uw-madison data information literacy reading group

The DIL reading group came about in much the same way that other ideas have popped into my head: one moment it wasn’t there, the next it suddenly was. I was leading an early summer RDS meeting and reflecting on the challenge of figuring out meaningful ways of growing our collective knowledge about data management education. Suddenly it hit me: we should start a reading group. It would provide a chance for RDS members, including myself, to carve out time for these topics, to build community (especially with liaisons, who are so critical to the success of these efforts!), and to increase the visibility of RDS within the libraries. A total win-win situation.

So many ideas have been rattling around in my head, percolating, ever since I attended the Data Information Literacy Symposium in 2013. I distinctly remember how thrilled I was to be coming to UW-Madison, where there was a whole team of people already aware of the importance of RDM. I had tons of ideas about the projects we could undertake. I wasn’t really aware of some of the challenges and underlying issues at the time, and the truth is that there are no existing resources for any sort of targeted RDM education. The outreach and education happens if and when I can offer one-off sessions but that’s about it. I’ve been doing my best to build relationships, especially with liaisons, but it’s wild how challenging it can be to figure out how to break into this area! I figured a reading group was a good place to start finding others who could champion data information literacy alongside me.

On August 19, I sent out the following email to the libraries and RDS listservs:

In an effort to collectively grow our knowledge on teaching data management skills, Research Data Services is convening a fall reading group. This is a good opportunity for librarians, technologists, and graduate students to come together to learn about and discuss an emerging topic in our field. A basic understanding of data management core concepts and information literacy core concepts is helpful but in-depth knowledge is not necessary. We will read Data Information Literacy, published by Purdue Libraries Press. Copies of the book will be provided courtesy of the GLS.

The DIL reading group will meet monthly in September, October, November, and December at times selected after reading group participants have been identified. We ask that those who join the group commit to coming to all four 1.5 hour meetings, barring unexpected schedule changes. At the end of the year we will evaluate as a group what future steps could be taken to implement what we have learned.

This reading group will be capped at ten participants. To express interest in joining, please contact me no later than Friday, August 28.

Then I waited. Who would be interested? I had no idea. As it turned out, we had nearly double (almost 20) people express interest, though I stayed true to my cap. Participants include liaisons across disciplines (mostly sciences), a teaching and learning librarian, two graduate students, and a non-librarian RDS member. (Note: there would be tremendous value in explicitly opening up the group to campus rather than just the libraries, but I am starting close to home and keeping it manageable in this experimental phase.)

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scholarly communication + research libraries

Scholarly communication topics make up a great deal of my personal and professional interests. I’ve rarely gotten to unpack them in my current role, so it was a delight to be asked to speak to around 40-50 of my colleagues at the UW Libraries teaching and learning retreat in early August.

Preparing and giving this talk made me realize that I know a lot more about this area than I thought I did. Sometimes I feel like I live in a bubble where everyone is as wildly intrigued and impassioned as I am. My twitter feed, my listservs: for the most part these expose a world where so many people have my shared interests, and they’re all so darn intimidating and impressive. It’s easy to be in this bubble and to feel like I am just one person in a crowd but during this talk I recognized my responsibility to not shut up. To keep talking about these issues. That yeah, I’m just a newbie librarian but I can use my energy to share ideas that hopefully can have an impact.

During this presentation I heard words come out of my mouth that I didn’t plan for. Words about having empathy for early career researchers, who are in a very different environment than their predecessors, and turning that empathy into library services. Words about being, ahem, not neutral about open research, championing it instead. Words about putting money toward a collections budget that is inclusive of local scholarship that falls beyond a standard peer reviewed article – scholarship that is forgotten at worst and utterly unprioritized at best.

I said in this talk and I’ll write it here again: Nobody knows what they’re doing in this space – and therefore libraries should absolutely be at the forefront of not knowing what we’re doing. Especially if it’s uncomfortable. I didn’t plan on saying that, actually, but the second it slipped out the more true it felt. There are lots of very smart people acting strategically but they are doing things in a trial by fire manner. It’s necessity. Testing, trying, failing, reiterating. The second you think you can halt, you can stop looking ahead, you can stop being proactive – it’s all gone. You are already in a zone where innovation is going to be petrifying to you individually… and that is how culture is created, by all of us bringing forward our reticence or, ideally, our bravery. (One reason why I am all about transparency of failure and rejection: I think it makes us braver and we need oh so much bravery to do the things that matter.)

Although I had slides, a lot of ideas came out off the cuff. I think that’s what I love so much about presenting. It takes work and deep thinking and the creativity of crafting a narrative and plucking the right visuals from the many possible options fuels you. First the delivery crushes you – it’s scary! – but after a few moments you situate yourself chill out a bit and it renews you. It’s this crazy immersive experience. I’ve started to crave it, drifting into a zone where I love the moments I get to lead, teach, and create.

After this talk I dreamed up a digital scholarship series focused on grad students and early career researchers. I’m testing the waters this fall with topics like productivity + project management, crafting a digital identity, research data management + sharing, and an introduction to open research. I am THRILLED but also busy, busy, busy.

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UW digital humanities + art symposium 2015


DH+A! Another great event I was lucky enough to participate in this past spring. The Digital Humanities Research Network was a breath of fresh air for me in my first year at UW as I struggled to connect and find community. I’m excited to be a coordinator for the 2015-2016 academic year, which will allow me to engage in further conversation about libraries and DH.

Rather than embedding images of my slides as I’ve done for other talks, I’ll do a quick and dirty annotation of my main themes. After all, this was a brief 7-minute panel talk. I still want to orient you to the general flow, though, so I’ve added slide numbers corresponding with what I said.

First, hit my audience with some humor: big data is just a fad, isn’t it? [2]

But we’ve got to start talking about it. Good data management prioritizes data that is organized, understandable, and safe. [3-5]

Unfortunately, that’s all a little boring. [6]

As the formats and mediums and platforms and processes by which we create and store and access data change and adapt [7], we don’t always feel like we have the tools [8] at our disposal to deal with it. It’s hard to know where to go next.

Here are a few simple ideas.

We can’t make any more assumptions about young people, those digital natives – we can’t give them all our data and expect that they’ll know what to do with it. We don’t teach anyone in this country how to manage the onslaught of digital information we create, much less the potentially massive and/or otherwise complex data generated in labs. No more giving the grad students the data with no questions asked. No more assumptions. [9]

We have to start the discussion on every level, from the grad student recognizing that perhaps they don’t have the tools yet to the faculty members pressing their department heads for more support to the campus putting resources in this area before we lose ground. And of course the people in roles like mine, bringing energy to a discussion that is, as I mentioned before, not at the top of people’s minds until they’re past the point of no return – their data is lost, utterly without context, or any number of other sad data fates. We have to start the conversation. [10]

For the data creators out there, make a plan, any plan. Make changes and adapt as needed, of course, but don’t be held back by the fact that you feel like you don’t have all the right answers for what to do with your digital stuff. None of us do. You will probably never feel confident. Make a plan and stick with it. [11]

And then comes the fun part, because with effective data management you get to do some pretty cool stuff. You can explore it, open it up, and make it beautiful in any number of ways. [12-14]

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madison public library bubbler

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This spring, one of the UW-Madison SLIS student chapters brought Trent Miller from the Madison Public Library (MPL) in to speak. I eagerly hiked over to Helen C. White. There were only 8 total people in attendance – 4 online and 4 in person – a strange shortage for a newly minted Library Journal Mover + Shaker. I’m very grateful I had the chance to hear some of his thoughts on MPL and the Bubbler. In this post I will most certainly mis-paraphrase Trent (apologies) but I do hope I can capture a bit of the essence of what he had to say.

Preface: I am driven by aesthetics. If the design is ugly, I dislike it. I avoid it. I know this about myself by now. I’m interested in clean lines and simplicity, generally. I’m not presumptuous enough to think that my taste level is better than anyone else’s, but I know what I like and I am now admitting that it helps me feel more creative… or not creative at all. It helps me dive in or lose interest almost instantly. Yes, I judge a book by its cover (and its fonts, too, let’s not forget that). That was my headspace as I took in his presentation.

Trent kicked things off by introducing himself as an artist who happens to work in a library (“Here’s what i do when i’m not working in libraries“). He likes to mix his art and library job, noting the intersections and overlaps. He knew the art community and just kind of brought them with him when he started working for the library.

He talked about Bookless, the first event that marked what was coming for MPL. He recounted that they spent $248 for a sound system for the dj, and Trent threw in around $100 out of his own pocket. Then they just did it. Bookless built community around artists. Afterward, in Trent’s words, “management caught on that something happened that they didn’t want to lose,” prompting the question: how do we get these people back in the library?

More programming followed Bookless. They offered learning opportunities in the form of workshops and Night Light, a series of social events celebrating makers. They developed an artist in residence program. I was charmed when he mentioned that one summer they donated their Beanie Babies, selling them for $280 and making that their summer program money! Dedication. Luckily, they received an NEH grant soon thereafter.


I was most struck when Trent stated that he thinks of the Bubbler not as a stationary space but instead a programmatic mindset. This, this is something that I would love to see more discussion of in all the talk about makerspaces, digital scholarship centers, etc. So often I think those talks devolve into nitpicking over what technology to fill them with – important conversations to be sure, but the fixation on space before services seems problematic. I get it – spaces seem easier than crafting a vision, a personality. I see this play out in my sphere too. It’s an interesting question and I think it leads to an uncomfortable space for some, the idea that it might be more of an art than a science.

Trent was very quotable. Some of the gems that came out of this talk include:

  • “For many adults, creativity and play signals it’s for kids, not for me. I try to push that it’s for everyone.”
  • “My job is to curate disturbances. If you walk into an art museum, you expect art. If you walk into a library, you don’t. I love seeing surprised people and letting art spill into unexpected spaces.”
  • “One of my life goals is really just to offer people unique experiences.”
  • “Find the connectors. They’ll be able to find the people out there to do the things you want to do.”
  • “That was never the plan, we just tried it and look what happened.” [totally decontextualized I know but WHAT A STELLAR SENTIMENT.]

And then he mentioned something I have rarely if ever heard talked about before in the context of libraries. He discussed the emphasis he and the Bubbler crew placed on documenting what they have done. He was emphatic over the detriment of neglecting this as he touched on the wealth of bad websites, bad design, and BAD PICTURES (or lack of images at all) in and around libraries. He wasn’t mean or intense about it, and in fact I think it came up after he recounted an anecdote where he spoke to someone who commented that he had never seen a library website like the Bubbler’s. He simply talked about the importance of telling stories and how good quality photos can help do that.

In any case, it really struck a chord with me. I believe in aesthetics. I believe in telling a story. I believe in spaces and services with PERSONALITY. I think maybe that’s it. Personality is what creates the magnetism that draws people into our spaces and helps push them to take the next steps with our services. Personality helps make us irreplaceable and connect to the sharpest people. If you combine a focus on design plus user experience plus your strategic goals and vision, it’s a recipe for some serious magic. Yet I worry that libraries instead settle on blandness and neutrality because it feels uncomfortable to branch out, to trust anything that deviates from the norm, to innovate.

These are things I have thought about and cared about forever. Hearing Trent talk reminded me that I have rarely if ever heard these concepts – documenting, prioritizing aesthetics, creating experiences – articulated as priorities in libraries. The saddest part about it was almost like hearing him say them affirmed in my mind that it was okay to think those things. (Why is it so often that we don’t trust our own intuition and priorities, and only when cool people say things do we feel like it’s okay to feel that way?)

In any case, I was and continue to be very inspired by Trent and his work with the Bubbler. I would love to see the UW Madison Libraries influenced by some of the fresh ideas coming out of the Bubbler – our audiences are of course different but I think there’s a lot to be gained.

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practical ideas for developing meaningful online engagement

In my quest to finally post and annotate my slate of spring slide decks prior to the fall onslaught, I don’t want to leave out my LYRASIS eGathering talk. It is very near and dear to me as my first invited paid presentation – and my first webinar.

Looking back, I am so appreciative to have had a platform to discuss these ideas. It gave me the opportunity to chat about some of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up from working with Hack Library School and now LITA blog, which I rarely get to do. I also introduced my downloadable blog guide template, which I hope will be useful to anyone working with a group of content creators.

Do you have any ideas about online engagement I should know? I’m so interested in hearing approaches that have worked for other individuals and organizations!

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RDAP 2015


This year (several months ago, ahem) I presented at the Research Data Access & Preservation Summit, held in nearby Minneapolis. I led a panel focused on different RDM collaboration and service models at institutions. I was joined by Cynthia Hudson-Vitale from Washington University in St. Louis and Amy Nurnberger from Columbia University. Our abstract:

Research data services is not just a library issue. Experience and scholarship has shown that given the complex nature of research data services, various units and departments across an institution must work together to provide appropriate services. One component of the solution is to form a research data services advisory committee or working group. This panel will focus on the various organizational structures in place at different institutions, addressing change management /transition issues and roles this committee may play.

If you’d like to breeze through my slides, here they are:

But like I’ve done with other slide decks, I thought I would also annotate what I covered in my talk to make it more understandable.

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my experience as a projectCSgirls mentor

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computer screen showing MIT’s App Inventor 2 in action

I started the year in a bleak place. My personal life had turned upside down and I was struggling to feel okay, much less find joy or meaning or purpose. As the days progressed one of the decisions I made was that I needed to start trying things. I needed to engage with the world instead of hiding myself away. I needed to start saying yes.

Shortly after this realization, maybe a week or two, I went to a women in tech meetup in Madison. One of the women there was a mentor for a local Technovation team. She was looking for a mentor for two middle school teams participating in ProjectCSGIRLS. The idea was that the girls on these teams would work together to build an app using MIT’s Android-based App Inventor. I recognized my moment. I said yes.

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LIS Education Symposium [pt. 2]

LIS ed

with co-panelists Annie Pho (seated) and Micah Vandegrift (virtual)

Part two of my reflections on #LISed15 focuses on my presentation. To read my overall thoughts, go to part one.

I’ll cut to the chase: here are my slides if you’d like to quickly page through them.

I also wanted to annotate them a bit, though, given that they are so driven by visuals that might not be terribly easy to interpret. I should note that our panel was recorded, so obviously that will be the version of record as far as what I actually said. But given the chance to make that delivery more elegant here and now I will gladly take advantage! I’m also going intersperse tweets from the event throughout, my very own haphazardly cobbled together storify. FYI, tweets stolen from the actual legit #LISed15 storify.

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LIS Education Symposium [pt. 1]

LIS Ed organizers

with the amazing #LISed15 organizers, from left to right: Alice Mitchell, Sarah Crissinger, Kate Rojas, Madison Sullivan, Jamie Wittenberg, Sveta Stoytcheva, me!, Nicole Helregel.

This is part one, where I share general thoughts on #LISed15. Check out part two to read through an annotated version of my presentation.

I found out about the LIS Ed Symposium in February, when I was contacted by HLS writer Nicole about participating in a keynote talk aimed at bringing together a handful of Hack Library School alumni, namely Micah, Annie, and myself. When I found out I could duck out early from NADDI I was in! I took Friday off, made the drive to Urbana-Champaign, and arrived that afternoon in time to hear reporting back from some of the unconference sessions as well as Emily Weak from Hiring Librarians.

I am awed that this event was organized by just a crew of students, especially as I reflect back on how in my role as SAA student chapter president in library school I organized our small archives conference. I was totally unoriginal. I followed the template set by student chapters in previous years, which was of course very helpful but probably could have used a bit more attention. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel that I could or should deviate from it, though, or at least I was too lazy to. I can’t quite recall my headspace at the time, I just know I went through the motions and didn’t go beyond the basics. And even though I had this template and an awesome group working with me to make it all happen, I remember how stressful it was to wrangle everything.

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archiving legacy academic work in an institutional repository

In early April, I was lucky enough to be invited to give a talk to the UW Retirement Association, which runs a really great continuing education program. Paul Hedges of the Wisconsin Historical Society extended the invitation and it ended up working out really well – he focused on an overview of best practices for preserving various formats and I specifically talked about options for archiving academic work like research articles. This dipped back into projects I worked on as the Science Data Management Assistant at Indiana University. Nostalgia! How time flies.

The audience was great! I was really happy about the turnout.

My slides are fairly comprehensive. I’m happy to answer any questions about them. If you have experience in this area, please do share!

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