"Re-Skilling" Resolutions for the New Year

By Christa Williford posted 01-02-2013 21:46

As we enter the season of self-improvement, I've been reminded of a stimulating discussion from this fall's THATCamp Digital Humanities and Libraries, held just before the DLF Forum. Moderated by Michelle Dalmau of Indiana University, this session was called "Re-Skilling Librarians for Digital Humanities." Notes from the discussion are here.

Inspired by Mary Auckland's excellent report for Research Libraries UK from one year ago, "Re-Skilling for Research," the discussion focused on the possibility of creating a curriculum suitable for librarians providing research support services in the humanities. I distinctly remember leaving that day impressed both by the current significance of the subject and its vast breadth.

According to my own notes, participants mentioned all of the following topics as important skill areas for librarians engaged in research support:
  • Programming
  • Project management
  • Teaching and training
  • Consulting
  • Intellectual property
  • Information architecture
  • Data curation and management
  • Metadata standards
  • Digital publishing
  • Peer review and appraisal
  • Graphic design
  • Text mining
  • Information visualization
  • Image analytics
  • Usability testing
  • Digital preservation
  • Search engine optimization
  • Grant seeking
  • Marketing
Despite its wide range, this list is hardly comprehensive.

Taken individually, keeping current in any of these areas is a daunting challenge. Taken together, the task of "re-skilling" can seem impossible.

Much like those of us who vaguely resolve to break bad habits, get organized, or transform from couch potatoes into marathon runners, when we make our resolutions to "re-skill" we set ourselves up to fail unless we can find a realistic, sustainable way to incorporate professional development into our daily working lives.

How, then, can we "re-skill" realistically? While degree programs, courses, workshops, and other more formal, face-to-face ways of learning continue to have their place, it is equally important that as librarians we also take advantage of less formal ways of keeping up with our profession--ways to learn exactly what we need to know, when we need to know it.

We at CLIR would like to hear about your "re-skilling" strategies. What tools or resources have you found most useful? What learning modes or online media do you find most effective? Are there important skill areas for which you wish there were better professional development opportunities?



01-31-2013 15:39

Thanks, Michelle for pointing me to this post!

Like Michelle says, Barbara's team, of which I'm a part of, is building a digital archival project together from scratch. At the moment the team is building a WordPress site that will be the front end of our professional development project. (We opted for development instead of re-skilling because we found it describes what we are doing better). In February we will start developing the digital archive per se on an Omeka platform with the help of the Neatline (http://neatline.org/) plugin. In the process of building our archive and managing our web presence we hope that our team will develop a good sense of digital project management and decent digital literacy. In addition to the project, I am hoping to add to our bi-weekly meetings a 15 minute section entitled "completely unrelated" where I can do more survey style coverage of current digital humanities. Our long term goal is to make our team, composed of of the core subject and reference librarians in the Humanities and History, become the consultation arm of our re-imagined Digital Humanities Center (http://library.columbia.edu/indiv/dhc.html)

We really hope to get the larger librarian community in the conversation with us. Just looking at the list above can give anybody pause who is starting out in digital humanities. What am I talking about? That list seems daunting to me! The ultimate goal is to start somewhere and move forward at an even, consistent pace. Once our WordPress is ready, we will be blogging our story for all to see starting in the near future. We hope you will join us in the conversation!

01-30-2013 10:41

Thanks for the recap and the pressing questions still unanswered that resulted from the "Re-Skilling for Research" session at the DH and Libraries THATCamp. Barbara Rockenbach from Columbia University was the mastermind behind the session (http://dhlib2012.thatcamp.org/10/26/re-skilling-for-research/). I am especially interested in this topic so my comment to her session proposal was wordy and perhaps my outspokenness during the session, annoying. :-) But several of us at Indiana University are looking to Barbara's and her colleague, Alex Gil's, efforts in leading an incredibly sensible, project-based learning initiative, modeled after UVa's Praxis Program, as a source of inspiration and ultimately a model for meaningful cross-training as Columbia's subject librarians become not just the initial point of contact for digital scholarship services, but the core to such services.
At IU, we are shifting our traditional reference services to become the hub for a Scholars' Commons similar to Columbia's initiative. We are seeing this as a cross-training opportunity, not just "re-skilling" or "up-skilling." Historically those of us -- librarians, IT staff, etc. -- that partner on digital library or digital humanities projects don't have a strong public services presence though the work we ultimately do is for the vast public (thank you, internet). We also don't "embed" or "liaise" in the way subject librarians do. Our cross-training efforts, which are currently lightweight compared to Columbia, is as much about "digital" librarians and staff engaging in a public sense with scholars and students as it is about extending the role of reference and subject librarians to partner on digital research initiatives.
I recently gave a talk here at IU summing up some of the major themes from the DH & Libraries THATCamp (and related those themes to IU Libraries initiatives underway). I touched upon "Re-skilling" but a more detailed talk on the topic as part of the same series is scheduled for April. The presentation recording and slides are available here: http://dlib.indiana.edu/education/brownbags/.
Ultimately, a successful "re-skilling" initiative needs to be wholeheartedly supported by library administrators for many important reasons, but especially in support of organizationally supporting X amount of time toward on-going learning whether this happens in an 80/20 model where 20% of your time is dedicated to exploring your own digital research project or through a more formal partnership model like Maryland's DH Incubator initiative or even ad-hoc workshops or seminars. Along with administrative support, it's equally important to have the mind set of "learn as you go" or "crash and burn" or "trial and error." Many of us who have been involved in the digital end of things for a long time didn't receive formal training or pursued specialized degrees. We just did it. We failed along the way but we also encountered successes. As Barbara emphasized during the "re-skilling" THATCamp session the skill gaps that really need to be filled are: leadership and inter-personal skills. In my talk, I extend those to greater project management skills, which is where I see us librarians playing a bigger role. The other point worth emphasizing is the exposure is key via immersive experience and the goal is to be conversant not fluent. Keeping these perspectives in mind will make the prospect of "re-skilling" less daunting.

01-04-2013 09:42

Great questions. I'd say that even though current LIS curricula definitely need updating, most of them have all those areas mentioned in your post. And re-skilling on the job becomes quite easy with coursera.org, quora.com and many tutorials and webinars available. The challenge is to find time and motivation. How would re-skilling serve the purposes of improving library services, encouraging more students and faculty to rely on them, and attracting more funding to the libraries?
At the same time, I agree that knowing most effective strategies and modes would be great. A wiki for DH re-skilling and up-skilling? :)