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).  

Reflections on Evaluating Digital Projects

It took a little over two months to finally devote a seminar session on the topic of evaluating digital projects.  If you consult our workshop schedule, you will notice it was a topic slotted for coverage on the first day we convened as a group on November 19, 2013.  It attempted to resurface as part of various other seminar sessions, and finally, on January 14, 2014 we gave it the time it deserved.

The seminar started with a brief introduction to a holistic approach to reviewing digital projects with respect to project planning and peer-review.  We concluded the seminar portion of the session with an introduction to Digital History with a shout-out to Nebraska because they are rocking the Digital History.  After the overview, we demonstrated two projects that focused on institutional histories similar to ours, and then it was time for the rest of us to do what we do best – research, review, and critique digital projects.

Evaluation as Part of Project Planning

Before jumping into most research projects, we often conduct literature reviews, environmental scans, or a needs assessment, the latter two especially relevant when seeking grant funding, in order to present a compelling argument, hypothesis, or justification for a given research project.

As we survey the landscape of related digital projects, we will be able to:

  • Distinguish unique components of our collection/project
  • Recognize gaps and ways our digital archive could be strengthened
  • Articulate (innovative) features and functionality, especially in ways that leverage our unique content

But above all, uncovering relevant and intriguing projects, serves as a much-needed form of inspiration as we collectively embark in building a digital archive. This inspiration will help us begin connecting the various parts of the process from collection processing (still in the throes of that) to publishing.

We discussed reviewing digital projects based on a fairly simple, but wide-reaching model:

  • Purpose/Goals of Site
    • Teaching, research, etc.
  • Organization
    • Clear navigational paths, intuitive ordering of content, etc.
  • Content
    • Kind of content, presentation of content, etc.
  • Functionality
    • Discovery mechanisms (i.e., browse/search), image-viewing (i.e., zooming, annotation), etc.

As we segued into the lab part of our workshop, which entailed finding and critiquing digital projects according to set of unruly heuristics (an elaboration of the simple model above), we considered important characteristics for online storytelling:

  • Flow
    • How will our history of the IU Libraries unfold?  Thematically? Chronologically? Both?
  • Narration
    • How do we critically tell our story?  How do we integrate multiple modes of narration: visual, aural, textual?
  • Interaction
    • How do we balance static and dynamic content?  Can we or should we alter views of events as we collect oral histories and anecdotes and juxtapose those stories with documentary evidence?

The Critique Session

After 20-30 minutes of scouring the Web for exemplar or inspirational digital projects, a few of us took the lead in demonstrating and critiquing a particular project of interest.  We discussed projects like:

I was struck by the qualities and characteristics that we seemed to value as a group:

  • Crowdsourcing or user-contributed metadata
  • Robust metadata
  • Scholarly narratives

I was especially tickled (as an author of such content) by the importance given to the customary project information pages that we, or I, anyway, feel is often overlooked when exploring projects online.  As we grapple with eight million things as part of our cross-training initiative, project documentation is certainly one of those things, and an important thing, no less.  I look forward to learning from my colleagues effective ways I can present the often blah-blah project information section for any given digital project I manage as part of my day job, and certainly look forward to a compelling project information section for our own digital archive.

Finally, I felt that the level of engagement for this seminar session was super awesome and contagious.  I look forward to more sessions like these.

Looking Ahead

Up until now, I must admit, though I know there is a method to the madness that is our 18+ month long workshop schedule, it has felt a bit choppy.   This session on evaluating digital projects came at a perfect time, despite the many false starts, as we enter the next chunk of our training which will include:  exploration of the research lifecycle, introduction to project management, and metadata creation (a hot topic of interest, see above).  We are building blocks, finally!

Why Blog?

Our cross-training, hands-on initiative is moving at the speed of light.  Since we started in mid-November, we have completed our third seminar and lab-based workshop, one of which included a session on social media with a focus on tweeting with Twitter and blogging with WordPress as we explore alternate additional forms of scholarly communication.

We haven’t had much time (because of that “speed of light” thing) to discuss in great detail why we will blog as part of our cross-training initiative.  While it is important to have this discussion the next time we come together – especially before entering the surely engrossing stage of processing our “History of the IU Libraries” archival collection (spoiler: too late, see photos below) – I thought we could explore some of the issues in the blogsphere in the meantime.  You can extend the discussion by commenting on this blog post or by composing one in response to this one.

Project team sorts the History of the IU Libraries collection.
Series identified for the History of the IU Libraries collection; teams formed. Let the sorting begin!


The History of the IU Libraries collection: Before and After photo of the sorting process
On left, the contents, before sorting, from Lou Malcomb’s (featured) collection, and on right, the contents sorted into 8 thematic and format-based series! Next step: inventorying, re-sorting and transfer to archival housing. Then selection, digitization and metadata capture. Hot do










So, why blog?

I have highlighted three important goals for blogging as part of our social media seminar that merit elaboration. I look forward to your additions to this list.  For this post, I will focus on the following objectives:

  1. Communicating our learning experience
  2. Exposure to WordPress as a scholarly publishing platform
  3. Exploring additional forms of scholarly communication

Communicating Our Learning Experience

As academic libraries broaden their public services to include digital scholarship services, either by establishing a research commons much like our own Scholars’ Commons or Digital Scholarship / Digital Humanities units, library professionals in this transitional space and place are either embarking on their own training initiatives that may take many forms, from informational sessions to hands-on learning projects like ours, or need to achieve this level of professional development and are looking for models.  Concerns and strategies for professional development began to solidify back in November 2012 as part of the DH & Libraries THATCamp.  I highlighted the main themes that emerged from the 2012 THATCamp in which cross-training featured significantly in a blog post for dh+lib, and several of us also responded to a blog post from CLIR around the same time.

Since November 2012, Angela Courtney and I have been confabbing regularly with colleagues from several institutions – Columbia University, Duke University, New York University, Texas A & M, Kansas, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, College Park and others – as we determine the best way to proceed in this arena.  As you may recall, after six months of topical info-sessions, we decided as a group that project-based learning would be the most effective for us as we collectively transition as first-year, front-line Scholars’ Commons staff.  Our colleagues at the Columbia University Libraries are pioneers in extending the University of Virginia’s Scholars’ Lab Praxis Program, aimed at graduate students, to cultivate an engaging and immersive library staff professional development program.  We are closely following Columbia’s model, Breaking the Code: The Developing Librarian Project, which was more publicly unveiled as part of another dh+lib blog post.  By blogging our learning experiences and exposing our protocols for learning (via our wiki) we are not only helping ourselves as we reflect and move forward, but our colleagues as well.

 Exposure to WordPress as a Scholarly Publishing Platform

WordPress is a free, open-source blogging and content management system that offers both hosted and locally-installed versions like the one we are using.  We will be discussing WordPress plumbing later next year as we enter the web design and development portion of our cross-training program (see our schedule).

WordPress is ubiquitous (well, maybe not quite, but it is increasingly so in academic arenas).  According to Wikipedia, as of August 2013, nearly 20% of the top 10 million sites use WordPress.  It is being increasingly used for open-access scholarly publishing as evidenced by numerous journals like Journal of Digital Humanities, scholarly blogs like ACRL’s dh+lib, digital humanities scholarship aggregators like Digital Humanities Now, countless research sites and blogs like the project blog of the Mary Russell Mitford Digital Archive, and digital archives and informational web sites for cultural heritage artifacts and organizations.  It is no wonder that academic libraries are increasingly using and supporting WordPress for scholarly publishing.  There’s even a Comparative Guide to WordPress in Libraries  published by ALA TechSource dedicated to this phenomenon, but if you don’t feel like reading the book, check out this excerpt instead, Done in WordPress: Scholarly Publishing @ MIT Libraries.

We will encounter graduate students and faculty members who:

  • are curious about WordPress
  • already use WordPress, but would like help extending its capabilities
  • know nothing of WordPress, but they are looking for a lightweight, open solution for publishing

The word on the streets is that scholars turn to their campus libraries for guidance on digital publishing.  And if an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education isn’t persuasive enough, our own UITS has gauged enough WordPress use on our own campus that you’ll find several Knowledge Base entries and installation instructions for hosting WordPress on a UITS Webserve account.  WordPress usage is alive and thriving on our campus.

Exploring Additional Forms of Scholarly Communication

As researchers and advocates for our research faculty, we should explore and uphold additional forms of scholarly communication such as scholarly blogging and micro-blogging with Twitter.  As you may have noticed in the section above, lots of scholarly publishing happening with WordPress.  As we begin to recognize the “Virtues of Blogging,” and take into account “Scholarly Reflections on Blogging,” some or all of us will begin sharing our research pursuits through social media outlets like blogs or Twitter.  As active participants in this scholarly, virtual space, we will be better positioned to:

  • effectively and convincingly communicate why, both, the digital research projects published using open platforms, and these open platforms themselves are indeed worthy and influential scholarly outputs
  • shape open-access policies on our campus
  • influence the promotion and tenure guidelines (starting with our own) to hold digital projects such as these to the same level as the published monograph or the suite of articles published in X double-blind, peer reviewed print journal

and related to all the above points:

So, why not blog?