Number 103 • January/February 2015
ISSN 1944-7639 (online version)
From Postdoctoral Fellow to Library Director: Interview with Marta Brunner
The User’s Perspective: What Information Professionals Can Learn from AHA
Centers of Excellence, or Networks of Expertise?
Registration for 2015 E-Research Network Opens; 2014 Cohort Reflects
DLF Creates Digitizing Special Formats Wiki
Leading Change Institute Participants Announced
Louisa Kwasigroch Named Director of Development and Outreach
Reminder: Digitizing Hidden Special Collections Q&A Webinar March 4
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Marta Brunner, head of collections, research, and instructional services in the Charles E. Young Research Library at UCLA, has been named college librarian at Skidmore College, succeeding Ruth Copans, who will retire this year. Brunner is a former CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow and the first fellow to be appointed library director. CLIR Issues Editor Kathlin Smith spoke with Brunner about how her fellowship influenced her career path.
The postdoctoral fellowship program was still fairly new when you became a fellow in 2006-2007. What attracted you to the program?
I had been working in an academic library while completing my dissertation, and although I was based in Access Services, my job brought me in contact with people throughout the library organization, from catalogers to subject librarians to digital library programmers to administrators and more. The work that librarians and staff were doing looked really satisfying to me and I enjoyed the library environment immensely. So when I saw the call for applications to the CLIR postdoctoral fellowship, it felt like a natural fit for me. Here was a program that valued the intellectual and pedagogical work I had done as a graduate student but also gave me an opportunity to apply my expertise in what for me was a very appealing environment.
Many fellows in the program grapple with what to do after their fellowship concludes—whether to pursue research and teaching, or to work in the library. How did your tenure as a fellow and the skill set you developed help you define what you want to do for a career?
It helped that I came into the fellowship already keen on becoming a librarian or having a career in academic libraries. I knew that I wanted to learn every aspect of library work that I could on the job, so I really didn’t place many limits on what I paid attention to during my fellowship, nor were many limits placed on me in terms of projects or narrowly defined responsibilities. I did have a couple major projects, but I was able to participate pretty fully as a member of my home department in the library. I let my mentors and supervisors at UCLA Library know of my aspirations so that they could help me figure out where to go next after the fellowship.
I should also acknowledge that timing was a big factor in helping me figure out what to do after the fellowship. There were a couple of key subject specialist retirements in areas that matched my expertise, so I transitioned easily to a librarian position. Not every fellow is fortunate to have vacancies crop up just at the right time, but it helps if you have an idea early on where you would like to take your career and let your host institution know so that they can be thinking about longer term roles for you. A number of fellows have had short-term and permanent positions created for them after their fellowships ended.
What perspective or skill set did you gain as a postdoc that you feel will be especially valuable in your new position?
My fellowship helped me begin to think of myself as a leader. I don’t think I expected that. Temperamentally, I am both pragmatic and idealistic at the same time. That’s probably what led me to my doctoral research in the field of social movement history and literature. The fellowship experience helped me find ways to channel both sides of myself and my experience (pragmatic, idealistic; scholar, activist) and learn to balance them productively. Libraries are a great place for this balancing act. They are often activist—protecting privacy, promoting access and openness. They are also conservative and often slow-moving bureaucratic institutions that sometimes get hamstrung by perennial problems. As a CLIR postdoc, I realized that I could delve into and respect the pragmatic concerns while also thinking creatively and expansively about new ways to address the longstanding challenges. I love that balance.
Your new position will take you from a large research institution to a small liberal arts college. What are the particular opportunities you see in a liberal arts college environment?
I’m curious to find out whether it’s actually much different! My impression is that you can get things done more easily on a smaller campus and that it may be easier to connect with students in that environment. That said, nearly all of the aspects of a large research university exist at a liberal arts college campus; they’re just more compressed. Teaching and learning happens, of course, in more intimate settings. But there is also a lot of original research that involves students working right alongside faculty. That research relationship between faculty and students has implications for the sorts of resources and spaces and services that the library needs to offer.
You have been both a fellow and a supervisor of fellows. How do you think the program’s evolution has influenced the types of fellows drawn to the program and the types of fellowships offered?
I had the pleasure of serving on a couple of CLIR postdoc selection committees here at UCLA Library and was so impressed and humbled by the huge numbers of brilliant, interesting graduate students applying to the program. The program is so much more competitive than when I applied. I’m not sure I’d have gotten accepted if I had applied in today’s pool! I am hoping that more institutions sign on to host CLIR postdoctoral fellows because there are so many amazing people out there ready to do great things in academic libraries.
There seems to be a recognition among host institutions that CLIR fellows can do more than just shepherd a digital project or fill a subject librarian gap. The outside perspective and the scholarly expertise a fellow brings to the library can be brought to bear on some of our most challenging issues—data management and curation, for example, or finding more effective ways of connecting the library to campus and community constituents.
In her August 2014 blog, Challenges and Cohorts, Brunner reflects on her experience of being both a fellow and years later, a supervisor in the fellowship program.
by Nicole Ferraiolo
Last month, in the largest room of New York City’s Midtown Hilton, a conference concluded its first day with a powerhouse panel. The president of New York Public Library (NYPL), the executive director of the Association of Research Libraries, a journalist at the New York Times, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, and a National Humanities Award Medalist discussed one of the biggest library controversies of the past decade: New York Public Library’s discarded plan to replace seven floors of stacks with a new circulating library at its Midtown branch. The panel brought into focus questions about the very future of the research library in America. Yet this plenary was not part of a library conference, but rather the annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA).
The AHA annual meeting is the largest and arguably the most important academic conference in the field of history, with nearly 300 sessions over four days, and 1,500 attendees from institutions around the world. The theme of the 2015 meeting was “History and Other Disciplines,” and as the plenary would suggest, the world of information resources was well represented. More than 10 percent of sessions dealt with topics related to libraries, archives, and digital humanities, and librarians were active contributors at every panel I attended.
What follows is a snapshot of the interdisciplinary conversations that emerged between users and information professionals, and the intradisciplinary conversations about archives among historians.
From Source to Subject
The use of archives as a subject, rather than simply a source, of historical analysis has been gaining popularity for the past two decades with works by historians including, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Arlette Farge, and Ann Stoler. Archives have become a useful lens through which to consider larger issues related to sovereignty and cultural memory. Nowhere was this more apparent at AHA than on the Contested Archives panel, where Todd Sheppard of Johns Hopkins University examined archives in Algeria and Aix-en-Provence, to consider what it means to archive the history of a nation versus a state. Meanwhile, Erin Mosely, a PhD student at Harvard University, considered the influence of holocaust documentation strategy on the Genocide Archive of Rwanda and questioned what happens if genocide testimony becomes the base of historical research. Another panel on Historical Writing and the “Archival Turn” featured three papers that critically examined the trajectory of the Schomburg Center, three early 20th-century Jewish archives, and the idea of the cybernetic archive.
Implicit in these papers was the notion that the history of an archive has important implications for the research conducted in it. Scholars must never lose sight of the context of the sources they use and be mindful that many records never made it into the archives to begin with.
For historians who work in archives that are under threat, the context in which archives operate—be it political, social, financial, or environmental—is all too present. Several historians at AHA had become advocates for their archives, in addition to researchers. Derek Peterson of the University of Michigan recounted fighting off insecticide-resistant wasps in an effort to preserve government archives in Uganda, with the help of a Center for Research Libraries grant. In the United States, Matthew Connelly of Columbia University described the backlog crisis at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and urged historians to pay greater attention to the issues facing our national records. The NYPL controversy is itself an example of grassroots action by scholars and historic preservationists to protect collections.
Historians were not the only people at AHA spreading the word about the challenges facing the archival community. Paul Wester of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) discussed the obstacles to managing the federal government’s email records. Bruce Montgomery, an archivist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, spoke about the ethical dilemmas resulting from the United States’ seizure of more than 100 million Iraqi documents during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Megan Phillips, NARA’s external affairs liaison, who chaired the panel, Are we Losing History? Capturing Archival Records for a New Era of Research, sought feedback from the audience of users and practitioners on the channels archives should use to communicate with historians and encourage future involvement. From the audience of the Contested Archives panel, Trudy Peterson, chair of the Human Rights Working Group with the International Council on Archives, invited historians to contribute to their report on Basic Principles of the Role of Archivists in Support of Human Rights.
With the rise of the digital humanities (DH) and digital humanities centers, historians and information professionals have new reasons to work together. A panel of history graduate students speaking about digital tools all cited a tremendous growth in support of digital scholarship at their institutions, and some credited their DH centers with helping to shape their methodologies. One of these history PhD students was even inspired to accept a job as a digital librarian after graduation rather than pursue a tenure-track route in history.
Yet, while this panel showed promise for the future of digital scholarship in the humanities, it also highlighted fundamental disconnects. One panelist mentioned that she had to explain what she was doing with her time because her committee didn’t understand the utility of building a database. During the Q & A, panelists took questions from several frustrated librarians who pointed out that each historian had done significant work to create personalized repositories with descriptive metadata for their research documents, yet this work was not intended for reuse by public repositories or future scholars. Had the historians consulted information professionals about making their research collections and metadata accessible, or considered the implications of using proprietary tools?
While everyone on the panel was amenable to sharing their data in principle, none seemed to feel their data sets were clean enough to share publicly. The historian who had accepted a job as a digital librarian had used Omeka for her own research with sustainability in mind, but this did not appear to have been a priority for the others. Another student had attempted to learn LC subject headings when building her database but it was too labor intensive; no other metadata standards were mentioned. Ultimately, the priority of graduate students is finishing the work that will one day get them hired.
The different priorities of historians and information professionals were less apparent on panels featuring larger faculty projects. In fact, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between digital history projects spearheaded by history faculty and those by librarians. A good example of this is the work of Ian Milligan, a history professor at the University of Waterloo, who is developing a tool currently called HistoryCrawler that “can be used by historians without much technical expertise to create ‘on-the-fly’ finding aids and quickly run textual analyses on material.”
There was an undercurrent of urgency at the panel on Text Analysis, Visualization, and Historical Interpretation that historians not be replaced by scholars in other fields who try to answer historical research questions without understanding their historical context. If this is indeed a threat, then alliances between historians and information professionals are that much more important. Librarians, the procurers of tools and datasets with specialties across disciplines, are well positioned to help keep the humanities in digital humanities. Moreover, they can help forge connections between scholars with complementary skill sets. Librarians can also help digital historians meet the expectations of federal research agencies, which are starting to push for data generated from research to be made publicly available.
We are in an era of exciting scholarly opportunities, but we must make sure digital tools don’t overrun the important contributions of traditional methodologies based on close analysis, discourse between scholars, and the discovery of underutilized sources. With the help of archivists and librarians, the field of history could become a richer, more rigorous discipline that can lead us to ask new questions, facilitate new types of analyses, and revisit earlier arguments armed with new analytic tools, scholarly resources, and interdisciplinary support.
Furthering the Conversation
Although it was exciting to see so many historians and information professionals engage with each other, there were several obvious gaps in communication between the two camps. When Paul Wester asked a full room if they had heard of President Obama’s memorandum on managing government records, the number of people who responded in the affirmative could be counted on one hand. Issues of importance to librarians—data sharing, sustainability, privacy, copyright—were more likely to come up in the Q & A sessions than during presentations. That said, historians clearly care deeply about the archives they use and are eager allies in the fight for preservation and accessibility.
There is much to be gained from the cross-pollination that occurs at academic history conferences. I would encourage readers from the information profession to consider attending AHA and other history conferences in the future, or better yet, propose a panel. By advancing the conversation and building partnerships with users, information professionals can help foster stronger institutions and richer scholarship.
The next AHA Annual Meeting will be held in Atlanta, GA, January 7-10, 2016. Want to join the conversation sooner? Consider attending the Organization of American Historians (OAH) Annual Meeting in St. Louis, MO, April 16-19, 2015. To search for a history conference near you, visit the H-Net conference announcements board or join a discussion network.
Nicole Ferraiolo is program officer for scholarly resources at CLIR.
As the need for information services—from digital archiving to new forms of information discovery—grows on campuses, many institutions find that they lack the specialized expertise or resources to fully support such services. In education, healthcare, technology, and other industries, the center of excellence model has been used to provide leadership, research, best practices, and training. Could this model help research libraries cope with the increasing demands for support of information services?
This question prompted a team of seven librarians from the Research Library Leadership Fellows Program of the Association for Research Libraries to seek a planning grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The team members describe their subsequent investigation and findings in a report, The Center of Excellence Model for Information Services, which CLIR issued earlier this month.
“Centers of excellence are designed to attract the most talented researchers in a particular field, enhance collaboration, and improve access to the resources needed for their research,” note the authors. “The expectation was that libraries, like other organizations that have embraced CoEs, could benefit by pooling scarce knowledge about new information services and technologies in centers that would serve many libraries.”
The team’s investigation, however, led to a different conclusion. Research and interviews with staff at numerous academic centers of excellence and at funding agencies revealed that nearly all centers face issues of purpose, sustainability, assessment, leadership, succession planning, and, above all, funding. The report highlights these concerns as expressed by the interviewees.
Based on these findings, the authors suggest that librarians look at ways to work within existing organizations rather than trying to develop another structure. They offer a series of recommendations for developing “networks of expertise” as a way to implement and sustain new information services for research. “Rather than consolidating expertise in a separate center, this approach will keep experts at local institutions and rely instead on an active network to address issues across a wider spectrum of institutions,” note the authors.
The report authors are Joy Kirchner, of the University of Minnesota Libraries; José Diaz, of The Ohio State University; Geneva Henry, of The George Washington University; Susan Fliss, of Harvard University; John Culshaw, of the University of Iowa; Heather Gendron, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Jon E. Cawthorne, of West Virginia University.
The report is available as a PDF download free of charge at https://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub163.
By Lizzi Albert
Registration is now open for the 2015 CLIR/DLF E-Research Network (formerly E-Research Peer Networking and Mentoring Group). A successor to the ARL/DLF/DuraSpace E-Science Institute, which helped institutions develop a strategic agenda for e-research support, the E-Research Network (ERN) turns its focus to cultivating a community of practice for institutions to mentor one another through the process of implementing e-research and data management services in libraries. It aims to capitalize on the existing knowledge base and build skills collaboratively. “The E-Science Institute was all about getting the conversation started within an institution by having participants go through various exercises to ultimately produce a strategic agenda,” said CLIR Curriculum and Research Strategist Rita van Duinen. “ERN is more broadly collaborative: ‘we’re all doing data management but I’d like to know how you’re doing it. Maybe I can learn from you, maybe you can learn from me. Maybe together we can develop new collaborative strategies and research efforts’.”
The 2015 ERN will begin with an in-person meeting April 21 co-located with the Research Data Access and Preservation (RDAP) summit in Minneapolis, followed by occasional webinars, group activities, and peer exercises over the course of six months. The ERN is designed to be flexible enough to respond to the needs of each institution based on where its data management services are now and how it hopes to advance them over six months. Each institution will receive a personalized consultation about one of its goals. Jason Clark, head of library computing and informatics at Montana State University, is a 2014 ERN participant. He called the peer-mentoring benefits “invaluable” for institutions at any stage of the data management process. “The speakers, topics, and assignments will benefit libraries just getting started and those who have been working at it for some time,” he said.
Twenty-four 2014 ERN participants developed and performed data management surveys, identified and filled needs for data repository software, conducted outreach with scholars and administrators, and piloted educational workshops. They consistently emphasize the value of the peer-to-peer collaboration. “The ERN faculty, fellows, and peers gave us valuable feedback on the current state of our research data services, and based on the ERN experience, we are moving forward with a data management needs assessment and a data repository pilot,” said Mayu Ishida, research services librarian at the University of Manitoba. Ishida is leading a panel on “The Role of Assessment in Research Data Services” at RDAP 2015. Fellow 2014 ERN participant Kathleen Fear, data librarian at the University of Rochester, is also presenting on the panel.
After participating in the 2014 cohort, Jason Clark decided to join the 2015 ERN faculty. “I enjoyed my experience and wanted to share what I had learned,” he said. “I’m also really interested in data management and data services because I see these functions becoming new, baseline services for research libraries. Increasingly, the interesting problems and solutions around collecting and preserving data for analysis and reuse will lead to a new kind of literacy: data literacy. And research libraries are poised to build tools and services around this emerging literacy. As I see it, ERN can be a part of that movement and help us become a research library that is conversant with how data is created, shared, and shaped into new tools and services.”
ERN 2015 will culminate in a second in-person meeting just before the 2015 DLF Forum in Vancouver, where participants will share the progress they have made. The overarching goal of the program, said Van Duinen, is to connect the library world to the research world in ways that meet the needs of researchers, faculty, and students. “Our goal is for ERN participants to become more knowledgeable and to work more collaboratively with other institutions when developing and implementing these services in their libraries. It’s more than a matter of stewardship, accessibility, and discoverability of valuable research materials and their data, all things libraries are already very good at providing. It’s a matter of building a strong community of practice that, in time, becomes a strong base for resource sharing and skill building across institutions,” she said.
Registration for the 2015 ERN is open until March 31. For more information, visit http://www.diglib.org/groups/e-research-network/.
Lizzi Albert is administrative coordinator at CLIR.
The Digital Library Federation (DLF) is curating a list of resources for cultural heritage professionals planning projects involving the digitization of rare and unique materials. The list includes introductory and reference materials that are good places to begin exploring issues relevant to digitizing cultural heritage materials.
We invite you to have a look. If you would like to recommend a resource for inclusion in the page, send your suggestions to DigiWiki@clir.org.
The following individuals have been selected for participation in the 2015 Leading Change Institute. The Institute, sponsored by CLIR and EDUCAUSE, will be held May 31–June 5, in Washington, DC.
Jean-Pierre Bayard, California State University
Felicia Bianchi, Emory University
Morag Boyd, Ohio State University
Benjamin Canlas, University of Missouri
Niraj Chaudhary, University of Colorado Denver
Brad Christ, Southern Oregon University
Sean Connin, Trinity University
Bryce Cundick, University of Maine at Farmington
Jill Deupi, Lowe Art Museum
Beena Doolabh, AUT University
Greg Dumont, McDaniel College
Adam Edelman, Montana State University
David Esping, Missouri University of Science and Technology
Tania Fersenheim, Brandeis University
Hannah Inzko, University of Miami
Kris Johnson, Montana State University, Bozeman
Karen Juday, University of Southern California
Steven Knowlton, University of Memphis
Pamela Louderback, Northeastern State University
Judith Molnar, Xavier University
Mark Newton, Columbia University
Todd Nicolet, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
Pratike Patel, Harvard Law School
Rebecca Pernell, Stanford University
Dale Pike, Virginia Polytechnic and State University
Ernest Pringle, University of South Carolina Aiken
Tamsyn Rose-Steel, Johns Hopkins University
Rob Rucker, North Carolina State University
Jessika Thomas, West Virginia University
Scott Tiner, Bates College
Jennifer Vandever, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Anu Vedantham, University of Pennsylvania
Matthew Vest, University of Virginia
Bridget Wikidal, California State University
Mark Yerger, Bucknell University
Patrick Yott, Northeastern University
The 2015 deans are Joanne Kossuth, vice president for operations and CIO, Olin College of Engineering; and Elliott Shore, executive director of the Association of Research Libraries.
DLF Senior Program Associate Louisa Kwasigroch has been promoted to director of development and outreach. Louisa joined CLIR two years ago and brings her marketing and development experience and achievements with the DLF program to her new role.
Louisa will be responsible for creating and implementing CLIR’s annual development plan and strategy, including identifying new sources of funding, developing a marketing strategy, cultivating relationships with sponsors and members, and managing the annual sponsorship and membership renewal process.
She will continue her work with the DLF community, including Forum planning and member outreach, while expanding her role within CLIR.
Thinking of applying for a grant from CLIR’s Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives Program? Join us for a Q&A webinar on Wednesday, March 4, from 2-3 pm ET. The meeting room will open at 1:45 pm ET. Registration is not necessary, but we recommend arriving early, as we can accommodate a maximum of 100 participants. More information for prospective applicants is available at https://www.clir.org/hiddencollections/applicants.