What does a Digital Scholarship Librarian do?

This post is somewhat like the presentation I gave this week to the Digital Environments class. There are quite a few quotes/slightly modified excerpts from job ads at a variety of institutions. I didn’t note where these came from so they are not footnoted. I have listed all the sites I used when pulling this information together at the end of the post

Guest Lecture – Digital Environments — 30 March 2015

Job titles are a bit arbitrary and often mean quite different things across institutions. Even when the job title is relatively well understood, the specific list of job duties can vary quite a bit. Newer job titles like “Digital Scholarship Librarian” can be quite hard to pin down.

I am going to begin with a slight digression regarding the specific words. The word “Electronic” in job titles frequently refers to positions that deal with licensed, external electronic resources. The word “Digital” tends to refer to locally digitized or born digital content. In both cases, we question to what degree the modifier is still needed. For example, when you take a picture with your phone, is it a picture or a digital picture? In your mind, did the article that you read for class come from a journal or an e-journal? How about the book chapter, from a book or an e-book? In January 2012, when we renamed my department from Digital Library Service to Digital Research & Publishing, we hoped we could omit what we saw as an increasingly unneeded word and tried to leave out “Digital”. However, we were unable to come up with a better way to define our scope, and thus the word remained.

One of our major services is Iowa Research Online, our institutional repository. We very intentionally both did not name it for the current software, because software comes and goes. We also tried to avoid language that would be dated (like the e-prefix). The word research, while different than scholarship, also has a way of potentially limiting scope. I was speaking with people at the Iowa Review and they were surprised creative works could go into Iowa Research Online, since the word “Research” is in the name. I explained that anything that was appropriate for their CV we believe is appropriate for Iowa Research Online, assuming we have the rights to post the item. So if creative works are on a faculty member or researcher’s CV, these items can definitely go into our repository. “Scholarship” is different “research” but I realized we may be unintentionally narrowing our focus with our job titles.

When preparing my remarks, I asked Lindsay if she want me to talk more narrowly about the work we do here or more generally about the position and what people in similar positions do. She wanted the more general approach, which made me really think about how varied this work is. For several years, my department head and I had tried to come up with a better job title for me. When we saw Digital Scholarship Librarian we thought, PERFECT! That will cover my work with locally published journals and with open access versions of other peer reviewed content for our institutional repository. The two other librarians in the department changed to the same job title shortly thereafter, broadening the scope considerable from my original, narrow perspective of scholarship. My colleague, Mark, manages the Iowa Digital Library, which primarily includes images, handwritten materials and multimedia, and which has the bulk of the content coming from our Special Collections Department. However, most of his work now is with content coming from outside the Library, which is often part of a researcher’s scholarship. My former colleague Jen spent her time connecting our content and scholars so that scholarship could be built on our digital collections. In our three uses of the same job title, it is quite clear how broadly this can work and should be viewed.

I also could have looked at the types of things I do in my job and generalize from there to others in similar positions, regardless of the job title. I will in essence be doing this, but by what seems like narrowly focusing on the job title, I will actually give a broader view of what a Digital Scholarship Librarian does. I should also note that this work can often encompass some digital humanities work. I will be covering this only lightly because we are fortunate to have a Digital Humanities Librarian in my department and she is scheduled to speak to your class in a few weeks.

Digital Scholarship Librarians focus on openly accessible content. They often do work like the following, or are in departments that do this work. I selected these phrases from various job and department descriptions.

  • promote the discovery, use and interoperability of digital content and digital resources in support of new knowledge creation
  • support faculty and student digital scholarship; build partnerships for the creation of digital collections
  • support innovative scholarship around a variety of digital content, including traditional library content, born-digital material, research data and other digital products of scholarship, and other digital materials utilized by faculty in their research
  • develop services in support of research, teaching and learning
  • provide consultations, support, and project management, technology-rich scholarly project, identifying and facilitating the deployment of appropriate tools and technologies to meet research and/or publication needs
  • focus on relationships, extending the ways in which librarians and academic computing professionals relate to and work with faculty (and often students) and their scholarly practices.
  • are open to experimentation, expanding the research library’s role, and exploring new faculty collaborations outside the library to further digital scholarship, new forms of publishing, and scholarly engagement.

Three specific activities that I think all Digital Scholarship Librarians do are: communicate with people from a variety of departments; project management; and provide some sort of consultation services.

Our work goes across unit and departmental borders. We work closely with virtually all other library departments, including subject specialists, special collections, preservation, metadata experts, web services and IT department, instruction librarians, data management and marketing. We also work with groups outside the library, including the researchers (whether faculty, other staff, graduate students or undergraduate students), the graduate college, the honors program, central IT, instructional design. Because of the open access component of our work, we also try to make sure the projects communicate broadly to the world at large and can be used by the general public, which in part involves encouraging jargon free language to explain scholarship. In meetings, we sometimes are in a role of translator, between the faculty and technology or metadata experts.

We are in generally in a more experimental area of the library. We are expected to try approaches and new software. It is understood that some of these initiative may fail which gives us real flexibility to try different things and sometimes come up with grand successes. The DIYHistory project is an example of a grand success at Iowa. Our experimentation means we need to remain aware of a lot of new tools and can often connect a researcher with an appropriate tool or software, even if we don’t know much about using it. Because we are so connected to so many departments, we often know who does similar work and can connect people with individuals with similar interests needed skills. Some of the consultations are for our subject specialists so that they can gather the information they need for their researchers. Other times we work directly with researchers. We also essentially consult for some of the internal departments in the library, such as Library IT and cataloging-metadata in order to share the needs of the researchers with them.

It seems like most things we do are project based. Sometimes we are project lead, sometimes a member of a team. We may be a project manager for a faculty member’s project, to make sure tasks stay on target and that the project does not derail or suffer from scope creep. We all need to be able to juggle multiple projects to make sure steps or entire projects don’t get lost.

My colleague Mark used to have the title Digital Initiative Librarian. Our department previously did the digitization and metadata work for our digital collections, work that has been mainstreamed into other departments. Mark still manages our digital asset management system, CONTENTdm (which we call Iowa Digital Library). Mark focuses on collections that come from outside the library, the scholarship of faculty, researchers and students. For example, he is working with two collections of coral images, one from a faculty member who has collected them over her career, and another from a student who will be graduating in spring, whose images will supplement his dissertation. He doesn’t do the major systems work or web work, but does keep up with software developments and what is happening in other digital collections. Along with our Preservation and Metadata departments, he keeps track of standards in the area to make sure we follow them, to make sure our collections can mesh well with collections elsewhere. One of his responsibilities is to work towards getting our collections in Digital Public Library of America. He tries to make our collections interoperate with public outreach initiatives as well as in scholarship.

His work with includes

  • establishing consistent policies and best practices
  • providing leadership in creating, organizing, promoting, and curating digital materials
  • fostering collaboration on the creation and curation of digital objects for research
  • assessing and integrating existing tools for digital scholarship
  • evaluating the Library’s digital resources

I do much the same as Mark but for our institutional repository, which uses Digital Commons Software, and called Iowa Research Online locally. People in similar positions to mine are often called IR managers or scholarly communications librarians. I provide oversight and leadership of institutional repository and lead our journal publishing. I typically deal more with text based materials, versus the image and multimedia works that go to Mark. Because text is what is traditionally thought of as scholarship, the job title meshes perhaps more easily with my job. However, scholarship is much broader than text and I am happy that we take such a broad view of scholarship. As mentioned previously, I also work with creative works in our repository, for which the word scholarship may apply less clearly. As with Mark, I do not work only with one piece of software, but instead try to work with the content and use alternative publishing mechanisms if appropriate. We have not done much of this yet, but would like to do more.

Much of our outreach for our repositories is done by our subject librarians, who have the close connections with faculty in a discipline. In some institutions, the Digital Scholarship Librarian takes the lead on this. We do not have a Scholarly Communications Librarian and those job duties fall to many staff members, including me. This work includes:

  • provide guidance on scholarly communication issues and concerns
  • increase library initiatives in support of scholarly communication
  • support the local Open Access resolution/mandate
  • lead education and outreach activities related to scholarly communication
  • manage the OA Fund – funding requests /criteria /eligibility
  • increase campus awareness of author rights, Open Access, and new and existing funding mandates

Since we are involved with putting content online, whether born digital or digitized, we need to understand the basics of copyright. For us, this largely involves making sure we can put content online and making rights clear once they are online. It also includes explaining rights an author holds to an authors as well as explaining creative commons licensing. Some institutions expect a digital scholarship librarian to advise and provide guidance on issues related to intellectual property, open access publishing, and fair use.

Making work public is the most basic form of publication. We are also involved in more formal types of publishing. Digital Scholarship Librarians often manage the open-access publishing program, which may use open source tools or subscriptions or vendor tools. If open source tools are used, this work can involve some code modification. Publishing may also involve less traditional forms of scholarship, which also may involve more code modification or development, or partnering with others who have these skills. Library publishers may host journals or books with little additional assistance, or may format the content for publication and perhaps even provide some editorial assistance. Some publishing may also be restricted to subscribers, especially with a moving wall, or have an optional print version available for an added fee. This moves much of the work into far more traditional publishing.

Several Digital Scholarship Librarians focus on digital humanities. This type of work includes:

  • promote hybrid scholarship that integrates digital tools and methods with traditional scholarly inquiry and research
  • develop library initiatives in support of new and emerging modes of digital scholarship
  • provide consultation on text analysis, network analysis, image analysis, visualization, digital preservation, data curation, grant application process
  • build and/or enhance collections amenable to computational analysis
  • enable new modes of discovery and access to collections
  • work on projects involving the use of data sets, spatial analytical tools and interactive maps, text mining and qualitative analysis, 3D visualization and modeling, and designing online exhibits
  • consult with faculty regarding humanities data sets and research collections
  • partner with scholars on the development, implementation, assessment, enhancement and maintenance of sustainable digital projects

Promoting our collections is another part of our work. This can involve social media, to try to engage with new audiences. This can also mean a lot of networking on campus to promote use of our collections in the classroom and for research. Networking is also a means to identify new projects around campus that could be part of our collections or that would benefit from the knowledge and perspective of a librarian. We try to identify opportunities to support faculty and student digital scholarship creation, access and preservation.

One of the most important forms of outreach we have is to connect our faculty and students with our materials. In the ideal world, our locally digitized content would be used for research and teaching, and the resulting products would come back to our collections when appropriate. This enhances the scholarship about our local resources and directly connects to the research and teaching goals of the University. Our crowd sourced transcription tool, DIYHistory, is being used in rhetoric classes. We will be archiving this student scholarship in our repository.

Digital Scholarship Librarians sometime provide training, as well as consultation in the whole range of activities that we do. Training might be one-on-one at point of need or may be more formal group instruction or workshops. Training and workshop are also a means of promoting digital scholarship to the broader campus community.

  • planning digital projects
  • understanding relevant standards
  • developing metadata
  • using specialized software and tools (data visualization, text mining and encoding, mapping, and data analysis)
  • digitizing analog materials
  • preservation
  • methodologies and tools of the digital humanities and social sciences

Open educational resources are another thing that can be part of a digital scholarship librarians duties. We are just beginning to see what support for open-access textbook initiatives would be here, so I cannot say much on this topic.

Quite a few other things crop up in digital scholarship librarian duties, depending on how things are defined at a specific institution.

  • data management services and institutional research data
  • assists in developing and implementing strategies for digital curation, working with relevant stakeholders to ensure that digital projects unique to the Libraries are discoverable, usable, and preserved
  • Planning for long-term preservation
  • developing new workflows to accommodate emerging data discovery and exchange standards, such as the Resource Description Framework and Linked Open Data
  • consulting on the development and testing of standards and platforms and providing metadata expertise to support and advance new models of scholarship and collections
  • complex and innovative systems administration and involvement in open-source code
  • lead efforts to obtain and manage grants and outside funding in support of digital initiatives. (small institution)