Aug 17

On Charlottesville

I’ve not been moved to write anything personally here for a long time.  But.

The last several days in the United States have been difficult for everyone I know. My former colleagues at the University of Virginia and friends in Charlottesville are feeling this keenly.  Some of them worked to keep the library open on Saturday while the University cancelled events.  One of the Library’s current employees, Tyler Magill, was injured while attempting to protect a small group students from racists using pepper spray and throwing lit torches on Friday night.   Some of you reading this—in the US or elsewhere—are direct targets of the hatred shouted and hurled by the various white supremacists that attended up the Unite the Right event in Charlottesville, VA and marched through  the University of Virginia grounds on Friday night.

When our elected leaders refuse to speak the truth, we must all do so.  This is not a time for equivocation or false equivalences.   What happened in Charlottesville was abhorrent.  There is no doubt that we have again witnessed terrorist acts resulting in injury and death in the United States.  This past weekend’s events were intended to frighten, intimidate, and harm our colleagues, and our friends, and our families.  I  have felt this pain with you, and I condemn those who have caused it.

I worry that many of you at US colleges and universities may soon be faced with similar circumstances.   If this happens, please be safe, be vigilant, and know that many of us are thinking of you.  

Apr 14

Thank You Friends

This Day in History:

2006: I arrive in State College to begin interviews with Penn State Libraries.
2014: I pack up my office on my last full day at Penn State Libraries.

I have learned so much here and I’m grateful to have had the chance.  Thanks to all.

Feb 14

Life Changes

It’s been just a little more than seven years since I moved to Penn State. I haven’t been feeling a seven-year itch, but I’m thrilled to be named the next Executive Director of HathiTrust Digital Library.

I’ve spent most of my time at Penn State Libraries working on developing programs and services to help researchers and students create new knowledge, share it, and preserve it. To me it’s obvious that research libraries can’t continue to do this well unless we collaborate to develop shared infrastructure, including the tools, the systems, the expertise, and the trust networks we need. HathiTrust has shown that it is possible to do just that, and stands out as an example of what research libraries can accomplish when we work together to increase access to knowledge. It is truly a member-driven partnership. Our functions are distributed at the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois, Indiana University, and the University of California, and among the dozens of librarians and staff from across the more than 90 members who continue to contribute it’s development. I’m looking forward to joining the team that makes it go, and to working with many of you so that HathiTrust can do still more for its members and the community of users who visit it online every day.

I have mixed feelings about leaving Penn State now. The past two years have been challenging and often very disillusioning. But I never thought to leave because many, many people at this University are totally committed to the educational and research mission of a land grant university. That’s what drew me here to start with, and now we have a new president and a new provost: things are definitely looking up. I work with outstanding colleagues in the Libraries, Digital Library Technologies, Penn State Press, the Richards Civil War Era Center, the College of Liberal Arts, and in many other parts of the University. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished through ScholarSphere, the Humanities in a Digital Age effort, the People’s Contest, a developing electronic records program, and many other projects. It is very hard to leave the team that has made these successes possible. I’ve learned an awful lot about preservation, conservation, archives, records management, starting new programs, collaboration, and many other things from them. I’m grateful for my colleagues in the Libraries’ Dean’s office, who have always been supportive and tolerated frequent surliness over the last seven years. It’s a very creative crowd here at Penn State, and I cannot tell you how many times in the last week I’ve had a conversation that left me thinking “Wow, this is going to be so cool!….Except I won’t be around to work on it.”

I start with HathiTrust on May 19, and plan to be in the office until the end of April.  My wife, Ellie Goodman, and I will relocate to Ann Arbor, MI by the fall. Until the move I’ll work remotely and pay some lengthy visits to Michigan. I will not be totally disconnected from the folks here in State College. Ellie loves her job too, and she will continue as Executive Editor at Penn State Press, working remotely from Ann Arbor. We invite you over to take stuff we haven’t unpacked from the last move so we don’t have to move it again.

A lot of things about these changes make me happy, including the fact that I’ll have more chances to work with more of you on some really interesting problems. I’ll be looking for you.

Aug 12

Some Institutional Challenges to Supporting DH in the Library

Miriam Posner recently wrote an interesting piece about the ways librarians are often inhibited from doing digital humanities in the library.   It’s an excellent list, and she is seeking more ideas from the rest of us to flesh that list out. 

Her post happened to come at a time when I’ve been thinking about how my administrative colleagues and I can enable librarians to do digital humanities in the library (whatever “do,” “digital humanities” and “library” mean).   My short list below is intended to supplement her’s, to elaborate on some issues she enumerates in ways that hopefully open up some further discussion about systemic issues.    I’m only scratching the surface here, and I’m not offering solutions–just observations

Lack of commitment from academic leadership

This is the chicken-and-egg problem:  the Dean of Humanities isn’t hearing from the faculty that this is a pressing issue.   Even if he or she knows it’s important, it’s not simply a matter of throwing new faculty lines at the English department.  Resources are scarce, so where and how do you invest?  Of course, maybe the faculty would make some noise if there was a sense of possibility, or a real community of engaged researchers.  And wouldn’t it be good if the Library could help build that?  Yes, absolutely.  But your Library Director was talking to that Dean of Humanities and she said it wasn’t a priority for her right now, so….

Culture of equity and fairness

Libraries are all about equity, especially equal access to information to all users regardless of your background or intent.  Unless we sign a license that limits remote access to a database to university affiliates.  Or unless your academic program is kind of small and maybe on the verge of being discontinued or you don’t have a lot of clout and so we had to cut those journals.   Sorry, these are realities we have to live with.  But we wince at them–they go against our better instincts.   Sometimes we may let that desire for apparent equity impede experimentation.  How can we allow that department head to buy iPads for everyone in their department when that other department can’t afford it?  Can we really send only Sheila to the conference when Sharon might also benefit?    And why should they have all the fun?

Resources are bound up in existing programs and positions

Let’s assume that the will is there.  The Library has decided it wants to promote digital humanities research and provide services to support it, and it wants to make a permanent sustainable commitment to the activity.   And let’s assume that many of the librarians and the staff are ready to go: they want to learn new skills, devote energy to trying new things, and work with faculty in a more active way.   You’re still likely to need new skills.  Sometimes those only come with newly defined roles that can be dedicated to the effort.  On what time scale can we make that happen?   

In my experience Libraries only rarely get new funding to create new positions.  Is the will so strong that we are ready to eliminate someone’s job to free up funds for that new DH support role?  Probably not.  New positions get created through attrition of other positions.  When someone retires or vacates their job for a new opportunity, and the opportunity is there.    

But not always.  We always talk about the things that Libraries could stop doing to make room for new stuff.  But we aren’t going to stop buying collections, shelving books, meeting one-on-one with faculty and students, teaching classes, or opening the doors.  It takes a lot of people to do those things.  Attrition is random. You can’t reallocate every vacancy to new programs. 

In the meantime, it’s much much easier to come up with what might be called “one-time” or temporary funding.  This might come from reserves in the budget, savings from salaries from temporarily vacant positions, gift funds, or even money left unspent from the year before.  Thus is born the postdoc and fixed-term position to help get things started with the goal of finding more permanent funding through the attrition lottery. 

Is research antithetical to the University’s core business?

I was in a meeting about strategic planning for research computing when someone else raised this excellent point.  It’s not just librarians who can’t get the support they want to do digital scholarship projects. An English professor of mine once used a very colorful explanation of what happens to the runt of the litter to describe the IT support for his department.  And, based on my experience, science faculty say the same thing about IT support:  It sucks.   Even in the best funded fields computing support is funded hand-to-mouth, grant-to-grant.

The most valued IT services in the institution are the mission-critical enterprise systems:  email, financial, student enrollment, course management systems.  In the Library, it’s the catalog, OpenURL resolver or other discovery layers.  We don’t hesitate to allocate permanent people and dollars to ensure that those core business activities run 99.9% of the time.    But research….sure, it’s a core activity of the faculty, but is it a core business function of the University?  Plus, it’s all weird and unpredictable and inefficient and faculty always want to install open source software on their desktop workstations and isn’t that risky to the network?  

Is research the Library’s core business?  

May 12

On Scholarly Communication

I was pleased to contribute to the launch of the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communications by creating a video response to a few questions that they edited down into a nifty video called “Defining Scholarly Communications.” 

These were somewhat challenging questions to respond to succinctly, so my video ran about 10 minutes.   You can watch it here: 
It pains me to watch my giant face for 9 minutes, so if you’re going to click that I suggest you open a new browser tab and listen while looking at something else

Jun 11

Digital Curation and E-Publishing: Libraries Make the Connection (Furlough, Ray, Choudhury)

Here is a paper that I wrote with Joyce Ray (IMLS) and Sayeed Choudhury (Johns Hopkins) back in 2009 for a presentation at the Charleston Conference (November 6, 2009).   Sayeed was unable to be with us that day.

Joyce was really the lead author for this essay:  it was her idea to write it together and she coordinated the presentation and final edits.

We thought these would be published in the Proceedings, but those proceedings never appeared. Because a few folks have kindly asked for it, I’m posting it here.

Pre-print:  Digital Curation and E-Publishing:  Libraries Make the Connection

[Note:  posted edited on May 14, 2014 to update link to pre-print.]

Apr 11

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?” Reactions to Jeff Trzeciak

This post is really two posts combined into one.  In the first part I give background on a recent controversial talk here at Penn State, and in the second I’m reflecting on responses to that talk. 
The Provocative Talk: That’s What He Said
On Friday, McMaster’s Chief Librarian Jeff Trzeciak paid a visit to Penn State Libraries and gave a talk called “Transforming Traditional Organizations” which you can view online.  He spoke as part of our colloquia series–usually a local affair only.  But we webcast all such talks so that we can include our librarians at all 24 Penn State Campuses, and our colloquia series is open to anyone, though we don’t always promote them heavily outside the library.  
Jeff debuted at #1 with a bullet on this week’s chart.  We asked him to be provocative–not because we wanted to simply shock people and scare them, but because we knew that he was capable of raising issues about libraries and librarianship that we need opportunities to discuss.  And for us at Penn State, this is a good time to talk about such things. We have a new Dean who began last August, and we have a significant retirement at the Associate Dean level, which has resulted in a significant reorganization.  We hope soon to begin work to build a new Knowledge Commons service that will inevitably  change our public services at our University Park campus (and beyond) in ways we don’t yet know.  And then there is that governor of ours threatening to cut the state’s higher education budget in half.  
You might say: aren’t you provoked enough?  No…because we still have to live through all of this change and it’s useful to think about ourselves from the perspective of different people and places in library land.   That’s why we invited Jeff here.  And he did exactly what we wanted him to do.  
Jeff touched a nerve locally and among others in the US and Canada.  On Friday and over the weekend, he got a lot of negative attention from various bloggers, including some of his own librarians (and some of ours). Two things in particular have set people off: 1) he said that he was unlikely to hire anymore librarians at McMaster University Library and would instead look to hire people with a PhD, speaking highly of the CLIR Postdoctoral Fellows in the Humanities program 2) he said that McMaster was revamping its reference and instructional services and moving away from face-to-face services.   
“Be provocative!” we told Jeff at dinner. Now it looks like we set him up for a public flogging.
He is very capable of explaining himself and I don’t think  it is at-all inappropriate for him to push the boundaries in his work or discuss his ideas in a public–and academic–forum.  Unfortunately, Jeff didn’t have a lot of time to explain himself on Friday.  He gave a lengthy but engaging presentation and we didn’t have time for many questions.  But earlier in the day he met with a group of librarians that include heads of our various subject libraries and members of our content stewardship team, and with our colloquia committee.   The discussion was great, and I’m sorry we couldn’t also webcast that.  
In those conversations it was much clearer that when he says he likely won’t hire more librarians he’s indicting contemporary LIS education and questioning whether the curriculum is really focusing on the skills that we need today in libraries.   He may have different ideas about public services, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about librarians or students. It was also clear that while he’s talking about moving away from traditional modes of instruction, he’s also looking for ways to give all members of his staff greater opportunities to do intellectually challenging work.  So librarians are training staff to do reference and they are looking at how to work more directly with faculty out in the field.  (Raise your hand if have seen this at other research libraries, too.) I know that to some readers that looks like replacing librarians with untrained non-professionals, but I don’t see it that way and I’ll have more to say about that issue later.  At the table at Penn State some librarians dissented–one saying that the lack of face-to-face contact would “break her heart.” On the other hand, most of the recent grads and more experienced librarians agreed about the disconnect between LIS training and professional practice.   
Jeff was careful to give the warning that “your mileage may vary.”  A lot of what he outlined wouldn’t work at a library at a smaller college, and a lot of it wouldn’t work at Penn State, which is about four times larger than McMaster.  I do know that Jeff’s talk and outlook  is distressing for some of us in the Penn State Libraries…about that I am not surprised, but I am concerned.  But the way forward here is local talk and discussion about what is the right path for us.  We’ve got a great place, fantastic and stimulating colleagues, and some fascinating challenges ahead of us.
The Reaction:  Who am I? You’re nobody. 

Now, allow me to be less optimistic. 
This exchange hasn’t come out of nowhere.  For the record, I know that this reaction to Jeff’s talk has been informed by previous controversies about his management style and specific staffing decisions at McMaster.  Jeff freely admitted that not everyone at McMaster has been thrilled with the program, but we didn’t go into particulars of that and I’m not going to presume to know the climate there.
Before I go any further, I should give full disclosure here: I’m an assistant dean in the libraries at Penn State.   Also, by the way, I don’t have an MLS (nor a PhD), but I do consider myself a librarian via 14 years of experience.  My comments here are inevitably grounded in my  work in academic libraries.  Based on what I have read online this past weekend, some of you have stopped reading already. 
I’ve been really surprised by the tone of some of the public reactions to Jeff’s talk.  Some of it is thoughtful, but some of it is really ugly about Jeff and about a large class of people who are “not librarians.”  I am surprised that many of the critics (so far) of his comments have not bothered to ask “Why in the world would he say that? What’s going on in our profession that would make a director say that?”  Instead they have not truly analyzed the situation and have pre-judged that he said it because he doesn’t value the librarians who work with him, because he’s a bad administrator, or because he’s drunk the “Taiga Kool-Aid.”
Here’s a sample by Karen Schneider at The Free Range Librarian:  “After listening to his speech at Penn State and the responses from people I respect, I have concluded that Jeff is posing a question, who is a librarian? My response is that I am a librarian, and he is not.”   Evidence?  Because the Free Range Librarian has done a number of really great things at her library (I mean that), and Jeff has said that they are re-thinking how they deliver instruction at his library. 
Over at Attempting Elegance, Jenica Rogers offers this:  “We are not PhDs. The PhDs are also not us.”  Who is this “us?”  Why is “us”defining ourselves in opposition to people who are not us?  
Over on Twitter, it gets more personal.  @MrDys (Sean Hannan) offers this: “PhDs are drawn to libs because Trzeciak will pay them to do non-library research when they can’t get a job elsewhere.”  
At Attempting Elegance, Colleen Harris, who has also reacted on her own blog, offers this in response to Jenica Roger’s post:
Did you know that most ABDs are that way because there are *no advanced research skills taught at the doctoral level*? And that successful PhDs have merely won at the game of attrition, but are not really leading with enhanced research skills? (See my forthcoming article in Library Review for cites) Essentially, these are folks who know how to game the research system to get what they need out of it without understanding the design of research systems (databases, catalogs, finding aids, etc). While that may be the failure of libraries to involve themselves in graduate education at anything but the collection development level, it is *NOT* a reason to hand over the keys to the store.
I respect PhDs. I do. I want a doctorate, and it is damned hard work to get one. But the work we do is not the same.
Wow. W-o-w. It’s hard for me to see any respect for anyone who ever attended graduate school in that comment.  I can’t believe that this is what Colleen meant to say:  “People without a PhD couldn’t get one because they aren’t librarians. And if you did get a PhD and aren’t a librarian, you didn’t really do it right.”  
Y’all, librarians really don’t know everything. I know we want to, but we don’t. These kinds of comments  are untrue, insulting, and not worthy of librarians. 
Colleagues have reminded me that debates about the future of our profession often challenge assumptions that some of us hold to be absolute.  And those assumptions ground strong professional identities that are personally lived and felt.  For some of you reading, it may be difficult to talk about professional change without seeming to call into question an entire value system. 
I’ve been fascinated by the professional anxiety evidenced in this exchange.  I’ve seen it in various forms at ALA and other conferences since 1998, and it was easy to recognize because it was the same anxiety felt by me and my colleagues in humanities graduate programs.  What, exactly, is it that we do?  What is the academy leading us towards?  Is my work valued by my advisors? By my colleagues?  By anyone?  Is the academic life merely the existential life?   Should we all smoke clove cigarettes and read Camus?
Several of the blogs commenting on Jeff’s talk have boosted and defended the librarians at McMaster who are so unfortunate to have such a boss.   I may have missed it, but I haven’t seen anyone bothering to support the postdocs working at McMaster and some of the comments I’ve cited above are explicit attacks upon them.  I don’t know those individuals, but I have worked with four former CLIR Postdoctoral Fellows.   All four are absolutely brilliant and their colleagues will tell you the same. Two went on to library school.  Three are still working in libraries–one for me here at Penn State–and one, who I went to grad school with, is working at a digital humanities research outpost.  Those are just the few that I know of that crowd. Not all of the CLIR postdocs have ended up in libraries and that’s OK, really.  These postdocs may not know all the ins and outs of what our collections and instruction librarians do, but really, that’s OK too.  It’s even okay if they can’t catalog according to our standards. But I bet that they can tell you something about how researchers use original sources, how libraries can better serve their users, and about research practices that go beyond database searching. 
My colleague Bethany Nowviskie, who with a PhD manages to run the Scholars Lab at the University of Virginia Library, pays close attention to the reception of academics who follow non-traditional paths, writing: “Class divisions among faculty and staff in the academy are profound, and the suspicion and (worse) condescension with which ‘failed academics’ are sometimes met can be disheartening.”  If this resonates, you may be a librarian! And you may also be interested in the project she is editing titled #alt-ac: Alternate Academic Careers for Humanities Scholars.  Suffice to say, the stuff I’m calling out here today, others have lived it already. 
I didn’t agree with everything Jeff Trecziak said here last Friday.  I do agree that we’ll see more non-traditional librarians  (I don’t say “feral librarians,” an insulting metaphor).  Personally, if I were coming library school I’d not want to apply to a library that required the MLS with no other equivalents accepted.  Why not?  Because such a job ad would be evidence of narrow thinking about that libraries’ role in the academy.  But If I were Jeff’s AUL, I’d be dissenting with his staffing assertion because I want us to hire the best people for the jobs we need regardless of what degree they hold.  
I’d like to conclude with a more positive note. I want to quote Karen Schneider in that same post I took issue with earlier.  Here, I’m on board: 
In the end, what matters, and what we are about, are the ancient truths of librarianship: organizing, managing, making available, preserving, and celebrating the word in all of its manifestations; helping our users build skill sets the fundamentals of which (if not the ephemeral details) will last a lifetime; and celebrating and defending the right to read, however that word is interpreted. This is what we do. This is who we are. This makes us librarians.
I think that this is great.  And it’s why I call myself a librarian. 

Nov 10

The Publisher in the Library

I have a chapter in The Expert Library: Staffing, Sustaining, and Advancing The Academic Library in The 21st Century, edited by Scott Walter and Karen Williams, recently published by the Association of College and Research Libraries.

“The Publisher in the Library” is a broad overview of how libraries staff publishing services, what duties those staff carry, and the skills, training, and educational backgrounds of those staff.

It’s based on interviews with a dozen librarians and publishing professionals.  I’m very grateful that they were willing to speak with me to help write this, and I learned a lot from them.  I conducted these interviews over two years ago so circumstances and opinions may have changed in the interim.

You can read a pre-print version of the chapter  and/or  you can buy a copy of the book.  I bet you can also check it out from a library.

Feedback welcome.

Oct 10

PaLA: Open Access to Deep Collections

Below are slides used during the panel  Open Access to Deep Collection: Understanding Pennsylvania’s Statewide Library Resource Centers held October 26 at the Pennsylvania Library Association Meeting in Lancaster, PA.

The program is described and speakers listed here.

NOTE:  this is a temporary location for these slides.  When they have been moved to the PaLA Conference Site, I will remove them from here and place a link re-directing to the final location.



State Library of Pennsylvania

The Free Library of Philadelphia

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh 

Penn State University Library


Oct 10

Presenation: People’s Contest / History Affiliates

Below are the slides that Matt Isham, Sabra Staham, and I will use at the October 18 meeting of the History Affiliates at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. We’re very grateful to be able to present on the People’s Contest at this meeting.