my ACRL digital curation interest group webinar

webinar screen shot

I gave a webinar for ACRL’s Digital Curation Interest Group (DCIG) earlier this month! As hard as it always is to give recordings a fresh listen and hear all the times I say umm and so!, what can you do? I had fun and I’m so glad I could share some of my ideas on shaping RDM and digital scholarship services. You can either watch the full recording here or skim my slides below.

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my word for 2016: moxie

a dragon with moxie? nashville, TN.

what could have more moxie than a dragon? nashville, TN.

As I mentioned in my recent DCIG webinar, I’ve decided to pick a word to guide my year. It’s something that a lot of the crafty lifestyle bloggers I follow do, and while part of me feels a little silly, I learned last year the power of focusing in on a concept (visibility as applied to Research Data Services). Having a word creates focus, an overarching purpose, and helps me know that if the things I am up to feed that objective I’m doing just fine.

So this year my word is moxie.

: the ability to be active

: courage or determination

I thought about calmer words but I think I need a bit of forcefulness behind my word. Mostly I just love moxie because it has that gritty yet playful spark I need. I want to thrive in the messiness of it all as I work my way toward orderliness. I want to be an analytical powerhouse without losing my creativity. Also it feels super retro, bonus!

When I think about what I want this next year in all parts of my life I think about the things holding me back. Here are a few of the psychological barriers I’d like to power through.

Keep doing things that are uncomfortable and new and scary. You get into a job and sometimes it’s all too easy to become complacent, so I do my best to continue to push myself. Now more than I ever I know I need to keep my hunger, keep myself out on the edge. That where the useful stuff is, more often than not. The serendipitous stuff.

Iterate quickly and stay on the move. The driving force behind my ability to work well is momentum. I am more productive when I feel like I’m building toward something. The slumps I fell into last year often coincided with projects I just could not get answers on or push forward.  This is why I now recognize the value in having simultaneous projects with different levels of complexity, scope, risk, and potential payoff.

Prioritize the essentials. Last year I read the book Essentialism and it had a profound affect on me. Why focus on a ton of little things that we end up not doing well and don’t satisfy us when we could focus on the heavy hitters? This means sticking with my gut and picking a direction and going with it until it no longer feels right. Saying no. Frequent gut checks about the path I’m on.

Set my own deadlines. This is a subset of my focus on rapid iteration. I need deadlines otherwise things don’t get done! A lot of my work is self-directed or comes with a fairly flexible timeline. I don’t usually have tasks with hard deadlines, so I’ve been creating a habit of setting these myself. They’re often arbitrary but that doesn’t matter; all that matters is that they exist. Otherwise the time gets eaten away by other tasks and I end up doing things just before they need to get done. I feel like a productive person, don’t get me wrong – but I could be better. When I imagine what I could do if I just locked myself in the office overnight and set to getting things done…

Allow myself to be bad at things. I saved the NUMBER ONE thing I want to prioritize for last. This is my PRIMARY struggle. On a small scale, it means I turn away from things I don’t like, that are for whatever reason unpleasant or not to my taste – and then they fester away until eventually I deal with them. Because of course they don’t just disappear! An email that requires a complex answer, a multi-step task that’s inconvenient. It all gets dealt with, so that’s not really the issue – the issue is how heavily things weigh on you in this scenario. Avoidance breeds power that it shouldn’t have and I find that it has a profound effect on my energy toward totally unrelated tasks. I recently discovered that psychologists refer to this as “attentional residue.” How’s that for a visual? Really though, I think it does a good job conveying the lingering weight that procrastination creates. 

When you’re a kid you don’t worry about judging yourself against others, appearing this way or that way. You lose yourself wholly to your passions. There’s a period of time where you are pretty bad at something, and not always in a comfortable, enjoyable way. I’d love to move back to that place. Interestingly enough, I think I’m actually better at being “bad” at things in my work life than my personal life. When it comes to my creative endeavors I don’t feel as free as I want to feel. I feel sort of panicky and unable to begin because my mind fixates at how unready I am, that it’s not the right time, that I’ll feel more ready and therefore have a better end result at some unspecified later date… and of course that’s all utter BS because the best time to start something is right now. We all get that intellectually but our brains trick us – and I’m quite susceptible.


So those are a few things that have been on my mind lately. To me they also provoke some interesting experiments in productivity and service building, too – what’s the tension between iterating quickly and doing uncomfortable new things, for instance? How do you keep static priorities while embracing those new tendrils of possibility that introduce themselves unannounced and can be the most worthy to pursue?

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uw open meetup

brand new flyers for uw open meetup

One of my new endeavors in 2015 was the UW Open Meetup, the brainchild of myself and colleagues Carrie Nelson and Jim Jonas. With half a year under our belt, I thought I’d provide a quick update on how things are going.

The story of our origin is that we’re a bit of a rogue group. We just made a meeting about open access, data, and education a thing. We found each other, cooked it up, and threw ourselves into it. We notified the people that needed to be notified but this was another one of those things that was all us. We’re all librarians, though at the time we started meeting we were all in different libraries with no real overlap – no shared committees or projects. We started talking about our passion for openness and the myriad issues it intersects with and we had this moment where we wondered aloud where everyone else was. Surely others cared too. Then we realized that maybe our first step should be to make a place to breed those connections and collaborations and insight and new directions. We got to work.

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2015! my favorite year yet.

madison street art

2015 was markedly different (and remarkably better) than 2014.

I’m not particularly good at appreciating the recent past or savoring things just as they are. I’m often eyeing up the next step, scheming about how to get there. So today I thought I’d reflect on this wild and wonderful year that was filled with personal and professional shifts, mostly as an exercise for myself. This certainly isn’t everything but it’s what came to mind when I thought chronologically through my year. It feels like ages since I wrote. I’ll admit that I miss it.

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making openness my business

Note: This text is cross-posted from the Winnower in response to the ARCS/Winnower essay contest. You can also view the original version. I am grateful to Stacy Konkiel for bringing the contest to my attention and encouraging me to share my story. 

For a long time I let the things I am not – namely, a researcher and an expert – stop me from having an impact. I wasn’t quite sure that my words carried any weight, especially as I struggled with how to classify myself as I transitioned from graduate school. Though I work for a library, I am not a librarian (by training, sure, though not by job title). I am not even a data specialist (not by training, though maybe through experience). I don’t consider myself to have any specific expertise, not really, but I am conversant and curious. All of this led to real uncertainty over how to direct my work and the uncomfortable feeling that I didn’t fit anywhere.

I got a lucky break, though. Open Con 2014 introduced a world teeming with ideas and energy. It didn’t matter that I was a twentysomething with pink hair and a brand new job I didn’t know what to do with.  For the first time, openness felt inevitable and powerful, not just one of my weird tangentially relevant side interests. I recognized that there were passionate people from very different disciplines and corners of the world who were ready to work together. Critically, I heard directly from researchers who had embraced openness, including Erin McKiernan, Jon Tennant, and Ross Mounce.

Open Con forced me to break down artificial boundaries I’d internalized: the idea of librarians as “other”, separate from researchers, seen as helpful but somehow lesser. It wasn’t that I felt disrespected in my library role; it was just that I found myself waiting for cues that weren’t likely to come. It seems silly to say but before Open Con, my understanding of the inner workings of academic research was rudimentary at best. It felt like there were more doors closed than open when it came to interacting with researchers and really understanding their environment. I recognized that I wouldn’t get an invitation to engage, not from my library or from researchers themselves. I would just have to make openness my business and bring my library along for the ride.

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my new workshop series: digital scholarship topics for early career researchers


I am leading a workshop series this semester! It’s sort of an unexpected development. After I gave my scholarly communication talk I got rather fired up. I had this jolt. Why am I talking about this need and not doing anything about it. It was an eerie moment of responsibility. You see the need. You’re not being asked to do anything about the need. Often, the need is not recognized or valued by others around you.  By addressing the need, you’re veering slightly off the path that has been ascribed to you (even though, true, it’s a vague path). You are committing yourself basically to working nights and weekends to make it happen in the way it needs to happen… to not only creating the content and creating the buzz to get people in the door but also to unearthing historic rivalries, the politics of not fitting anywhere, and to ultimately making it happen through whatever charm and perseverance you can muster. None of that changes the fact that you see the need, though. So here I am! Testing some approaches out this semester and seeing what will stick. I’ve got one workshop down, three more to go.

Sidenote: I have been getting a fair number of questions about graphic design lately. I use the free version of Canva to design my posters. This guy was created late one night when inspiration struck. I plan to write a post sometime soon on this topic!

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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

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 11.40.41 PM

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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