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One does not simply walk into an RDC

It’s that time of year when more and more students are asking about accessing datasets for their research through our local Research Data Centre. And a couple times now, I’ve found myself having to explain that one does not simply walk into an RDC

One Does Not Simply Walk Into an RDC
One Does Not Simply Walk Into an RDC

Making Things Happen and Getting Things Done

This post has been a long time in the making. Several weeks ago, my fellow librarian and friend, Meg Ecclestone, wrote about maintaining subject expertise in LIS. This is a good topic to discuss in any profession, but it’s especially so within academic librarianship since we’re constantly interacting with researchers from so many different fields. Of course, how exactly a librarian should maintain subject expertise is not a new concern that’s recently bubbled to the surface, so I won’t speak too much about it, especially since Meg did a good job summarizing some tips on this issue. Instead, it got me thinking about Making Things Happen and Getting Things Done (which are two unofficial slogans of the MLIS programme at Dalhousie University’s School of Information Management).

At the heart of things, Meg was talking about professional development. How do you stay ahead of the game? How do you keep up with new developments in your field, or how do you stay proficient in your work? Some professions require constant credential re-certification (which is a good thing – think about that the next time you’re in hospital), while others have a more informal approach. Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to have started a new position, so I’ve had a number of conversations with people about how to keep your skills sharp and find positive gain. For those of you looking for a quick way out of this post, know that the answer is found in hard work and perseverance. For those of you looking for detail, I offer some advice, below. These suggestions are not new, profound, or original. But I think they bear repeating because they are so consequential to getting ahead and finding personal fulfillment on the job.

Steeleworthy’s Advice on Making Things Happen and Getting Things Done (Regardless of Your Profession)

  • Meet People.

Whatever you want to do in life, you’ll never get to do it unless you get out there and meet people. Most people are good people, most people want to meet other people, and most people want other people to succeed. We are social creatures. People like to share knowledge, expertise, and experience, so you have a lot to gain by going to events, arranging informational interviews, and developing a presence on social media. The message here is clear: meeting people helps you learn things and do things. You stand to live and work in an echo chamber if you do not meet others inside and outside the library. And you never know what sort of opportunity these new colleagues might bring. If you are not convinced, I invite you to read Graham Lavender’s post on how networking brought clear gains to his everyday life.

  • Do Things (or: Make Mistakes) (or: Learn).

My advice is to just do things. Understand that some mistakes will happen along the way, and that is okay. Do not be afraid to try a new workflow, to take on a new project, or to state an opinion. If you don’t give yourself the opportunity to try new things, it will be very difficult to master anything at all. I promise you that you will make mistakes. There will be times when you will do something wrong or will be completely misinformed. But so long as you keep yourself open to new ideas and are willing to treat these experiences as learning moments, you will likely come out ahead in the long run. Have faith in your ability to get the job done and in your colleagues’ ability to offer help and guidance along the way. And remember, there is no try. Only do. It’s cliché now, but it’s true.

  • Read. Write. Learn.

I don’t care if you prefer the scroll to the codex or the stone tablet to the electronic tablet; your preference for format is inconsequential. What matters is that you read. You must read and you must stay informed on advances and arguments and debates in your field. But it doesn’t end there. For the love of all things holy and sacred in your world, write. Reading the latest material and the classic volumes is not going to get you anywhere if you cannot explain your opinions on the subject matter. The act of writing will help you understand what you have read, and it will help you express your thoughts on the matter. This is why I blog. When I blog, I force myself to think closely about a subject and to express an opinion. That opinion may be wrong or misinformed at times (see: Do Things, above), but it’s part of the learning experience. Reading – and writing – is how you can take command of your subject matter. So start a journal or a blog, or create a Tumblr to get all your thoughts in one place (like commonplace books of old). And consider writing for publication. You will be better for it, and you will help others better themselves, too.

  • Form Opinions.

Open mouth, insert foot. This kid is going in for the kill.

This is related to reading and writing, but it’s important enough to be its own action. It’s important that you formulate opinions on topics, and not only in your writing. Remember to speak up, be heard, and contribute to the teams you are a part of. The workplace is a team environment and people are going to want to know what you think. Don’t worry too much about being misinformed. It’s worse to be stubborn than it is to be misinformed, because those who are misinformed still have the chance of taking in the bigger picture and learning an issue fully. I want you, whoever you are right now, to not be afraid to open your mouth and insert your foot at your next meeting.  You can always take your foot out and apologize and learn from the mistake (see: Do things, above).

  • Ask Questions and Take Advice (See Also: Meet People).

When you’re new to the workplace or the field, you will be surrounding yourself with people who have a lot of knowledge to share, so pick up this wisdom whenever you can. Show yourself as willing to listen and learn (be willing to listen and learn, for that matter). Don’t be afraid to ask questions; there are no stupid questions. And though you may have to schedule a different time, never turn down an invitation for coffee with a colleague. Listening to people and taking advice are the first steps you can take to turn your book-smarts to street-smarts.

  • Make goals, set timelines, and assess your work.

I’m not asking that you let Google Calendar rule your life. I am suggesting that you’ll never get something done until you turn it into something you can work toward and schedule time for. And be prepared to assess your work. Don’t aim for perfection on all things or you will start suffering from the law of diminished returns. Instead, aim for excellence, pat yourself on the back when you get it, and evaluate how you can do better the times you wish you did.

So there you are: good pieces of advice to live by. I’ll summarize it all by mentioning the official slogan from the university where I took my BA: Age quod agis, or, What you do, do wellI am certainly no wunderkind in my field and I don’t profess to be one at all. But I do give it my all at work to carry my load, contribute to the team, learn from my colleagues, and make a difference in my field.  And there is fulfillment in that.

The former director of my library school once playfully remarked that many people are ultimately hired based on whether the hiring committee wants to work with them at 8:30 on a Monday morning, and I think there’s some truth to that. So many of my suggestions above are social in nature. They are about learning from and contributing to the workplace.  And that’s how you make things happen and get things done: find your niche and do whatever you can to make a meaningful contribution and to make yourself amenable to your peers.  That’s how you make positive results for yourself in the end.

New positions, new titles, new roles

Happy Spring!  We’re almost there, people, I promise.

I’m beginning this post with that statement since it recalls an entry I wrote last year about taking on a limited term appointment as Wilfrid Laurier University’s Government Information Librarian. It was a rather productive year as the GovInfo Librarian, and I loved my time in the job. Moving to Ontario gave me the opportunity to meet many colleagues in Canadian LIS who I would otherwise only get the briefest introductions to at national conferences. It also meant shifting “consortial cultures” as I moved from a CAUL province to an OCUL province and had to learn a brand new vocabulary of committee names and acronyms. And it also meant having to re-learn what “hot, hazy, and humid” means, let alone the value of central air.

But I digress, it was a pretty good year. The past 12 months has been full of new colleagues and friends, introductions to new scholarly resources, publishing and speaking opportunities, and a chance to “make a difference” at the workplace.  Sometimes, you leave the office later in the day than you intended, but you leave later because you really do enjoy your work.  And that’s a good thing.

My current nameplate is only an ODESI post-it, but we'll fix that in time.
My current nameplate is only an ODESI post-it, but we’ll fix that in time.

Like February of 2012, February of 2013 was a month of changes, and March 2013 is a month of announcements. I’ve now accepted an appointment as the Laurier Library’s Data Librarian. Needless to say, I’m quite excited by this news and can’t wait to get the ball rolling. One of my main responsibilities in this portfolio is to help develop the Library’s research data management infrastructure and to facilitate research data access, usage, and collection on campus and in the communities we serve.  There are some big steps involved, but my plan is to leverage the knowledge gained at CARL’s RDMI summit in January 2013 as we roll out services and resources to students, staff, and faculty on at Laurier.

Reports will follow, as they have in the past. (I’ve thought about starting a brand new blog to collect my thoughts on data management together in one place. I’ll post a link here if I do.)  In the mean time, I’ll leave you first with a link to the photoblog my spouse and I maintained while work forced us to live in different provinces for an entire year – check it out: I must say we did an awesome job.  And I’m also going to leave you with some YouTube clips. It’s impossible to talk about being a data librarian without making a Star Trek reference:

And also this one.  When talking about living in Waterloo, ABBA will sooner or later be mentioned. Without fail..

-mike.

Thoughts on CARL’s Research Data Management Course

Last month, I attended CARL’s 4-day course on Research Data Management Services in Toronto. (Jargon alert: CARL is the Canadian Association of Research Libraries). This was an intensive week of collaborating on research data management (RDM) practices and creating a community of practice within Canadian academic librarianship. Our concern for sound RDM practices at Canadian universities brought together librarians with all kinds and levels of expertise so that we could share tools and develop action plans that will make a positive impact in this field.

1. Research Data Management, Data Lifecycles, and Research Data Lifecycles

What is research data management? I won’t go into textbook-detail suffice to say we’re talking about systematic practices that govern how research data are defined, organized, collected, used and conserved before, during, and after the research process. That sentence is a mouthful and it covers a lot of ground, so I suggest you look to Chuck Humphrey’s Research Data Management Infrastructure (RDMI) site for a more focused definition. Chuck is hailed in Canada for his data management expertise, and he led many sessions at the workshop. He explains that:

Research data management involves the practices and activities across the research lifecycle that involve the operational support of data through design, production, processing, documentation, analysis, preservation, discovery and reuse.  Collectively, these data-related activities span the stages of project-based research as well as the extended stages that tend to be institutionally based.  The activities are about the “what” and “how” of research data. (source)

Chuck’s website is a great introduction to the existing RDM gap in Canada, and we referred to it several times in the course. It neatly summarizes key information such as the shaky progress and history of RDM in Canada, where the Canadian RDM community stands in the world today, the differences between data management and data stewardship, and why the Canadian research community should focus its attention on building infrastructure to support RDM as opposed to building a national institution to guide it.

The Data Lifecycle (Source: UK Data Archive)
The Data Lifecycle (Source: UK Data Archive)

Beyond talking about what RDM is and isn’t, we spent a lot of time studying where RDM sits within the research lifecycle. Many people are familiar with the data lifecycle model since it introduces us to the many facets of data management, however, the CARL course proposed that we instead examine data management practices as an integral part of the larger research lifecycle. Rather than focusing only on data at the expense of the larger research project, the course facilitators asked us to apply RDM within the entire research process, using the following model from the University of Virginia:

Research Lifecycle (Source: UVa Library
Research Lifecycle (Source: UVa Library)

The salient point is that research data management isn’t limited to only the data life cycle; it affects the entire research process. (A simple example: data management strategies should be discussed well before data are created or collected.). Furthermore, if we want to develop sound RDM practices, we need to think like the researcher, understand the researcher’s needs, and include our work within their processes. If you’re not working with the researcher, then your RDM plan isn’t working.

2. Local RDM Drivers and Activities

If understanding what research data management is and where it affects the research process was one takeaway of the course, analyzing our local data environments was another:

  • RDM drivers, such as your library’s consortial collaborations, number of staff, existing IT relationships, administrative support, etc., are the parameters that shape and support your local RDM programme.
  • The activities in your RDM programme, meanwhile can be broadly categorized into the four areas: collection, access, use, and preservation (note: activities can fall into more than one category, and the order is not linear).

Discussing the things that affect our data landscapes and the activities we could perform helped us understand what is possible at our own libraries. I think a lot of us found this useful because all of our unique circumstances (e.g., library and university sizes, existing infrastructure and knowledge, etc.) can make RDM a bit nebulous at times. Although our focus is the same – RDM – our individual goals and aims might be different – are we building our technical capability, or are we designing soft systems that focus on relationships? Are we only collecting new locally created data, or will we also gather existing, completed projects?  The answers are going to depend on your local situation.

RDM activities within the research process.
RDM activities within the research process.

 The course facilitators were careful to help participants understand RDM as a necessarily scalable enterprise. Don’t create a monster RDM plan. Instead, contextualize your local RDM drivers and your library’s capabilities and desires so that you can mitigate the risks of creating an RDM plan that doesn’t fit your organization. The aim is to create a system and process that brings clear benefits to the researchers.

3. Planning… and Doing

The final takeway from the CARL RDM course, which you may have noticed I’ve been building up to, was straight-up, no-nonsense, get’er-done planning. The course facilitators built opportunities for real action into the course, which is probably one of the best parts of the week. Generally speaking, the academic enterprise undertakes a lot of talk and high-level planning before things happen.  This is often a good thing (read: I demand critical inquiry), but it can also stifle action (read: I despise institutional inertia). However, this CARL course found a way to bring together discussion and action. It gave us theory, but it demanded practice. Before the week was out, we had all talked about 3-year planning, considered how such a plan might look locally, and started to write one. Of course, these drafts aren’t ready for prime time, but my point is that before I came back to the office on Monday, I already had written the skeleton of a research data management plan that shows my library’s potential RDM activities and stakeholders, outlines activities and scopes, and offers timelines and deliverables. It didn’t make me an expert (and neither do I claim to be one), but it did offer some tools to help the library step out and make positive change.

So was the CARL RDM course money well spent? It sure was.  It’s not too often you come back from an event with a new community of practice, insight on a vital part of the research enterprise, and a plan to put everything in action. Hat’s off to the course facilitators for putting on such a great week – I think you’ve started something necessary, and good, for Canadian research.

(And some time next week, I’ll start gathering up some of the key readings from some of the bibliographies they presented us…  I’ll try not to turn the next post into a lit review, but it may come close to it.)

OLA 2013 Poster Presentations: Doubling Down on Online Teaching and Learning

Are you going to The 2013 OLA SuperConference?  Are you going to be there on Thursday, January 31?  If so, then come say Hi! while my colleague, Pauline Dewan, and I present our poster at lunch.

steeleworthy_dewan_ola2013_posterLast spring, Pauline and I were tasked with analyzing the Laurier Library’s online teaching and learning programme.  We spent quite a bit of time examining the Library’s original teaching and learning objectives, how we we meet them today, and what others are doing and we we could be doing to improve online learning in this area. The outcome was a major internal report, which we are all now mulling over.  Another outcome, obviously, is this poster, Doubling Down: An analysis of and recommendations for Wilfrid Laurier University Library’s online teaching and learning programme.

To be clear, we’re still in the early stages of organizing and acting on our recommendations, but we’re still quite happy to talk about our process and examinations thus far, which is why we’re at OLA 2013.

If you can’t make it to OLA, then check out our materials here.  And if you are at OLA, then you can find our abstract in PDF form here.

Happy conferencing!

Reflecting on 2012

Porter Airlines Boarding Passes2012 has come and gone, and it’s been quite a year.  If you’ve been following along on this blog or elsewhere, then you probably know that my theme for these past twelve months has been “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” Since starting a term position as Government Information Librarian at Wilfrid Laurier University, I split my time between Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Waterloo, Ontario. So, not only do the students at the Library’s Second Cup know my name and face, but so do some of the stewards and other professionals at Porter Airlines in Toronto. I’m now part of the jet-set, and I can also rhyme off CANSIM tables to you like nobody’s business.

Taking on a new position in a new city (and new province) means that there has been a lot of learning and adjustment. A new job brings new duties and new work cultures.  And a new city means new roads and neighbourhoods, new cafés and pubs, and new local cultures.  I’ve traded in a Maritime hospitality built on lobster, rum, and sea shanties for Kitchener-Waterloo’s beer, schnitzel, and breads. (and I love bread.  Not kidding). Waterloo has pockets of cool, and I’m getting on quite well here.

I love my job. It has met – and exceeded – my expectations. As the Government Information Librarian, I help the university community access and use government-produced materials in their research. All of last spring’s cuts to the federal government, and especially to Statistics Canada, LAC, and to libraries within federal ministries definitely dampened the spirits of Canadian GovDoc librarians in 2012, but I’m still happy that I’ve been able to help my library’s patrons understand what the cuts mean for them and their research – today and in the future. If anything, these cutbacks have increased the need for local government publications expertise at Canadian universities, and I think the government information librarian’s role on campus is now more important than ever.

My favourite part of this position has been my work with statistics and data. Like many university libraries across Canada, responsibility for socio-economic data at the Laurier Library lies largely with the Government Information Librarian since so many of our statistical resources come from Statistics Canada.  (You can read more about the relationship between StatCan and academic libraries here. This paper by Wendy Watkins and Ernie Boyko should be required reading at library schools in Canada). I’ve long wanted to practice in this field, and I saw this posting as my opportunity to work regularly with the data skills I’ve developed through the years, and to learn even more from a whole new group of data librarians. Nearly all my favourite interactions with faculty, students, and other stakeholders in 2012 are data-related, from helping students acquire data on migration to the far north, to meeting with community members and legislators to explore nation-wide open data initiatives. These are the moments where I see my skills and expertise in librarianship put to action, and the positive contribution I make on campus puts a spring in my step. Data librarianship is an essential part of the academic enterprise; I’ve given a lot of effort in this area, worked and learned from the right people, and made gains for the library and the university. So, I’m willing to smile and say “yeah, I did that, but with the help of my friends, too.”

Scholars Portal HomeWhen it comes to adjustments, I have to say that the thing that took the longest to get used to was the new jurisdiction. I say this to all librarians, young and old, green and experienced: you will never really know how important your consortium is to your daily work until you join a new one. When I moved from Nova Scotia to Ontario, I left the Council of Atlantic University Libraries, ASIN, and NovaNet, and I joined forces with the Ontario Council of University Libraries, Scholars Portal, and TUG.  Now, my online resources are different. The OPAC is different. ILL is different. Committees are different. Organizational cultures and funding are different. Conferences and workshops are different. Support channels are different. Let me be clear: everything changes when your work takes you to a new consortium. Libraries really do things better when they work together. We’re stronger this way. But it’s not until you shift to a new jurisdiction that you’ll be reminded several times daily just how much effort colleagues at your library and at other institutions have put into making things work better, faster, and cheaper for everyone. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

The best example I can give to demonstrate this is <odesi>. Built and managed by Scholars Portal, ODESI is an essential part of socio-economic data discovery at Ontario universities. It is a repository of StatCan DLI-restricted surveys, and it also houses extensive polling data that stretches back decades in some cases. Using the Nesstar data dissemination platform, it helps novice and experience users find information from these surveys and polls, right down to the variable, and it also helps new users perform some statistical functions they may not otherwise have the knowledge to do. ODESI is a vital part of my work and I use it to access survey data almost daily during the school term. But prior to taking this position last winter, I had no access to it since most university libraries in Nova Scotia rely on the Equinox data delivery system out of Western Libraries. Moving to a new jurisdiction meant that not only did my committees and consortial colleagues change, but so too did my tools and resources, and I had to learn how to use new ones – fast. Today, I don’t know how I ever got on without ODESI. But last winter, ODESI was completely new to me because I hadn’t ever worked at an OCUL university. I have great colleagues at Laurier, and they gave me time to get to know this vital tool, but until I moved to Ontario and joined a new consortium, this was a foreign resource.

(For what it’s worth, ODESI, and the people behind it at Scholars Portal have done so much heavy lifting for students and faculty at Ontario university libraries, and I’m grateful I can use this resource and learn on their expertise. I’m also grateful that I can lean on province-wide and regional data committees for help and advice. This is a big shout-out and thanks to some great people out there – you know who you are.)

This is where the post peters out into vague resolutions and outlooks for the new year.  How will 2013 differ from 2012?  Well, I hope to not fly so much (the lustre wears off quickly), and I hope to get involved in more professional activities again. I also plan on finding new ways to up my game at work.  This will involve taking some courses and hopefully using more streaming communications tools to meet with students and faculty. We’ll see where it goes. Happy 2013!.

Link: Measuring a library’s holdings based on its “uniqueness”

Here’s a Monday morning link for all y’all. Dan Cohen notes an interesting way to measure a library’s holdings : by evaluating the collection’s “uniqueness.”

This may be an interesting metric that could be useful at the local-consortial level? I’ll let the Collections Librarians answer that, though.  Read it here:

Dan Cohen: Visualizing the Uniqueness, and Conformity, of Libraries