Research Now at the Digital Library Federation Forum: The Poster Session

Catherine Minter and I took to Atlanta, Georgia to represent Research Now at the Digital Library Federation (DLF) 2014 Forum.  We presented as part of a panel session, Professional Development for Digital Scholarship (blog post on this forthcoming) and a poster (the focus of this blog post).  Before sharing our poster experience, I want to say that I had a blast with Catherine and look forward to attending more conferences with her (keep reading and you’ll see why)!

 Poster Abstract for Research Now: Cross-Training for Digital Scholarship

In preparation for the opening of the Indiana University (IU) Libraries’ Scholars’ Commons, staff from across the libraries including, Collection Development & Scholarly Communication, Library Technologies, Teaching & Learning, Reference Services, and Arts & Humanities, have engaged in an extended, hands-on professional development initiative known as “Research Now: Cross Training for Digital Scholarship” (  Our project team is developing a digital archive tentatively called The History of the Indiana University Libraries, which is conceived as a comprehensive, multimedia project documenting the earliest days of the IU Libraries through present times. The archive will serve as an engaged learning opportunity for first-year, front-line Scholars’ Commons staff as we retool and augment our skills and knowledge for the opening of the Scholars’ Commons in Fall 2014.

Above all, this is a learning project with three broad goals:

  1. to understand the multi-faceted dimensions, iterations and phases involved in designing and developing a curated digital archive
  2. to contribute to this project as researchers
  3. to cultivate ad-hoc learning strategies

Cross-training began in mid-November 2013. We would like to take this opportunity to provide you with an overview and update of our praxis-based cross-training initiative, and plans for using this model for ongoing professional development.  In turn, we would like to hear suggestions from you.

From Abstract to Poster

The poster we presented at DLF 2014.
The poster we presented at DLF 2014.

Download the PDF version of the poster (16 MB) to zoom in for the details.

The Poster Session

This year the DLF organizers scheduled the Community Idea Exchange (aka the poster session) during the reception.  As part of the Community Idea Exchange, poster authors are expected to give a one-minute lightening talk.  The organizers were kind enough to allows us to grab a glass of wine before our one minute of fame (or infamy).  I had two (we were toward the end of the line).

Before heading to the DLF Forum, I assured Catherine that I would handle the lightening round.  However, as the day neared I began to fret over the one minute talk — the lightening round is far more stressful than a full-blown conference presentation:  how do we deliver a poignant message?  in a humorous fashion? without making complete fools of ourselves?  Then, it hit me!  In the spirit of “I Don’t Have a Clue, Do You?” I sketched a skit.  Then I sprung it on poor Catherine, unawares, that she would be helping me during the Lightening Round!  She gasped!!

Late Sunday night, I shared with Catherine our skit and assured her it would be grand. Here’s the skit:

Michelle:                                                                                                                                                Hi. I’m looking for a book called Being and, Being and Something?

Catherine (with a British accent):                                                                                                                                            Ah, do you mean, Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology?

Michelle:                                                                                                                                             Um, yeah maybe.

Catherine:                                                                                                                                           Let’s check the online catalog. Do you know the author?

Michelle:                                                                                                                                                  JP Sater, I think.

Catherine:                                                                                                                                              Ah, yes, Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre. You can find the book on the 5th floor; here’s the call number.

Michelle:                                                                                                                                           Actually, I am interested in creating a digital critical edition of this text, underscoring JP Sater’s concept of “being-in-itself.”

Catherine:                                                                                                                                             You came to right place! Here at the reference desk, we can help you find books and provide the information you need to embark on digital critical editions. First, you’ll need to consult with our Copyright Librarian.

Michelle:                                                                                                                                     Awesome! Oh, can I use the stapler?

Stop by our poster, Research Now: Cross-Training for Digital Scholarship, to learn more about our professional development initiative – what we did, what we are doing, what’s working and what’s not working – in support of the IU Libraries’ newly opened Scholars’ Commons.

My friend and rock-star librarian, Brianna Marshall, who is now the Digital Curation Coordinator at UW-Madison Libraries, recorded the actual event:

DLF poster lightening talk

Themes That Emerged from Poster Discussion

Our poster was well-trafficked and discussions were many and varied, but these three themes struck me the most either because they were concerns also expressed by others or they are concerns I have about Research Now.

Space v. Services v. People

As colleagues from other academic libraries prepare themselves for the opening of a research commons or some equivalent — a digital scholarship center, digital humanities collaboratory, etc. — we engaged in several discussions about space, services, and people.  After some minutes considering space (oohing, aahing and groaning), many of these conversations ended with an emphasis on people and services.  Rather than only focus on investing in the space, we should be equally investing in the people working in the space and the services that they embody.  There’s no doubt that spaces can facilitate collaborations and innovative forms of research, but ultimately these collaborations and new forms of research happen irrespective of super swanky spaces.  We lucked out in many ways — we got the swanky space and investment in staff to support the swanky space, but we have more work to do to get the people and services in tip top shape.

Learning Outcomes: We Need Them

Some asked us, or I just confessed as this is a hang-up of mine, about our learning outcomes.  We certainly have learning outcomes, but they have never been identified in a concrete or measurable way.  Instead we have been following more of a sixth sense of what we need to learn, but we don’t always know why we are learning or how it will be useful in the context of our Scholars’ Commons.  It’s not too late for us to revisit our Scope Statement / Project Charter as we intended to do many, many months ago to untangle our goals for the digital archive v. our goals for learning.  Ideally, we should have worked more closely with instructional and assessment experts to help us define our “curriculum” and goals in concrete, executable ways (as opposed to the extreme we have been operating under which is ever-changing at least until recently since it’s been more like nothing-is-happening-at-all).

Columbia’s Developing Librarian and Our Research Now: Stuff to Think About

At one point, I popped over to Columbia’s poster on their Developing Librarian project to compare notes on our respective approaches to praxis-based professional development.  We share lots of parallels in our training initiative, but the Columbia Crew has followed a different route with respect to:

  • Project selection — The team collectively decided on the project, a digital history of Morningside Heights, the neighborhood that is home to Columbia University as opposed to our project, which was pre-selected (for good reasons even if the project has not been as compelling as we had hoped)
  • Learning — A lot of learning, especially more technically-oriented learning, happened before they actually began working on the project while we, from early on, coupled learning with project development (mostly because our syllabus, for better or worse, reflects the stages of building a digital archive)
  • Team formation —  Members of the Developing Librarian project formed teams based on their own interests and aptitudes as a result of their gearing-up-and-learning-before-doing approach.  Instead of everyone doing everything (which is the Research Now approach), Columbia has discrete teams for design work, web development work, and research and editorial work.

I look forward to talking to the Research Now group about these differences as a way to evaluate our own methods and approaches.  As part of the poster and panel presentations, Catherine and I spent quite some time deconstructing Research Now, and have some constructive ideas moving forward as we wrap up our work together.  It would be nice if we could explore these differences and ideas with wine in hand.

Catherine and Michelle with wine and the poster
Catherine and Michelle with wine and the poster


Scholars’ Commons: The New Frontier for Digital Scholarship

Panorama view of the Scholars' Commons
Panorama view of the Scholars’ Commons space, pre-construction

Upon seeing the first floor in the East Tower of the Herman B Wells Library (the gateway to our research collections and reference services) had been cleared for construction, we knew the Scholars’ Commons was near.  The Indiana University Libraries’ web site envisions the Scholars’ Commons as:

 a vibrant, attractive central-campus space dedicated to technologies and services that support in-depth scholarship and scholarly community. Scholars will come to this facility to use cutting-edge technologies, attend seminars and consult with experts on tools, collections and innovative approaches that further their research in the humanities, arts, sciences and social sciences. In addition to a cohesive set of technologies and services, the IU Scholars’ Commons will be a flexible space for building community and sparking interdisciplinary inquiry.

As a member of our Scholars’ Commons Task Force, and a leader of our Research Now: Cross-Training for Digital Scholarship initiative, I know the above vision statement to be true, and though we are still solidifying service models, staffing structure, and cross-campus partnering opportunities, I am optimistic and confident that this new space — physical, virtual, cultural, and ultimately metaphorical — will bring together the collective strengths of our library and library staff by offering, not only a cohesive set of services (much of which already exists in various areas across the libraries), but also the diverse, cross-functional sets of expertise needed to advance research across all subject domains and all platforms for inquiry and publishing that exist across campus.

History of the Making of the Scholars’ Commons

In the early 2000s, the Indiana University (IU) Libraries in partnership with IU’s central computing division, University Information Technology Services, began planning the Information Commons (IC), a collaborative space focused on student learning at the intersection of libraries and information technology. Not long after the launch of the Information Commons, the IU Libraries launched the IC2 in 2005 while simultaneously envisioning a Research Commons, a collaborative space and portal for faculty, graduate students, and other IU scholars seeking research support, which would include services from various units across the campus.  Nearly ten years later (perhaps a little more according to some of us who are long-time employees of the IU Libraries) we have fulfilled our vision of the Research Commons now known as the Scholars’ Commons.

Though the Scholars’ Commons took longer than expected to build, the IU Libraries has, of course, always supported scholars in their research pursuits.  We have a strong Reference and Research Services department, and renown subject specialists on staff. The William & Gayle Cook Music Library is recognized as one of the largest academic music libraries in the world.  Our rare books, manuscripts and special collections library, the Lilly Library, is a treasure trove of amazingness.  We are fortunate to have spectacular special collections all over campus, many of which are affiliated with the IU Libraries:  the Indiana University Archives, the Archives of Traditional Music, the Kinsey Institute, and more!  We launched a highly regarded Digital Library Program in 1997, and have since evolved and extended digital library initiatives across the IU Libraries, the Bloomington campus, and beyond (thanks to lots of partnerships).  Before the creation of the Institute of Digital Arts and Humanities in 2007, the IU Libraries was often an incubator or partner in furthering digital humanities projects like the Chymistry of Isaac Newton,  the Swinburne Project, and Victorian Women Writers Project.  More recently, the formation of the Office of Scholarly Publishing in 2012, currently an IU Press and IU Libraries partnership, is advancing scholarly communication across the Bloomington campus in new and interesting ways.

Add to this the expertise and extensive knowledge of an array of partners supporting research across campus — University Information Technology Services in particular Research Technologies, HathiTrust Research Center, Indiana Statistical Consulting, Center for Survey Research, the Office of the Vice Provost for Research to name only a few — the Scholars’ Commons is well on its way to becoming a hub for research and digital scholarship.

 The Actual Making of the Scholars’ Commons

After the space was cleared and the blueprints still a work in progress, some of us considered using the space as a rollerskating rink or for scootering.

Julie Hardesty on a Scooter in the space formerly occupied by the IQ-Wall.
Julie Hardesty on a scooter in the space formerly occupied by the IQ-Wall
Floor Plan for the Scholars' Commons
Scholars’ Commons Coming Soon: exhibition space, secure reading room and public computers

As plans began to solidify and schematics and storyboards were

Scholars' Commons Coming Soon: reference desk, seminar/presentation room and public workstations
Scholars’ Commons Coming Soon: reference desk, seminar/lecture room and public workstations

shared, we began to see, coming soon, the promise of the Scholars’ Commons.  As the storyboards indicated, it would be a place for digital revolution where experts speak, interact and innovate.  The Scholars’ Commons was conceived to foster research at every angle:   from a secure reading room with sufficient space for a class to gather and inspect fragile, brittle or oversized material to a cozy reading space next to the newly acquired books; from dedicated spaces with computer workstations to docking stations for plugging in laptops both; from a state-of-the-art seminar/lecture room for workshops, colloquia, brown bags, and presentations to multi-faceted consultation rooms for 1:1 or group meetings with experts from all across campus; from a dedicated, multimedia exhibition space to a high-end visualization technologies: IQ-Wall and multi-touch, interactive tables and displays.

Scholars' Commons Digital Revolution: State of the Art Public Multimedia Digitization Facilities
Scholars’ Commons Digital Revolution:  public multimedia digitization facilities
Scholars’ Commons Experts Speak: high-tech seminar/lecture room for workshops, colloquia, etc.
Scholars' Commons Experts Speak: State of the Art Seminar/Lecture room for workshops, colloquia and other programming
Scholars’ Commons Interactive and Innovate: state-of-the-art visualization technologies including the IQ-Wall

Members of the Scholars’ Commons Task Force led by the Associate Dean of Library Academic Services, Diane Dallis, and the Associate Dean for Collection Development and Scholarly Communication, Julie Bobay, have worked tirelessly with guidance from the Scholars’ Commons Faculty Council Members, which serves as an advisory group, to imagine this space and the services that will be provided.

The Role of Research Now in the Scholars’ Commons

The transformation is amazing!  What once looked like a 15,000 square foot roller skating rink is now revealing itself as a proper, scholarly space.

Second day of operation for the new Scholars' Commons reference desk
Second day of operation for the new Scholars’ Commons reference desk

The wonders of the Scholars’ Commons are not complete without rightfully acknowledging the front-line staff who have worked hard in preparation for the opening as part of our professional development initiative known as Research Now: Cross-Training for Digital Scholarship.  The core team consists of about twenty-five staff members across various units in the Libraries: Collection Development & Scholarly Communication, Library Technologies, Reference Services, and Arts & Humanities.  Together we have survived ten months of in-depth, hands-on learning from each other and with each other so that we are equipped to provide high-level support for the various Scholars’ Commons services (final naming pending):

  • Research Practices and Reference
  • Scholarly Communication & Publishing Services
  • Copyright & Intellectual Property
  • Data Analysis & Visualization
  • Metadata
  • Data Management
  • Digitization Services
  • Geospatial Services

We are still a few months away from completing a digital archive on the history of the Indiana University Libraries, but we are making progress and learning mounds along the way.  More than anything else, we are ready for the Scholars’ Commons reference desk, the initial service point for all_the_things research and digital scholarship.  

Research Now project team working through user stories for the History of IU Libraries digital archive
Research Now project team working through user stories for the History of IU Libraries digital archive
Subset of Research Now project team, contemplating and whiteboarding
Subset of Research Now project team, contemplating and whiteboarding

Some of us from Research Now will also be holding “open

Affinity diagraming as part of our design work for the History of IU Libraries digital archive
Affinity diagraming as part of our design work for the History of IU Libraries digital archive

office” consultation hours in the Scholars’ Commons and others are developing and contributing to the diverse programming in place this coming year, from workshops to speaker series, on topics ranging from digital initiatives to surviving and thriving in academia.  And all of us will be fostering and propelling research and digital scholarship alongside each other. It has truly been a great pleasure and privilege to work with every one of my Research Now colleagues.

Official Debut: Awesome Speakers and Cutting of Ribbons

Every day is a busy day getting furniture assembled and technology installed in the Scholars’ Commons.  As much as possible, this has not stopped us from providing top-notch services or has stopped the use of the space (just today I saw someone working on a laptop to the sound of a drill!).  We should be fully operational by mid-September.

On October 30, 2014, the IU Libraries will host the grand opening of the Scholars’ Commons, featuring important speakers from throughout campus and a visiting speaker and scholar in digital humanities and scholarly communication, Kathleen Fitzpatrick.  The ribbon will also be cut that day.   Mark you calendars, but stop by anytime.  We are here to help, to partner, to wonder, and to explore with you (despite the drilling).  

Evocative objects

What does our collection tell us? This is the question I’ve been asking myself, and it is a problem we have returned to again and again, if only abstractly, since we began working with the various objects and categories of our collection. After reading Emily’s recent post, I was reminded of the value of open-ended questions, as opposed to definite answers, both in conceptualizing and contributing to progress toward our goals. This recurring question, I think, alongside certain related ones (Do these items speak for us, or are we trying to speak for them? What can we do to tell their story, if there is a story to tell? How do we negotiate between an archive of things and an archive of memories?), has and will continue to drive our conversations toward assembling, organizing, and, eventually, understanding the collection and our larger objectives with this project.

bless our mess

Working with our collection’s realia has necessitated a very physical engagement with these questions. What did we think when we first began working with these objects? We expected to have fun, admittedlyand how nice not to have to sift through more paperwork, for a changeand so we felt relieved and vindicated in our decision. But there’s a gravity to these objects; literally, of course, but also in their pull upon our imagination. It wouldn’t be difficult, beyond the initial sense of validation, to see these static, unresponsive objects as a sentence, to view any attempt to engage with their presence in our collection as a sort of prison. Luckily, though, there is creativity to be found in ostensible constraints. And, as I mentioned in our brief introductions, the solidity of these items has forced us to imagine, or begin seeing, the story they could tell us.

bound series catalog cards
bound series catalog cards

The realia comprise a regular hodge-podge of sometimes seemingly unrelated items, beyond their donation from Lou and librarian context and use. They vary widely in capacity and condition, from unopened circulation cards to inoperable automatic erasers. Not being particularly gifted in psychometry, we’ve understandably been left with more questions than answers. Although some of our objects are more straightforward in nature, and more forthcoming in providing answers, most have required us to make certain imaginative leaps in building narrative cohesion among them. It’s elementary to see the connection between an automatic eraser and several boxes of 7″ eraser refills, but something else entirely to interpret smudges on an index card as impressions of their association.

type cleaner gum

Sometimes it’s almost as if we can read their histories through a combination of observation, tactile experience, and regular head-scratching uncertainty (ie. we make a lot of guesses). Anything we can’t infer from basic condition and a little knowledge about function is relegated to this latter category, but even when we know, as we often can, what they do or what they were for, we are still left with questions about the kinds of “lives” they led or about how to weave a story from that information. What can we do with or extrapolate from what we have in front of us? What do our attempts to answer this question suggest about our understanding of the various faces and demands of an archive, and how will this structure our deliverables? I like to think of these inevitable questions, as new beginnings, as opportunities rather than obstacles. 

adding machine
automatic adding machine

Ultimately, we found that play and the potential within making imaginative leaps to be the best approaches to this sub-collection. Pressing buttons may only get us so far, but it is illuminating, and we are lucky in that many of our items betray themselves, and their stories, through a considered combination of form, function, and condition. A counting machine is a counting machine is a counting machine, but ours was clearly heavily used, and yet remarkably well-preserved. Whether we can hope to understand the numbers left behind from its last use (00010467), we can loosely infer not only that this machine was an integral part of some operation or service within the library at a time before personal computing or digital calculators, but that it was conscientiously cared for by someone as well. That’s at least a start.

And honestly, sometimes it’s all about trial-and-error… emphasis on the error:

Obviously I had a great deal of fun exploring this collection, but our process suggests something more expansive: are we willing to remain open-minded, and to be surprised? This question arises out of my interaction with the realia items, but it applies, I think, to the goals of the project itself. The Scholars’ Commons will be a place where a variety of services and resources are offered, but it will also be one that provides a space and framework for collaboration, relationship-building, and ongoing learning. If the realia have taught me anything, it is that we must maintain a reparative attitude and an expansive approach to possibilities.

So I end as I began, with a question: What’s next?




I checked out a book from the IUB Libraries:  The Lost Art of Finding Our Way by John Edward Huth.  This is part of the review in Amazon:

Long before GPS, Google Earth, and global transit, humans traveled vast distances using only environmental clues and simple instruments. John Huth asks what is lost when modern technology substitutes for our innate capacity to find our way. Encyclopedic in breadth, weaving together astronomy, meteorology, oceanography, and ethnography, The Lost Art of Finding Our Way puts us in the shoes, ships, and sleds of early navigators for whom paying close attention to the environment around them was, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

Even today, careful observation of the sun and moon, tides and ocean currents, weather and atmospheric effects can be all we need to find our way.

Lavishly illustrated with nearly 200 specially prepared drawings, Huth’s compelling account of the cultures of navigation will engross readers in a narrative that is part scientific treatise, part personal travelogue, and part vivid re-creation of navigational history. Seeing through the eyes of past voyagers, we bring our own world into sharper view.

And here’s an example of Huth’s writing  style:

In a way, we can create our own meanings: our own private frameworks to link events. Too often in the modern era, we rely on guardians to interpret events for us, and they’re too happy to step in and tell us what something “means.” But when we do this, we surrender the more primal empiricism that our ancestors surely possessed.

Huth, John Edward. Losing Our Way in the World.  New York Times Sunday Review.  20 July, 2013.  Accessed 18 Feb. 2014.

Very accessible, it seemed, when I picked the book out and took it to the circulation desk.  And the first chapters pulled me right in.  Social Science, Humanities.  I got it.  But TWO renewals later I am completely bogged down.  Plowing my way through SCIENCE, MATH, charts and graphs that make no sense to me.  Where the sun is at noon, if you are in Rio as opposed to Boston, on a given day.  But no, not where the sun IS, where the sun APPEARS TO BE.  And what that means in terms of where you are.  Or why.  I want to understand this stuff!  It’s fascinating.  I keep reading.  But I don’t understand it at all.  It seems important.  What if all the GPSs in the world stopped working and I had to find my way to Rio following the stars or the sun or… I keep reading.  I finish a whole chapter.  Might as well have been written in Sanskrit.  Still can’t navigate like the ancient Polynesians or the Vikings.  I know I’m going to finish the book, I know I’ll have learned SOMETHING.  I’m hoping I get the gist of it.  I’m probably going to make it mean something very different than the author intended.

What does any of the above have to do with Research Now?  Well.  Sometimes I sit in our Tuesday sessions listening and getting ideas, but much of the time I listen and think, “Hmmm.  What?  What does that mean?  That sounds really neat, I wonder if that’s like LCSH subject headings?  Isn’t that like the fields in a record?  The way we used to describe databases?  Can Content Mapping be applied to people?  Is everything a cycle?  Is this librarianship?  This isn’t your mother’s librarianship! Thanks goodness.”

I am pretty good at living in a state of perpetual discombobulation.  I really don’t expect to understand.  But I do expect to figure it out just enough to ask the right questions and to take the next step in the right direction.  And I think we are, at least, headed in the right direction.

What I’ve learned in all my years as a reference librarian is that we need to pay attention, be optimistic, and ask the right, the real, questions and be able to evaluate and pick out the “right” or “real” answer so that we can go off in the direction that will take us where we [think we] want to go.

Then, of course, you have to ask the next question and take off again.  For old-time reference librarians, it is as much about the journey as it is the destination.  It’s the searching that we get off on.  It’s the stuff we learn along the way.  Getting the answer is the secondary reward.  The REAL reward is discovering the next question.  And I feel like that’s what I’m in the midst of right now, finding new meaning and discovering the next question.

But research when?

I firmly believe that librarians should aspire to do more than support the research endeavors of others. Is there any reason why librarians cannot lead research projects, combining a vision of end product with mastery of processes? I have much to learn with respect to the latter; however, our reluctance to address the former as yet in our series I think is striking.

It would be inefficient for an academic researcher not to have a clear intellectual vision of where they are heading with their work; that vision is imposed by the researcher, usually as a result of his or her prior knowledge. How can a researcher judge of the usefulness of a piece of information without an intellectual vision of the anticipated whole? In reading (for example), he or she will pass over content that could be productively integrated into the argument if he/she does not have a clear idea of that argument before reading begins. Artificial it may be; efficient research it is (at least in many fields).

Returning to our project, I find myself wondering when and if a vision of the whole will emerge. I have been given to understand that the urge to find one at this stage in proceedings would contravene good archival principles; but still I struggle to grasp how mastery of processes can ever give meaning to our materials – not all of which should be digitized (surely?).

Now is Now

Finally, four months into our exciting and challenging cross-training project at the IU Libraries the blog entry that was intended to introduce the project and its companion blog is ready.

Our project is an aggressive one, and one which has the potential and the necessity to be fluid, we have learned quickly.  In spite of our best efforts to develop a steady and firm schedule for our next few months, we finally had to let go of the dream of consistency and long-range planning.  Holidays, weather, time, and other learning opportunities on campus have colluded and collided with our agenda.  Working in library public service is characterized in part by interruption and uncertainty, so we will be accustomed to that when our new configuration is unveiled after renovation.

For the specifics of our project, learning goals, outcomes, please see our About page.

Our team comprises librarians and staff from across the libraries: Reference Services, Digital Collections Services, Arts & Humanities, Social Sciences, Area Studies, Teaching & Learning, Library Technologies, and Scholarly Communications, with many other librarians talking with us about what they do and how we can interact. While we understand that our cross-training efforts are designed to help us to become better librarians, researchers, and scholars, our efforts will also position us to work together as an interdepartmental team when we open our new Scholars’ Commons.  With strong support from the Library Administration, we have been given the freedom to develop a series of weekly workshops to position librarians and staff to participate, collaborate, and partner in new and innovative research directions.

Our project started as a smaller cross-training semester in the spring of 2013, in which Digital Collections Services and Reference Services met regularly in order to get to know each other and become familiar with the activities of the members of each department. The initial semester made it clear that we needed a more focused and hands on approach, leading to our current project to create a digital exhibit that chronicles the history of the Indiana University Libraries on the Bloomington campus.

We are lucky to have a range of expertise within the libraries, and the project has benefitted from our colleagues’ willingness to participate in this project and to share their knowledge and skills.  To date, we have learned how to use Twitter (with several of us now actively tweeting); been introduced to Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox as we slowly begin to participate in collaborative note-taking; had a crash course in archival practices; enjoyed an amazingly understandable introduction to copyright; channeled our inner cheerleader while enjoying the quirky history of reference librarianship; discovered the uncertainties that characterize the research lifecycle; and remained interested, curious, and questioning at every turn.

As we move ahead, we will dive into technologies that are new to many of us and learn more about the skills of a reference generalist as well as the range of our subject specialists.  Importantly, we will work together as a team to create an online history of our libraries.

We invite our colleagues to join us through this experience: read our blog, follow our Twitter conversation (@ilurn, #scholarscommons), and explore our wiki that is linked from this page under helpful links (it includes our amazingly fluid schedule and links to our increasingly collaborative notes).

We truly hope that our experience speaks to a larger community outside our campus, and welcome feedback, comments, questions…

Arrangement Now!

At this stage of the Research Now project, we have all become familiar with Lou Malcomb’s collection of IU Libraries materials. Lately, we have been thinking about how to arrange the collection. I dusted off my old 2008 class notebook from Dr. David Gracy’s Introduction to Archival Enterprise to reread the principles that shaped my approach to archival work. Here are the first two (out of ten) Fundamentals of Archival Enterprise as they relate to our project.

archives notes
My notes from Introduction to Archival Enterprise, Fall 2008.

1. Archives are us!

archives (noun):

All of the records and documentation written, received, and gathered by an individual or organization in the conduct of affairs of life, which contain information of enduring value and usefulness, some of which possess added value because of their physical form, systematically maintained, commonly after they have fulfilled the purpose for which they were created.

Here’s a version with our details embedded:

All (well, not all of them, but a substantial amount) of the records and documentation written, received, and gathered by Lou Malcomb in the conduct of affairs at IU libraries, which contain information of enduring value and usefulness because they document the history of our institution, buildings, departments, individuals, and events, some of which possess added value because of their physical form, systematically maintained first by Lou, now by Research Now, commonly after they have fulfilled the purpose for which they were created (i.e. we no longer use these materials for the purposes they were originally meant to be used, but we know we should not throw them away).

2. Archivists think in groups.

Where librarians often work with items (e.g. books, recorded media, datasets), archivists are concerned with bodies of documentation generated, gathered, and used by a creator. The primary archival axiom is respect des fonds, which comes from an 1841 French decree that archival documents should be organized by fonds: the person, body, or organization that created them. Prior to that, French archivists categorized and grouped all documents by subjects they perceived to be research interests. Nowadays, respect des fonds is the reason archives have collections bearing the names of the people or entities that created them. Here are a few examples from IU Libraries:

Below the fonds level, the archival series is an intellectual unit of documentation that reflects a particular function or activity of the creator. What determines the archival series? Ideally, the organizational scheme used by the creator, or original order. In reality, lots of archival material arrives out of order or with no order at all, as stated in the Society of American Archivists’ Glossary: “The principle of respect  for original order does not extend to respect for original chaos.” Archivists then arrange the records as closely as possible to how the creator had them or processes caused them to be. It is preferable to form series based on characteristics of the functions and activities of the creator, but you can settle for organizing by characteristics of the records themselves (i.e. format) if necessary.

Life in the IU Libraries today is drastically different than in 19th-Century European archives, yet their principles remain. Why? It is important to note that these principles were developed solely for physical materials, since, well, that’s all they had back then. We are incredibly fortunate to be able to digitize any physical format in this collection. By doing so, we can free digital copies from the pesky physical limitation of only being able to be in one place at a time and perform any combination of the following:

  • Provide access to digitized items in the order they appear within the arranged archival material  (as done in Archives Online)
  • Provide access to just the photographic, non-text images (as done in Image Collections Online)
  • Provide access to a curated collection of material in any number of orders and/or arrangements with narrative content (as done in exhibit sites such as the Lilly Library’s War of 1812)

With help from rich descriptive metadata, digitized items can exist in a variety of locations, fulfill a variety of purposes, and take a variety of forms and organizational structures. If, however, one wanted to access the physical collection material, it should be in a logical arrangement, if for no other reason than peer pressure: most, if not all, IU archival repositories do it this way. Once this not-too-laborious task of arrangement is complete, we will be free to digitize, research, and provide access to this rich collection material.

Scholars’ Commons Services

We had an interesting discussion last week (Fed 4) on the Research Lifecycle. We used the interactive research lifecycle developed at University of Central Florida Libraries as a basis for the discussion. Our goal is to create a similar but non-linear model for the research lifecycle at IU. From the discussion, it quickly became apparent that we would need a lifecycle or lifecylces that addresses the research process in a variety of disciplines. As the discussion progressed, we touched on the need for libraries to assist researchers in understanding how to effectively and efficiently manage, track and organize their research. This includes citation management tools such as EndNote ( and Zotero ( and Mendeley as well as organizational tools like Evernote (

While we currently offer workshops on citation management tools, the Scholars Commons could provide additional opportunities to provide consultation to researchers on organizing their research. This process could be similar to the reference interview where you ask the researchers questions about their research to recommend a tool that would meet their needs and to help them determine a process for organizing their research. Librarians can to provide assistance and recommend strategies for organizing research. Based on my on research experiences and teaching citation management workshop, some initial thoughts on research organization:

  • keep your method for organizing your research simple: organize by research interests or classes, research projects – it will be more difficult for you to remember and continue to use an elaborate system
  • be consistent, if you use tags, tag everything
  • take some time to find what works best for you and be flexible, be willing to change as your research changes

logo-mendeley zoteroeng-sidebarart_x7

It’s Digitized…now what?

Subject specialists often run into a recurring problem when helping students with research: finding relevant data. The Lilly Libraries’ digitization of the War of 1812 materials is a perfect example. There is likely at least a dozen PhD/MA students somewhere in the world researching the War of 1812 or some aspect thereof. The problem is that a simple Google search will return millions of results and somewhere, buried in the avalanche of information, there will be a link to the Lilly Library. If you go to the Wikipedia entry for the War of 1812 there is no external link to the War of 1812 (that is until I changed it a few minutes ago).

The problem of finding the right archive for a researcher is best described by the Philosopher George Carlin. Carlin believed that there was a spy at every airport, your job was to find them. The perfect archive exists for almost any researcher, their job, find it. As Moira’s discussion of her research demonstrated, you often have to spend a considerable amount of time just to figure out where to look in the first place. Digitizing unique collections aids researchers that do not have the budget to spend a week (or perhaps month) in Bloomington to examine the documents of the War of 1812.

The issue with finding these unique resources is a recurring problem for libraries, marketing. The very mention of marketing will get eye-rolls/snorts of discontent and any number of other negative feelings from librarians, myself included. The barrier that we must get passed is that libraries have never had to market their services before,  but now we must embrace the idea. Too often we hear, “it is all on the Internet.” Librarians know this is not true, but we cannot blame the user for believing this. If you have to tell someone how cool you are chances are you are not that cool. However, with the case of libraries and digital collections we need to be shouting it from the rooftop/sides of buses/t-shirts and just about anywhere we can get an audience.


Scholars and Their Tools

When I viewed the elaborate research life cycle model we had for today, I was a bit overwhelmed by how many tasks there were.  I think many faculty feel the same way–especially since a lot of these tasks are more of a kind of necessary housekeeping for the main show, which is research and writing.  Scholars don’t want to have to be bothered by housework any more than absolutely necessary; the research and thinking (let’s not forget that) and writing are quite demanding enough.

So here’s a better answer for Emily’s  excellent question about what role can librarians play.  We can assist with the housekeeping, make it as painless and efficient as possible.  We can offer guidance on how to manage files, documents, notes, and on the new tools that come out every day.  Scholars don’t want to have to think about their tools; they want to be able to just use them.  We can help them get to the point where they know the right tool to use and how to use it without having to think too much about it.