among specialists. While most librarians will agree that digital surrogates play a role in preventive preservation by allowing patrons to use fragile or poorly preserved items to which they might not normally have unrestricted access in a reading room, there is no consensus about the role of digital files in preserving the information contained in the original. And that is likely to remain the case as long as standards have not been agreed upon and the technology continues to evolve.”
A few comments from the extract of Digitizing Historical Pictorial Collections for the Internet similarly resonate today: “The context established by doing research in a reading room provides a comfort zone for both the institution and the researcher in that it establishes parameters that govern expectations and assumptions. None of the conditions that establish this context pertain to gaining access to digital images on the Internet. No assumptions can be made about the probable audience; anyone can gain access to the images at any time for any purpose. The physical setting becomes everyone’s computer at the office or at home, and the inter-institutional reach of the Internet obfuscates any consistent institutional identity.” The report also correctly predicts that “the use of digital images as research surrogates will grow . . . with access to the originals restricted to those circumstances where it is absolutely necessary.”
While many years have passed between issues number 1 and 100, the topics of focus when CLIR was formed persist today: the tensions between using analog materials as opposed to digital surrogates; the challenge of preserving our cultural record; exploring and defining the concept of a digital library; funding and sustaining technology-dependent projects; and developing new approaches to staffing and expertise in response to an evolving digital environment. Issue 1 has a discernible newness to it. Not only is CLIR embarking as a freshly minted organization, there is a palpable sense that the challenges and topics highlighted in the inaugural publication are also nascent, provocative, and of significant future import. In the intervening years we have gained a deeper understanding of these phenomena.
The opportunities and challenges cited in 1998 on the nature of humanities scholarship and digital resources have evolved generally into the topic of digital humanities. CLIR has expanded its research devoted to this phenomenon, including the study One Culture. Computationally Intensive Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (2012), conducted on behalf of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Working Together or Apart: Promoting the Next Generation of Digital Scholarship (2009).
The postdoctoral fellowships have emerged as a major program at CLIR that ties together research and the increasing dependency on digital information. In the beginning, the program attracted recently granted PhD scholars who wished to work in libraries and share their methodological expertise and research skills with librarians who were adopting new technologies and serving new support needs within the faculty. The postdoc program has expanded significantly in the last four years with a focus on data curation across many disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. The program embeds scholars into libraries, data curation centers, and laboratories to investigate procedural solutions to the challenges that big data engenders. The postdoc program is in this respect a practical response to the queries in 1998 of how to address the burgeoning reliance upon digital technologies in the conduct of research. A summary of the complexity of data can be found in The Problem of Data (Jahnke, Asher, Keralis 2012), a report that served as an impetus for the expansion of the postdoc program.
Preservation, always a central focus of CLIR, continues to be of deep interest, ranging from the preservation and reuse of data, Research Data Management: Principles, Practices, and Prospects (2013), to preserving treasures of our analog cultural heritage, Survival of American Silent feature Films: 1912-1929 (Pierce 2013). On the topic of digitization, CLIR is now in conversation with The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop a program that funds the digitization of special and rare collections that are of critical value to scholarship and teaching. Still in the planning stage, its goals would be to make valuable resources easily available, promote standardization of metadata and digitizing techniques, and encourage aggregation of digitized objects in the future.
The Digital Library Federation is a compelling success. From those early site visits and posing of questions and observations that would frame the Federation’s evolution, today it is a flourishing program that has attracted a growing membership and has mounted each year a Forum that is vibrant, timely, and of great value to its constituency. Because DLF brings together a variety of technology practitioners and project leaders, it serves CLIR as the practical lynchpin for the execution of our vision. Without DLF, CLIR would not be able to instantiate the many ideas and concepts articulated in our reports and research. DLF connects CLIR to a world of thoughtful expertise that develops and maintains the digital ecology in which higher education thrives.
Among these strands of thematic continuity, the most notable difference between the work of CLIR in 1998 and today has been the creation of an overarching framework in which all of our separate projects and programs are brought together and nested in an encompassing national context. The Committee on Coherence at Scale for Higher Education was established in 2012 as a national project based on an observation and a hypothesis. The observation is that we live in a unique historical time: several very large-scale digital projects are under way that represent nearly every facet of the cycle of academic knowledge. These facets include the creation and curation of data; long-term preservation; accessible digital libraries for research and pedagogy; publishing; the reuse and recombination of scholarship; and the production of new tools and applications that promote more sophisticated inquiry and methodologies. The hypothesis rests on the assumption that these projects, while valuable in and of themselves, would be extraordinary if developed as integrated elements of a new system of knowledge in support of higher education, and by extension in service to the public good.
The Committee on Coherence at Scale brings together academic administrators, presidents of national educational agencies, library directors, scholars, IT experts, and representatives of large-scale projects to explore the technical architecture, financial costs, and academic implications of building a cohesive, functional environment. This project responds to the insight that no single profession or agency can meaningfully manage the proliferating and unscripted surge of technology; and that the tradition of institutional competition has to be suspended, at least in part, to address the complexity of the digital revolution by providing the strategic leadership necessary to realize a new academic ecology.
The intellectual road connecting 1998 to 2014 has been exhilarating, traveled always with the acknowledgment that we are privileged to work in, learn from, and influence a pivotal—and at times astonishing—turn in the nearly thousand year venture of higher education.
After serving for four years as director of the Digital Library Federation, Rachel Frick will leave CLIR on August 29 to join the Digital Public Library of America as business development director. We will miss her at CLIR, but look forward to our continued cooperation at DPLA. CLIR Issues Editor Kathlin Smith spoke with Rachel about her time at DLF, challenges facing the profession, and what’s next.
Q: What do you consider to be DLF’s greatest achievement over the past four years?
It would have to be growing the community and making the program more robust. When I started four years ago we had 35 members. Today we have 104. At the beginning, I spent a lot of time talking to people about their perceptions of DLF. It was clear that a more open organization was wanted. As DLF has opened up, we’ve expanded the range of perspectives, revitalized the conversations, and strengthened the community. Forum participation has grown and is active. We’ve changed what DLF means, and we are able to communicate the benefits. By stating why the program is important, sharing the good work, and opening up the conversation, we’ve changed the dynamic. DLF has gone from something that was very closed to something very open.
Q: Is there a moment that you are most proud of from your work at DLF?
A highlight for me was at last year’s Forum, when Char Booth gave the closing statement. Usually at closing keynotes you see a lot of people leave, but we had almost full conference participation. Char gave such a dynamic talk, and everybody was engaged. Her talk was not just about digital libraries, it was about something bigger—about the individuals and the profession. I felt like we’d achieved something that had been a personal goal for me. In the conference and the program we focus on the technicalities, details, and practitioner operations but at the same time we try to connect the day-to-day details to the larger activities, to tectonic movements not only in libraries, but in higher education and in the information ecology. Char was really good about connecting what we do every day to what’s happening in the world. It seemed like all the harmonies were there. It was just a really nice moment.
Q: Looking ahead four years, where do you think DLF will be making its biggest impact?
It depends on the new director, but DLF is positioned to be a place where members who are invested in library success, especially with regard to digital collections, can have conversations. We tend to meet in siloed organizations, but DLF has always been a large umbrella where a number of different practitioner stakeholders can meet. So much is going on that affects both large research universities and small liberal arts colleges. I’d love to see more public librarians at DLF because they are grappling with a lot of privacy and data literacy issues. So, in four years I hope that DLF is still keeping that big tent and opening up space for people to have complex conversations that require many different perspectives.
Q: One of DLF’s recent initiatives is the Cross Pollinator Award. Can you talk about the importance of “cross pollination” to the future of librarianship?
I think it’s really important. I’m a fan of Steven Johnson and his book Where Good Ideas Come From. One of the points he makes is that no one comes up with a good idea on their own. To innovate, getting new perspectives is critical. Getting someone to come at a problem from a different angle often is what moves us from incremental improvement to transformational innovation.
The Cross Pollinator award started with ER&L. I had gone to ER&L and thought there were some very good conversations that would benefit from a closer mashup between communities. Talking to Bonnie Tijerina, who created the ER&L conference, she also agreed that if we could make even one person aware of other conversations, we could increase the opportunities for a richer dialog. So we started with ER&L. The following year, I talked with Kara Van Malssen at AVPreserve and she said that the Association of Moving Image Archivists would like to do a hackathon, but the typical attendee of the AMIA conference didn’t have the tech chops for this type of event. So she wanted to bring some DLF community members to add a developer challenge. The idea was to go beyond writing code, to include writing technical documentation and exploring what types of tools were the best. It went very well; everyone took to it, and this year, AMIA took the lead on the developer challenge.
Most recently, we’ve reached out to the museum community with the Museum Cross-Pollinators awards, thanks to support from the Kress Foundation. There is so much commonality between museums, archives, and libraries, but we seem to maintain separate camps. I’d like to see more involvement with museum professionals because they approach collections in a different way.
Our conversations become so much richer when we actively seek participation from other communities. And I stress “actively.” Being “open” isn’t just about opening the door or unlocking the lock. What are we doing to invite people in? It means going to new communities and creating opportunities for participation and making sure that people feel welcome. This idea also underlies the ARL/DLF diversity scholarships. It’s more difficult to do these things, but puts action behind the talk of “open.”
Q: You’ve said that libraries are just at the threshold of the digital age. What do you feel is the library’s biggest challenge in crossing that threshold?
The biggest challenge is changing how we talk about libraries: to focus on librarians and not libraries. We need to talk about us—the profession, and the people who work in the building of the library. We need to take personal responsibility for the success of our profession. How are we going to pivot and continue to make librarianship an essential element in the information ecology? What do we stand for? David Lankes writes about this eloquently.
Lorcan Dempsey also talks about this in his book, The Network Reshapes the Library. The network changes what libraries do and what librarians do as a result: how we interact with our communities, what we bring to our communities, and how we deploy services and present ourselves. One of the biggest challenges is internalizing an understanding of how a networked environment changes how we work.
For example, Hidden Collections is a cataloging program. In an analog world, doing cataloging and creating finding aids would be fine. But the world has changed, because of the network effect. It changes some of the very basic practices, including cataloging. When you catalog for someone to use one object at a time, not just in a physical space but even in a digital space, how someone interacts with that object is very different from when that object is on the network. This was a big topic at SAA. How do we create context around a digital object so that the context is not so tied to its physical location or ownership? How do we enable discoverability and reuse for objects to move outside of their original contextualization? How does the meaning translate when it is represented in larger aggregations, like the DPLA? It’s not good enough to digitize an object; we need to enable access and use in many different environments. The object needs to be free to move about the network, along with its associated use rights and descriptive information. What we mean by collections, how we provide secured virtual environments of use of restricted material, and how we communicate rights in machine-actionable ways are the next big challenges for digital collections.
Measurement and assessment are also increasingly important. We are always being asked how we contribute to a larger whole. In the past, the things we’ve measured have been easy to measure. In the networked environment, it’s harder, and that’s another discussion. It’s easier to continue doing what we know how to do, but it’s important to pause and have the conversation.
Q: What excites you most about your new position with DPLA?
Leaving DLF was a hard decision, because there are many things I’d like to bring to fruition. But the DPLA is a very important project. When I travel to other countries, I see national digital libraries, but we don’t have one in this country; DPLA is the closest we’ve gotten. When DLF started in 1994, the idea was to federate collections from prestigious organizations and make a national resource. But the idea was ahead of the technology. Now all the pieces are in the right place for this to succeed. DPLA is starting to build the idea of a national platform for libraries to do their work and for us to share our collections more robustly. It’s a puzzle, and I’m most energized and productive when I’m solving a puzzle. I’ve been involved with DPLA since the earliest planning stages, and I believe in it. To have an opportunity to contribute to its success and sustainability is humbling as well as being a personal and professional challenge.
Q: What have you learned from your tenure at DLF that will be especially helpful in your new position?
Building community is key to sustainability. Community building is less about leading a charge and more about active listening. In the case of the DLF, if the community did not express that there was value in the organization, then the transition from the old to the new DLF would not have been made. When many conversations are happening around a certain topic, it’s important to focus on that topic. Find the best people to bring into the conversation, and support it. Organize a moment in time to address a cluster of interest. Committed enthusiasts are the best advocates. Strong advocates are the necessary ingredient for sustainability of any effort.
Q: What advice do you have for the next DLF director?
I’d say, be the change you want to see. There is great opportunity to leverage the program, and there is room to take some risk. It’s not often you are in a place where you can be entrepreneurial and take risks. I hope that DLF will continue to actively advocate for openness. I often think about something DLF advisory committee member Jennifer Vinopal of NYU said: “What do we lose by not being more inclusive?” While it’s easier to shrink our bandwidth in order to move forward, we need to think about what we lose by not opening up. DLF is flexible and nimble; we can work our way through different issues and reach out a bit faster than other organizations. DLF is uniquely situated at the nexus of different conversations. It’s a rare place to be.
The program and schedule for the 2014 DLF Forum is now available. We hope you will join us October 27-29 at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center in Atlanta. Keynote speakers are Bethany Nowviskie, director of the department of Digital Research & Scholarship at the University of Virginia and CLIR Distinguished Presidential Fellow; and Bonnie Tijerina, Data & Society Fellow at the Data & Society Institute and founder of the ER&L conference and organization.
Forum participation is open to all who are interested in contributing to and taking an active part in the successful future of digital libraries, museum and archives services, and collections. The Forum will feature presentations and panels, workshops, research updates, working sessions, demos, and more. Register here.
Twenty-seven fellows and 22 supervisors attended the 2014 CLIR/DLF Postdoctoral Fellows summer seminar July 26-August 4 at Bryn Mawr College. The annual event is designed to introduce new fellows to the possibilities of the fellowship through ten days of seminar-style conversations, guest speakers, and discussions of readings about current issues in librarianship, research, and the academy. This year’s cohort of new fellows, pictured below, is the program’s largest to date.
View the bootcamp experience through the eyes of participants’ Twitter feeds, storified by Postdoctoral Fellow Jessica Otis, at https://storify.com/jotis13/clir-dlf-postdoctoral-fellows-bootcamp.
In the coming week, CLIR will post information for prospective hosts for the 2015 fellowship program.
- From top left, clockwise: Fellow Laura Aydelotte confers with librarian at Fisher Fine Arts Library during tour of University of Pennsylvania Libraries; Fellows in discussion session; Program Dean Elliott Shore; the new 2014 fellows; Bryn Mawr staff member Evan McGonagill confers with Rita Van Duinen of CLIR, guest speaker Jeffrey Lancaster, and fellow Plato Smith in breakout session. Photos by Christa Williford and Lizzi Albert.
Watch for our new white paper in September: The Changing Landscape of Information Services: What Presidents, Provosts, and Finance Officers Need to Know, by Rick Holmgren, vice president of information services and assessment at Allegheny College; and Gene Spencer, chief information officer at Ursinus College.
Rapidly evolving digital technologies and services are driving change that is undermining the financial model supporting many colleges and universities while at the same time offering new opportunities to address financial challenges. In December 2013, CLIR’s Chief Information Officers’ (CIOs’) Group met to explore how library and information technology services (LITS) organizations and academic institutions will need to evolve in the face of new challenges and opportunities. The day’s discussions, reflected in this white paper, offer insight into how the transformative potential of an evolving digital infrastructure can help relieve pressures faced by our institutions.
The application period is now open for the Rovelstad Scholarship in International Librarianship 2015. The scholarship provides funding for a student of library and information science to attend the World Library and Information Congress of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). The 2015 IFLA annual meeting will take place in Cape Town, South Africa, August 15-21.
Complete applications must be submitted using CLIR’s online application form by January 23, 2015.
Congratulations to CLIR staff member Alice Bishop, who has been named Senior Program Officer and staff lead for the Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. In addition to her expanded responsibility for that program, Alice will continue to serve as staff lead for the CLIR CIOs’ group, Rovelstad Scholarship, and IMLS-funded study on federal agency plans supporting open access to data and publications.
Stay abreast of new opportunities at Job Connect, CLIR’s free job-posting space. If you want to post a position and are already a CLIR Connect user, you’re ready to go. If you are new to CLIR Connect, it takes only a minute to create an account and sign in. (Note that job postings are moderated, so they will not appear instantaneously.)