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” (https://blogs.libraries.iub.edu/iulrn/).  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