GLAM-wiki & what’s next

A week ago I had the pleasure of attending the US GLAM-Wiki consortium advisory board meeting in Washington, DC. The meeting was sponsored by the National Archives and Wikimedia DC, and it was held in the National Archives building (it is pretty neat to work in a conference room a hundred feet away from the constitution!)

The advisory board has met before, but I have not been able to attend the meeting in the past. This meeting was focused around the future and strategy of the consortium, which aims to coordinate and support partnerships in the U.S. between cultural organizations — archives, libraries, museums and more — and Wikimedia projects. (These partnerships might include hosting Wikipedians in Residence, hosting editing events, contributing knowledge and content like image collections, and more). The consortium is officially formed as a Wikimedia user group, but is in practice it operates as a loose affiliation of thought leaders in these issues. The advisory board is made up of people from institutions and Wikimedians who are experienced in doing this work. 

During the weekend we got quite a bit of work done, which will be publicly documented just as soon as I/we finish the formal minutes (we also all got assigned tasks) but I wanted to reflect on one aspect — the collaborative work in the meeting itself.

I showed up with no particular expectations one way or another,  except that we would have some great ideas, but I walked away deeply impressed by the group’s collective focus and productivity. In the course of two 10a-5p days, the group — who had not met for a year — wrote a vision and mission statement for the group, developed strategic 5-year goals and subgoals, developed 1 year goals and practical action items, assigned these items to participants, got a good start on writing a job description for a potential position at Wikimedia DC that could interact with the consortium, and also discussed topics as diverse as: strategy and future-looking ideas for GLAM projects; the wide variety of educational materials out there; the scope of projects and partnerships; and lessons learned from large-scale editathons. Plus, we brainstormed a few fun projects, including an “edit-a-thon in a box” (you heard it here first!) and threw in a couple of quick tours of the Archives.

What made us so productive? I think a few factors:

  • Every participant (there were ten of us) was experienced at attending both strategic and working meetings,  and was familiar with both high-level strategic brainstorming and getting down into developing and assigning tasks. I will say it was difficult for the group to stay at a strategic level — we loved talking about specific issues from our experience — but everyone was clear about the difference.
  • All participants were domain experts, though with differences in our backgrounds and experience — but although we discussed new projects that not everyone was familiar with, we didn’t have to catch anyone up on the general ideas or terminology.
  • Almost every participant was *also* an experienced Wikimedian, and wasn’t shy about participating in fast group wordsmithing and writing.
  • Everyone did their best to focus on discussions at hand, and if someone was tired and needed to check out for a little while, that was OK; discussion proceeded without forcing or asking participation from everyone on all points.
  • The counterpoint to this was that everyone tried to pay attention as much as possible, was respectful of everyone else’s views, and gave each other floor time; everyone was careful about not dominating the conversation and not interrupting or distracting.
  • We had several people who were experienced agenda builders and group facilitators, and without any special formal tasking they stepped up to run parts of the meeting that needed facilitated discussion (and then handed the next part off to others).
  • There were very few instances where we had to criticize or discuss how the meeting was being run — occasionally side discussions would get out of hand and someone would pull the room back together, but there were almost no process discussions in the full room, beyond some quick agenda-building exercises, short reflections on how we could have prepared better and discussion of what we would do going forward.
  • And lastly we used a very cool piece of collaborative technology, Hackpad, which is like a more-effective and featured etherpad or google doc — built in automatic table of contents, fast and lightweight updating and versioning, text formatting, participant identification. Between the ten of us, over two days, we built an over 50-page (not a typo!) document of notes.

It was one of the more satisfying working experiences I’ve had in a while. Thanks, fellow participants!

Posted in free culture/free licenses, librariana, wik-eh-pedia | 1 Comment

Teaching science librarianship

Being one myself, I am interested in the training of future science & engineering librarians — especially people who do this odd amalgamation of things that reference, instruction, outreach and collections librarians do. I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve seen a whole bunch of engineering librarian and science librarian job ads roll by recently, all full of things like data management, scholarly communication, and immersed instruction.

There’s a tension in library schools on whether to lean towards teaching theory or teaching hands-on skills. I went (a decade ago) to a school that emphasized theory, and I don’t have anything bad to say about studying things like information-seeking behavior; I still keep those lessons in the back of my mind whenever I have to learn a new discipline to liaison with, for instance. And some practical skills are also useful: every non-cataloging librarian I’ve ever met has said something along the lines of “well, my cataloging class was a slog, but I sure am glad I learned the MARC fields.” I feel similarly about my gov docs class; I may not work with them every day, but I’m really glad I had that deep look that continues to inform me how to find my way around a sudocs number.

But how to teach subject librarianship? Some schools shy away from teaching things like “science librarianship” on the theory that you pick most things up on the job anyway. This is true. And I don’t think classes full of learning databases and resources are super useful — interfaces will always change (learning the old print indexes is the most useful, if you want a theoretical understanding), and so will tools. And honestly, though I think some training is helpful, a ten-week class isn’t going to move the needle much on making you a good reference librarian; getting through a million weird questions and having a good memory will. The same goes for instruction.

So what *should* we teach? If I were teaching an academic science librarian class right now, focused on giving people skills for entering the current job market, here’s what I’d touch on, in roughly this order:

  1. Structure of the field: professional development and organizations; asking for help; responsibilities of the job; how to balance competing priorities
  2. Using the library: library space; how scientists & engineers learn and work; when library instruction fits in; getting user feedback
  3. Discovery: search; how databases & catalogs interact with the open web; cross-linking & exposing information; identifiers
  4. Collection development: negotiating licensing; PDA and rent-to-own models; the role of aggregators and packages; weeding, storage and shared collections
  5. Gray lit: standards; patents; tech reports & gov info; translations; conference proceedings
  6. Data: storage, preservation, data management plans
  7. Data: working with it, sharing it, citing it, finding it
  8. Intellectual property: copyright; open access
  9. Publication models: new journal models; identifiers (pt 2); digitization and preservation projects; alternative digital libraries
  10. Getting credit: current tenure metrics; alt-metrics; author identifiers

That could be a ten-week course, touching very briefly on each thing as a seminar topic; or, in my case, a ten-year course of learning these things on the job! Regardless, these are the things that occupy my mind, and they are what I would encourage new librarians to explore.

(I have also thought about a class just focused on exploring each of the major science & engineering disciplines in turn — and I think that would be super fun to do as a complementary class, but maybe less useful).

p.s. per facebook discussion, this is really “current topics in academic [science] librarianship” — which is a fine framing too.

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Day in the life

One of my favorite classes to teach library sessions for here is writing for engineering. The students are usually juniors, so they pay attention; they are motivated to get the assignment done so they can work on other things, like their design projects; and they usually have interesting topics. I try to make it interesting and efficient, and while sometimes I bring a topic I think is a good example for the specific assignment, sometimes I like to mix it up by searching on a topic someone gives me.

From this morning’s class:

me: does anyone have a example they want me to search on?
guy in the back: helix traveling wave tube
me: what?
guy in the back: helix traveling wave tube
me: hang on, let me write that down. Helix…
guy in the back: …traveling wave tube
me: so I would start by analyzing what keywords we might search on. Er. Helix. OK. What field is this, exactly?
guy in the back: electronics
me: great. *stalls by doing some other stuff like an exercise about types of sources”
me: OK, now that we know what types of sources we need and we sort of have keywords, let’s search. Helix… traveling… wave guide.
some other guy in the back: Helix traveling wave tube
me: oh right. OK. Let’s hit search.

hundreds of results come back

me, to myself: THANK GOD there are articles. Hooray!

In case you were wondering, this is a traveling wave tube — they are apparently used all over the place, like in radar and satellites, who knew — and here is a sweet patent we found. Yep, that’s a helix in a vacuum tube, alright.

Engineers are the best, seriously. I learn things every day.

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