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An Open Knowledge Rapid Response to COVID-19: An interview with Micah Vandegrift at the NC State University Libraries

In this post, CLIR Director of Global Strategic Initiatives Nicole Ferraiolo interviews Micah Vandegrift, of North Carolina State University Libraries.


What do you do professionally?

I’m the open knowledge librarian at NC State University Libraries. My job is to help my institution think about strategies for moving academic knowledge into the public sphere.

How has COVID-19 affected your work?

The day-to-day work for the programs I’m involved with has shifted pretty significantly. One of the programs I work on is the OPEN Incubator research development program, which is a five-week cohort-based program with a small group of researchers, from graduate students to senior faculty members, to introduce open research principles to them and to make a change in their workflow. We had to shift from an in-person to an online program overnight, but since we built the program from the Mozilla Open Leaders curriculum, it was not too much of a stretch.

Most of my work is strategic: reading, writing, and trying to develop ideas while thinking at 10,000 feet. But at this moment, like many librarians across the nation, I needed something practical that I could do to feel like I was contributing. What came out of it was the NC State COVID Experts Open Research Project. The goal of the project is to gather as much research as possible from our faculty and from researchers on campus that could in any way help respond to the crisis that we’re in.

What does the COVID Open Research Project look like in practice?

The project is still fresh enough that I don’t know yet what the full outcome will be; at the time of this interview, we’ve been actively working for only about a week. We’re a relatively small team: it’s been mostly Jason Ronallo (head of digital library initiatives) on the data layer and then myself, and Lynnee Argabright, a graduate student from UNC School of Information and Library Science who’s been working with me on the workflow stuff. We’re referring to the project as a “quick response” project because we’re only planning on doing it for about three weeks. So far, we’ve created a portal using ORCID IDs and citation data that represents a cross-section of researchers from NC State whose work applies to our shared, lived experience because of the coronavirus and how life is changing in response. It is not a comprehensive list of everyone at NC State working on coronaviruses, but a sampling based on our University Communications identified experts. Our goal is to increase the open access percentage for these researchers; already in the first week we opened five new items. The challenges for making faculty research open access are in many ways the same as before COVID-19: trying to work with them to get the right versions of the papers that we can make accessible and then helping them through the process of either putting it in an institutional or a disciplinary repository. Those are the speed bumps that we’re hitting right now.

We have a mature, data-rich citation workflow that afforded us a different way to do an open access project around COVID research. It’s based on about 10-years worth of work from our digital library initiatives department—which Jason is the head of—thinking about how we use and reuse citation data. Building from that work, Jason and his department have recently developed a new tool called Citation Index that is easy for researchers to use because it connects their ORCID IDs with their NC State IDs. This earlier work allowed us to collect and enrich citation data, and then think about what we can do to increase access to this research.

What have you learned from this experience? How has it changed the way you think about your role?

This project has helped clarify for me the importance of good data collection practices and infrastructure. There is a data layer that underlies everything that we’ve been talking about. Good data makes it possible for me to imagine systems and workflows that make research findings more open and accessible.

A lot of the work that I do is big picture, planning and strategy, and thinking about how to align our library with the direction that research is going, but also how universities are shifting and changing. What we have now is the clearest example possible of why this is necessary.


Editor’s note: This is the third piece in COVID (Re)Collections, a new series exploring responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by library, cultural heritage, and information professionals. Stories are proposed by the authors/contributors and reflect their personal experiences and perspectives at the time of submission. Learn more about the series and share your own story here.

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