DigCCurr Digital Preservation Symposium

I recently attended the DigCCurr Digital Preservation Symposium at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The symposium was divided into two parts: Curate Thyself on March 17 and the Digital Curation Education Experts Meeting on the 18th.

I flew to Raleigh on Saturday the 16th, arriving at just after noon. I took a (very expensive) taxi to the (very fancy) Aloft hotel in Chapel Hill. Napped. Awoke around 3, refreshed. Went to the lobby of the hotel to wait for a taxi to go downtown. While I was hanging out, waiting, a guy at the bar said, “Hey!” and I went, “Oh dear” (in my mind). But then he said, “Are you here for the Digital Curation Symposium? I think you just followed me on Twitter.” Then I felt amused because I had done so at 6am in the airport waiting for my flight, totally randomly and totally without the knowledge that he was a symposium participant! We chatted and he invited me to a social gathering taking place that night at a wine bar in downtown Chapel Hill.

Soon enough my taxi arrived and I headed out to explore. Chapel Hill is a lovely college town (and boy do I love college towns). I wandered up and down Franklin Street. I got frozen yogurt and traipsed around the UNC campus with several near-drip experiences. They say UNC rivals the IU campus in terms of beauty. I would agree. I like to think of them as cousins, both appealing in their own way.





While I was waiting for the evening social, I ended up spending some of my time just sitting on benches on campus. The calm, a byproduct of UNC’s spring break, was awfully nice. When the time came I headed to the wine bar. I was the sole Master’s student in a sea of PhD students. I almost didn’t want to confess to my novice nature during introductions, but I did.

Everyone was really kind.  I realized while I was there that I had kind of assumed I’d be as lost and unable to connect as I felt at my first library conference, the WAAL conference–which was only two years ago. (Two! What? It seems like a decade ago at least. Two years ago I had never gotten paid to work in a library, had never spoken in public, I worked like 15 hours a week plus classes and felt busy. Times have changed.)

When Sunday came around, it was nice to have connections made already. The schedule for Curate Thyself was ambitious, with events occurring from 8:30-7: a mix of keynotes, panels, and mentoring sessions followed by a reception and graduate posters. (I was exempt from the poster, as I haven’t done original research.)


The day was basically comprised of tips for hacking your PhD program. Many of the lessons were applicable to Master’s students as well, and many many many resonated with my own experience. Here are some ideas, cobbled together from my notes, that I took away from the day (and apologies that I can’t attribute these to individual people–lots of folks were talking):

  • Find support groups. Community is important.
  • Understand that a PhD is an apprenticeship, and that a dissertation is NOT your life’s work.
  • Be opportunistic. Be prepared to shift and change.
  • Find a mentor who is active professionally who will take you to conferences and make connections.
  • Go to every job talk. You want to be in a world where by the time you have to do it, you’ve been there 12 times. You know the questions; you know what works and what doesn’t work.
  • Criticism makes you better, but it’s painful.
  • Carve out a niche for yourself. Find something small but significant and do it well.
  • Find a way to translate what you do for others.
  • At conferences and other events, understand that you are part of a self-selecting group.
  • Don’t feel like it’s wrong to go headhunting people at conferences.
  • Your CV should always be public.
  • Everyone carries the idea that they have some failing or flaw. Everyone.
  • Set rules about time with your family.
  • Choose who to disappoint–because you will disappoint someone.
  • It’s about sustainability, with periods of intensity.
  • To learn how to write grants, ask to read successful grants.
  • Be ready to answer, “What else can you do?”
  • Make collaborations explicit with contracts or other written agreements.
  • Work toward mobility.

These next ideas are from Carolyn Hank of the UT iSchool:

  • Get money.
  • It’s personal–it’s all about you.
  • Help yourself by asking for help from others.
  • Ask yourself: How does something help (or hurt) your goals?
  • Changing your location doesn’t change bad habits. You have to work toward being better.
  • Write no’s on your calendar. Celebrate the no’s.

I just took it all in. Scribbled on my legal pad. I recognized myself right there in that room, in some people at least. They were driven. Tough. Loved what they did. Took it all on. I recognized my personality–but not the application of the hunger we all had. The refrain of the day was, Only do a PhD program if you love doing research.

And guess what?

I don’t love doing research. No surprise there, probably. I appreciate it. I want it to happen and I want all the smart people I shared that room with to do it. But I don’t want to, I just want to use it to make my library better.

I’m a doer. Not a researcher. My questions were about how the professors and PhD students work with practitioners and whether there are any practice-based data curation programs. I give myself away every time.

Monday’s Digital Curation Experts Meeting was quite different from Curate Thyself. Educators from the US, Canada, UK, and Scotland gathered to share what their institutions were doing in relation to data curation education. Some offered Master’s or post-Master’s certificates. Some offered classes. The PhD students were really just there to soak it in with the understanding that this was the mantle they would be taking on someday. I was a fly on the wall, again taking it all in.

I should note that I was the only person from IU that was present. Kind of concerning. Of course, not every program  can specialize in everything–but data preservation/curation/stewardship/whatever else you want to call it is huge. It encompasses so many areas. Students are going to be hurt by IU’s lack of curriculum in this area. I know I personally feel deprived, hence my flying halfway across the country for some info. It may seem harsh, but I was embarrassed that no one else was present from IU.

After the Experts Meeting, I escaped to Caribou and met my fellow HackLibSchool writer Julia. It was grand!

On Tuesday, my final day, I slept in a bit. Markus, a friend from previous conferences (DHSI, HathiTrust UnCamp), picked me up from Chapel Hill, which was very kind considering the cost of a taxi to Raleigh. First he showed me Hill Library. I kept hearing about how Hill just didn’t fit the needs of the campus, not enough room, too cramped, etc.–but I am sad to say that when I walked through, I thought, Ummmm, awkward, this is better than Wells Library in plenty of ways. More tech. Engagement with students seemed more…intentional. I guess that is just to say that while the space was not ideal, I thought they used it well.

Another fun fact: There were cows and sheep near Hill Library, part of some fair. NCSU is an agriculture and engineering school, after all. I felt like my Wisconsinite Norwegian farmer ancestors were all smiling down on me, saying, You can trust people at a place with farm animals! 

After Hill came the icing on the cake of my whole North Carolina trip: seeing Hunt Library. I’ve heard a lot about it. Between the information I’ve come across and the information I’ve sought out, I knew quite a bit. But seeing it? Unbelievable. Clearly, it was impossible to take a bad picture of the place.

After wandering around in Hunt (here’s how you should imagine me: wide-eyed, poking into their Game Lab and 3D printing room with my carry-on bag rolling behind me, probing the “Ask Us” people with questions about their roles and gushing when they said they were both tech and reference, giddy as a kid when they said they’d show me how the book bot worked) I met my friend Kate, a current NCSU Fellow who, amusingly enough, I met at the WAAL Conference I referenced earlier in this post. It was great to see a familiar face and it just goes to show that the library world is small–you never quite know whose path you’ll cross again in the future. We chatted about Hunt Library, the Fellows program, library school, and cats. And she dropped me off at the airport to boot! It was wonderful.

I flew back (Charlotte, then Indy) too late to catch the shuttle to Bloomington. Slept in the airport, feeling so satisfied by the delightful, exhausting trip. It was clarifying to be exposed to new, fresh places and ideas. I think I needed it.

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