Friday, November 12, 2010

Digital Library Federation Forum 2010

The most interesting thing by far about the Digital Library Federation Forum (DLF) was the Project Managers Group meeting, but my colleague Tim DiLauro has already reported on that. Please take the last statement with a grain of salt, as I was one of the organizers of the meeting :-) So, I will report on a couple of other meetings.

Digital Library as Partner in Transformation

Four librarians from UCLA gave a very interesting presentation on the role of the library as a research partner with faculty. One way they do this is by providing discipline-based IT and research support through the Lab for Digital Cultural Heritage and the Institute for Digital Research and Education (IDRE-HASIS). The latter provides high performance and statistical computing for researchers in Humanities, Arts and Architecture, and Social and Information Sciences. They have developed the notion of a "digital projects pipeline" that helps connect scholars with digital support groups in the library and other parts of the university. The pipeline provides researchers a single contact point to find the proper resources and expertise in developing digital projects. It also helps coordinate work across participating groups for interdisciplinary projects.

The UCLA folks also showed a series of video interviews with faculty members talking about their view of the role of the library in the research process. There was universal agreement that the library remains an important physical space and a collaborative virtual space. One researcher said that librarians need to change from a culture of "service" to "research collaboration" as in a scientific lab. Another spoke of librarian/scholar collaborations as "renaissance teams". UCLA has been one of the leading libraries to employ CLIR postdoctoral fellows, so they are showing a great commitment to an active engagement with researchers.

Digital Library Growing Pains

This was a working session that exemplifies the direction the DLF forum is going. Rather than simply offering a series of "talking heads" throughout the conference, this Forum included a more interactive experience with reading discussions, working groups, and other collaborative sessions. This working group, led by librarians from UCLA (again) and the University of Iowa, looked at what staffing models were needed for the "digital research commons" and how digital library staff can introduce nontraditional methods and workflows into traditional settings such as preservation and technical services.

After very brief presentations about the two questions raised above, we split into two groups for discussion. I participated in the group that discussed the introduction of nontraditional workflows and methods into traditional settings. One thread of this discussion was the question of whether we are digitizing materials for access or preservation. While there was agreement that both were important, there was frustration that we are choosing items more for preservation purposes than for access. There was also a lot of discussion about the staffing levels in the library. Many complained that not enough staff had been re-allocated from traditional services to digital library services. This remains a tough problem since libraries continue to provide many types of services. We need to be especially careful to recruit staff who are comfortable with a wide range of technology and a tolerance for ambiguity in their job assignments.

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