Digital Frontiers 2014

For the past three years I’ve had the honor to be the Director of Digital Frontiers, the best little digital humanities conference in Texas. The conference is truly interdisciplinary, bringing together scholars, students, librarians, archivists, and members of the community engaged with using digital resources for humanities research, teaching, and learning. My welcome address from DF2014 is here. If you’d like to see more, including Keynote addresses by Dorothea Salo and Miriam Posner, visit the UNT Digital Libraries Digital Frontiers Collection.

And watch the website – the CFP for DF2015 at UT-Dallas will be out in January!


Decisions and Revisions…

The ending of a recent CLIR report on research data management to which I contributed and edited had a sort of rosy, optimistic glow to it that the data in the report didn’t really support. Some of the stronger language about the risk to humanities research as libraries capitulate to the demands of increasingly technocratic administrations was defanged, and the final lines were reframed as a call to arms, rather than the abject pessimism (I still believe) that belied not only the data, but the state of the field that we observed over a period of two years.

Needless to say, none of that was my decision – the PI intervened after reviewing the final text and added the peppier language. I was able to reframe this a little in a blog post the publisher requested, but it’s been nagging at me that the report ended on such a note. So here, then, is the ending I wrote, after two years in the trenches observing librarians’ struggles with the latest great federal unfunded mandate: the retention and sharing of research data. Continue reading “Decisions and Revisions…”

The Data Doldrums; or, Reflections at the end of a Grant

(NOTE: Cross posted from CLIR Connect.)

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
‘Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, no breath no motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1798)

For the past two years, starting as a Council on Library & Information Resources (CLIR) Fellow in 2011, and continuing in my current role as Director for Digital Scholarship with the University of North Texas Digital Scholarship Co-Op, I’ve been working on the DataRes Project, an IMLS-funded initiative documenting and analyzing LIS responses to research data management. I wrote for the CLIR blog about the DataRes Project back in January  and have been busy wrapping it up since then. The final report for the project comes out today as a CLIR publication. It’s not unusual, I suppose, to feel a little elegiac at the end of a project, particularly one of this duration, but I’ve approached the end of this one with not a little ambivalence.

This project was my first exposure as a CLIR Fellow to the business side of libraries, and I learned a great deal about both libraries and the state of the 21st century academy as a result. As a humanities scholar, I learned quickly that my graduate education had not prepared me for the realities of university bureaucracy, and that many of the assumptions I had about libraries as a scholar were not well founded or just flat wrong. One of the paradoxes of university libraries that I was confronted with early (and often) in my experience as a CLIR Fellow was the fact that, though libraries are certainly tasked with supporting research, at many institutions much of their funding comes from student fees. This creates a tension in priorities for libraries that can be felt – without perhaps knowing the cause – throughout the university.

This problem is especially apparent when new, unfunded mandates come down arbitrarily to provide new services and new resources to support research data. The DataRes Project revealed a rift in priorities between university Offices of Research, which are reluctant to support new projects without a clear “return on investment” – even when grant applications to federal funding agencies are at stake, and libraries which are compelled by the interests of their users to deliver new services, often in a vacuum of resources, support, and sometimes expertise. To be fair, libraries and librarians sometimes step up to the plate to deliver support to researchers – especially where potential funding may be involved – as a way of justifying their continued existence in the increasingly technocratic and ROI-driven university culture. This may or may not be useful, since administrations often see the ability to provide a service without external resources as a good business model to be continued in perpetuity, and libraries’ and librarians’ willingness to serve can backfire.

Willem van de Velde II - An English Vessel and Dutch Ships Becalmed

Continue reading “The Data Doldrums; or, Reflections at the end of a Grant”

Librarians in pop culture

Working in a library has me thinking about my favorite librarians in pop culture. Interestingly, they’re mostly women, which is true of the profession at large, though that’s changing slowly.

Here’s a sampling of my best loved librarians, and library-centered stories, music, and films:

1. Parker Posey as Mary in Party Girl

Continue reading “Librarians in pop culture”

Disciplining Interdisciplinarity

We threw a little conference here at UNT last week. Digital Frontiers was a one-day conference followed by a THATCamp that was intended to bring together “the diverse communities who use digital resources for research, teaching, and learning.” The schedule featured university archivists; grad students from History, LIS, Media, and English; faculty in English and History; digital librarians; and library administrators. In short, it was supposed to model the ideals of interdisciplinarity and cross-disciplinary dialogue and collaboration that is touted as the future of the academy. On the surface it was quite successful. It was well attended, the THATCampers worked very hard and cheefully through a long day, and the Twitter back channel was active and overwhelmingly positive.

But a couple of things emerged for me as flies in the happy ointment. Continue reading “Disciplining Interdisciplinarity”

New CLIR Report: The Problem of Data

The Problem of DataSome of my recent research is featured in a new Council on Library & Information Resources (CLIR) report, The Problem of Data. The two-part report features an anthropological study of data curation professionals conducted by my colleagues Andrew Asher (Bucknell) and Lori Jahnke (Emory).

My portion of the report is a snapshot of data curation education as it exists in the LIS field:

Spencer D. C. Keralis, director of the Digital Scholarship Co-Operative at the University of North Texas and former CLIR postdoctoral fellow, provides a snapshot of the current state of data curation education. He finds that while LIS and iSchool programs are making efforts to develop data curation curricula “much work still needs to be done to prepare LIS graduates for roles as data professionals in and out of libraries.” He adds that “the LIS world largely remains a closed circuit, providing concentrations within tracks restricted to LIS enrollees.” Keralis notes that the trend in emerging curriculum development programs is to open up this closed circuit and allow post-baccalaureate students and professionals to take courses in data curation.

I hope the report generates some conversation about this important trans-disciplinary practice in and out of LIS programs.

You can find more information and download the report here.