Information Professional as ‘curator’ = #alt-LIS

 

Thinking lately about my role in the information professions and I’m grow more and more convinced that due to my interests and the changing roles of professionals in the networked world, my “career” will end up being a combination of many things, and across my many interests – to re-purpose a digital humanities term, I see myself creating jobs/titles for myself in and around the library, archive, museum world that can only be called “alt-LIS.” 

To that end, I was inspired by Kim Dority’s recent post on the new book “Curation Nation” and how people trained in librarianship will fill the roles of content and data curators. My thoughts below – 

You know, I think there is more to this than we may think. The way I am seeing it, reading lots of tech blogs and emerging tech/digital humanities stuff, is that content curation is absolutely a skill that is married to the social and semantic web. Thinking about, and being involved in those areas is key to content curation. I also think there is a important distinction between content and data here: curating data often requires more CompSci skills whereas content seems to be more LIS or humanities based. (This goes back to a core Library School discussion of data vs. information). Right now, I think it is fair and accurate to say that no one has any idea that people trained in librarianship are perfect candidates for the emerging curation field. As for you question of additional skills? I think coding is a must and a deep understanding of networks, Information Technology and databases (all part of my post grad personal goals). To be perfectly honest, in my mind the quintessential Information (data+content) Curator would have a humanities background, with graduate degrees in CompSci and LIS.

I’m incredibly interested in this topic too, and really excited to see how I fit into the growing field in the future. Thanks for this post Dr. Dority. I plan to pick up and read this book the day after classes end!

 

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R.I.P. Delicious – or – Data Curation Thrust Into The Limelight

Yesterday I experienced an amazing thing. Around 2pm the interwebs went aflutter with the news that Delicious, the popular social bookmarking site, was going the way of the buffalo. I heard it first in the ReadWriteWeb editorial room, where I hang out as an intern, and then it spread like wildfire through the variety of communities I follow on Twitter (higher ed, academics, librarians/info pros, cultural journalists and webtech folks mainly.) As of right now, 1am Friday morning, there still has not been an official confirmation of what exactly is going to happen to the service from its parent company Yahoo.

However… the aforementioned amazing thing… the power of the social web kicked in and people started to talk to one another. At around 5pm, I saw this tweet from Laura Pasquini linking to a Google Doc of alternatives to Delicious. I was at the time writing a quick post for my Tumblr on a few services I had heard chatted about on Twitter throughout the afternoon, and this Doc had them all in there, with Pros and Cons. In the midst of all this, Marshall Kirkpatrick posted his love letter to Delicious, which I helped do some research on, so I started to monitor comments on his post for further engagement (as any good intern would do).

As the news grew and spread throughout the evening, I saw all kinds of new ideas, cool looking web apps to try out, and different ways of imagining data all being discussed because a valuable service we have grown so accustomed to might be shutting down.

The best part? I think this was a real kick in the pants that will get all sorts of different groups (computer science, digital humanists, techies, web geeks, information professionals, etc.) talking about the one thing we are all coming face to face with in the ever-expanding social web – data/content curation.

This is a topic I have grown really interested in over the past few months, and will be following very closely in the future. Now, I just have to find out how and where to save all my links, articles, and research. Where will you be moving your bookmarks?

Articles on the shuttering of Delicious:

HuffPo, TechCrunch, Gizmodo

Alternate services to check out:

Evernote, trunk.ly, kippt, pinboard, Curated.by, and Blekko

I’m in process of beefing up my Curation Twitter list also. Follow if you’d like. Who do I need to add?

The Job

This is the post I have been waiting to write for some time now. Although I was officially hired about a week ago, I was nervous and unsure about it up until today, when I actually went and worked a whole day. (This is what I did today.) It seems pretty legit at this point.

I am proud to announce that I have been hired as the Project CHART (Cultural Heritage Access Research and Technology) Coordinator at the Brooklyn Public Library effective immediately. Allow me to explain:

Project CHART is a multi-institutional, IMLS-funded grant program focusing on digitizing historic photographs. The grant is sponsored through Pratt Institute’s School of Information and Library Science, and in addition to the Brooklyn Library, the Brooklyn Museum and Brooklyn Historical Society are partners. Our “kickoff” meeting was yesterday, and I am throughly dumb-founded at the planning and foresight that has already gone into this project, and at what is left to do! Fortunately the CHART team is comprised of intelligent, skilled professionals (and me), and I am really looking forward to the next three years. (Did I mention that it is a three year grant? Very nice!)

Top 5 things that are awesome about Project CHART and the fact that they hired me:

  1. I get to work in “the field.” I was starting to think for a while that I would never find a job that would allow me to utilize my education. This has now been proven wrong and I have hope once again.
  2. The ultimate goal of the grant is to “prepare LIS students to become digital managers for cultural heritage institutions.” WHAT? That is the exact reason I went into the MLIS! I was looking for a way to pair my interests and background in American culture studies with digital preservation. So now I am involved in a project that is working toward defining that as a curriculum. No way? Way.
  3. The Institutions – I, Micah L. Vandegrift, will be in a professional position doing important and interesting things with like-minded people who work at the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Historical Society and Brooklyn Public Library. These are like gigantic, established, capital “I” institutions of culture, history and art in freaking NEW YORK CITY. I’m still amazed just walking past the buildings, much less actually doing work inside them.
  4. The People – I was mostly simply amazed at the Kickoff meeting. Just listening to the President of the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Director of Library and Archives at Brooklyn Museum, the Dean of Pratt’s School of ILS, and the Director of Brooklyn Public Library do a item-line budget was overwhelming. Not to mention the archivists/digitization experts who will be supervising team members at the sites. THEN my counterparts (Project Coordinators) at BrookMuse and BHS. Whole lotta awesome in one room.
  5. This seems like the opportunity that perfectly melds my skills with my professional goals. I am alright at web development and production, pretty good at project management, amazing at social/digital media (duh), interested in archives and special collections, captured by ideas like crowdsourcing and curation and fascinated by historic objects. I kept trying to define what sort of job I would want after graduation, and any combination of those elements would make me happy. Serving as a coordinator for Project CHART basically sums all that up.

So my “job” will actually be supervising two interns at BPL as we digitize, metadatatize, and archivize around 6000 photos. Also, the library will be housing the webspace where the shared collections from the three institutions will live, and I hear there’s a Drupal build in the works. No better time to get my hands in some of that too. I will also be planning and executing a variety of symposia, conference papers/presentations, marketing/promo stuffs in collaboration with the other institutions. Find a keynote speaker? Done. Book a trip to a national conference to present a poster on the project? Of course. Strategize, design and maintain a social media presence for the project? Lemmie at it!

In case you hadn’t noticed I’m excited. I am actually still interning at the library 9 hours a week for credit, and will finish my degree in May, but I feel like this is a pretty good step in the right direction. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about it over the coming months. Oh, and it is only 20 hours a week, so I’m still accepting offers for the other 20 hours of my work week. 😉

Project CHART final narrative is here if you’re interested. [PDF]

[Guest Post] What I Learned in Library School: Changing my viewpoint and outlook

This edition of the “What I Learned…” series is the final post of the lot. I have really enjoyed featuring my fellow Lib.School students and hearing their thoughts and experiences, and I hope you have too. I am starting to look toward the end of my tenure as a student (May 2011!) and to that end I am planning to begin writing about and interacting with content from the perspective of a professional. That said, I am delighted to feature a fellow blogger who is making a similar transition; Julia Skinner is an MLIS student at the University of Iowa and is currently applying to PhD programs in the same field. She blogs here and can be found tweeting here.

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When I was a kid, I loved the school library, but Library and Information Science (LIS) as a profession was never even on my radar. I had talked myself into believing that my college degree should be practical (followed by my acquisition of the most impractical degree ever: a B.A. in Psychology). It wasn’t until a friend told me about someone he knew in the University of Iowa’s program that I ever considered this path. Once I decided to go, I had a lot of my assumptions challenged and ended up with a completely different set of interests and a completely different outlook than I had even a year ago. Now, I am absolutely in love with my career, my future prospects, my colleagues, and my research! I have found that doing library history research and open access publishing (along with a hodgepodge of other things) is really my niche, and I love that I can be in a field where my ‘niche’ consists of 5-10 disparate interests!
When I entered LIS school, I was not an early adopter by any sense of the word, and I saw LIS as a way to move past the dead-end service jobs I was so tired of. You can understand my sense of bitterness, then, when I learned that librarians are constantly adapting to new technologies in order to better serve their patrons! For some reason, this translated to me as 1. that I needed to become expert in a variety of digital technologies I had never used and 2. that I would be stuck in customer service the rest of my life. I got over both of these rather quickly, especially after I got farther into my coursework and got to interact with ‘real librarians.’ Even though neither of the statements above are entirely untrue, the problem that I had was that my approach was from a place of someone who felt negative toward change and scared that branching out so far away from anything I had done would inevitably equal failure.

Of course that isn’t true! Even if I’m not technologically proficient in a lot of areas (I can’t, for example, write Javascript to save my life, although I’d be willing to learn), my new outlook is one where I am comfortable taking what I would have before considered ‘risks’ with technology: I am willing to try something new or to take a stab at learning a program I don’t know, and if I don’t like it there’s no law saying I have to use it! The great thing about a lot of the stuff that’s being talked about by my LIS friends right now is that it’s very accessible: for example, Prezi is an awesome presentation-creating platform, but it only took me about 5 minutes to learn!

I also have to laugh at myself when I had envisioned librarianship as an extension of the mundane service industry jobs I had held for years. Of course in some sense it is, because you will always have people asking questions that you just want to roll your eyes at, or you’ll have a patron that will make you mad, or whatever.

The big difference between what we do and what I did in a cafeteria (or coffeehouse, or call center, or my current job as a bus driver) is that librarianship is a field where you are providing something that (at least to me) is much more fundamental and exciting than fish that’s been scraped off a steam table tray. We are giving people information, and that means that we are empowering people to educate themselves and to figure out steps for directions they want to take. We are also giving people information for leisure (romance novels!) and for sharing with others (kids’ books!) Because we are entrusted with the task of sharing information, it becomes a process of sharing ourselves and our libraries too, and we want to give our patrons/students/story time kids/whoever a great experience and deliver what they’re looking for in a way that responds to their needs.
One professor from my first semester, Padmini Srinivasan, used the best phrase I’ve heard for describing our role when she talked about librarians as “information brokers.” As more time goes on, we are moving farther away from being confined to a desk and a finite catalog of holdings within a physical space, but we will always serve as the liaison between the patron and a vast body of knowledge.

Thanks to very patient faculty and supportive fellow students, I was able to work through places I got ‘stuck,’ especially in the first semester “Foundations” courses when everything that was being thrown our way was new and potentially mind-boggling. After a while though, I found my niche (and I think almost everyone does), which happens to be in academic research rather than in librarianship, per se. What’s so funny to me about this is that, again, I didn’t realize how broad and amazing our field is in regards to research too! The great thing is that, whether you’re studying library history, censorship, social media, programming, pedagogy, use studies, or anything else, you can find a group of researchers who are working along the same lines and with whom you can connect. Just as in librarianship itself, library & information science researchers are more welcoming and supportive than most other fields. I’ve worked with some wonderful people in an array of fields and had some great professors rooting for me over the years, but I feel like in LIS you find researchers who are more passionate and connected; they are not only interested in talking about what they do (often with hand gestures! I’m partial to sparkle hands/fingers myself), but also in listening to what YOU are doing!

LIS is a great place for lifelong learning and connecting with others, and it has really changed my outlook in a lot of ways. One of the first things that strikes you when you enter this field is how passionate and engaged everyone is! I’ve met very few folks in LIS who just got the degree to get a job to pay the bills. Every field has people that are just there because they weren’t sure what else they wanted to do, but that’s pretty rare here. People in LIS love people, and they love sharing what they know. I loved sharing knowledge before coming here, but I wasn’t sure exactly how I would approach that in my professional life. When I started school I first connected with my colleagues’ passion for materials (especially in the rare books and manuscripts world), but now I connect with the passion for helping patrons that is such an important part of our work.

I also love that LIS is kind of a ‘cross over’ field. You get a practical Master’s degree that will get you a job, but while you’re learning about that field you are inevitably crossing over into the realm of an ‘academic’ degree. By virtue of dealing with information, you enter into scholarly, theoretical discussions and have to encounter and try to work through sticky gray areas every time you deal with book challenges, materials selection, or even something like inviting an author to speak. Even though I am taking the research route, this means that I can still interact with people who are on the front lines in the libraries without feeling like we’re out of touch. Best of all, it keeps us researchers honest, because our findings have to relate to what librarians are doing (or in my case, what they did in the past), and we can’t become so far removed from the field that we become irrelevant.

For students who are just starting out, if you are like me you are probably confused and unsure of yourself, but stick with it! This is the most rewarding profession I can imagine, and people are connected in person and online to such an extent that you can always find other LIS folk (students or professionals) who you can turn to. I love that librarians are passionate and always at the forefront of new trends, innovating and adapting very rapidly. In all the different paths I’ve taken, I have always wanted to be someone who embraced change in such a way, but never felt like I was inspired to really do that until I got settled into LIS. It’s a wild ride, but it’s well worth it, and even on the hard days you will love the work you do and the people you meet along the way!

The MLIS vs. the MLS

You know what’s cool? Starting to feel like you are part of a career/profession. I am nearing the end of my degree program, and I am starting to reach out to the profession and have been really excited and impressed by the responses I have gotten from established librarians/bloggers. Especially through my “What I Learned in Library School…” series, I am excited to enter the field with such interesting and qualified peers as I have had the pleasure of featuring.

Seeing the profession a little closer has also raised some questions about the value of my degree. Uh oh. The “What the hell am I going to do after I graduate” question. Well, not exactly. In my Foundations of Information Professions course the other day, taught by the amazing Dr. Christie Koontz, a point was raised that caught me off guard. She noted to us that we are on track to receive a Masters of Library and Information Studies, NOT a Masters in Library Science. Hmmm… no big deal, right? I don’t know. I have been going back through all the people I respect and read regularly and have been noticing that there is a pretty even spread between the MLS and the MLIS.

Image from US News and World Report

After some further research I learned that the discrepancy that I have so recently noticed is not at all a new trait in the profession. Almost since the advent of library schools has the issue of theory vs. practice been at stake. Is this the core issue between the MLS and the MLIS? Does the Information part make that much of a difference, or is it the “science” vs. “studies” part? Is Library School supposed to be specialized professional training in the work of Librarianship, or are there larger considerations that must be accounted for in the preparation of the new “Information Professional“? Does it really have to be that complicated?

Here’s what I think: it doesn’t really matter either way. The value of the degree comes from the effort put into it by the student. I plan to get out of my MLIS what I came into it for, a thorough understanding of the current information climate so that I can be prepared to address whatever may come my way as a professional. I may work in a library, I may not. What is important to me, and perhaps to many of my peers, is the fact that we believe in the mission of cultural institutions to preserve and share Knowledge and that access to Information of all types is crucial to the continuation of an engaged society. (OMG. Did I just write a personal mission statement?!)

One thing I am sure of is that things won’t be the same. I really believe that the future of the field will consist of a variety of cultural institutions (and corporations) plucking their employees from a extremely qualified, interested and hard working pool of Information Professionals with broad interests and broader skill sets. Professionals already working in the field, what do you think? Does the degree matter that much? Are the variety of skills necessary for your institutions being addressed in library school? When hiring a fresh-faced library student what are the top 2 things you must see on their resume? ALA membership and an accredited degree? What about great references and good ideas?

This post was inspired in part by Kim Leeder’s article on the “real work” of librarianship and Bobbi Newman’s amazing list of links for a potential/job seeking library school student.