30 June 2014

Goodbye #blogjune

Well, it's the last day of June and that means no more #blogjune after today. It's been great to be a part of #blogjune and thanks again to Con Weibrands (@flexnib) for organising this and all the other participants for inspiration along the way.

I managed to post every day during the month, which I feel really proud about. I now have ten times more posts on this blog than I did before! There were definitely some factors that helped with this, such as my partner being away which meant lots of quiet evenings at home without things like Game of Thrones and Scrabble for distraction!

I also spent more time reading blogs than I ever have before. My RSS reader was pretty empty before #blogjune; it's become a regular part of my day to read blog posts on my morning commute and I think that will continue and probably grow.

I've learned quite a lot about blogging and about myself through this process. In no order whatsover, the things I have found out are:

I'm a nightowl

I did already know this but it's interesting to observe it while doing something as intense as #blogjune. I tried to write a couple of posts during the daytime but mostly I posted after 10pm. I've always found late at night to be my most productive time for creative endeavours. Had I not had to go to work I'm sure that I would have been blogging even later and posting at 2am!

Lots of other people aren't nightowls

Just because I post at midnight doesn't mean that's when I should send the tweet out about it! I realised that if there was a post I really wanted people to read that I needed to wait until they were actually awake to notify them about it. It was a good prompt to learn how to schedule tweets anyway.

All my traffic comes from Twitter

I have plenty of things to write about

Before #blogjune I started gathering a list of possible topics so that I would never be faced by the blank screen. I did look at this list seven times during the month, when I was stumped for something to write about. The rest of the time I had no trouble coming up with something to write about based on what was happening around me at that particular time. In fact, there were a number of topics that I really wanted to write about that I didn't get around to!

Some things are more interesting than others

A data management post with a slightly provocative title (for me) got by far the most views, re-tweets and comments. I had been nervous about writing this one, but I'm glad that I did because it seemed to strike a chord.

After that though, the posts that were most of interest to other people were on more generic topics to do with professional development; the posts were about librarians as internal consultants, project-based careers and pathways into data management. A post reflecting on my use of Twitter for professional networking was also pretty popular.

Writing and reading together make for good reflection

The thing I have enjoyed most about #blogjune is that it has provided me with a way to reflect on what I have been reading. I feel like this month I read things more deeply and through writing about them I made more explicit connections with my own professional practice. Although I probably think of myself as a reflective practitioner, the acts of adding an article or report to Zotero and then writing something about it have shown me that my reflection is usually pretty shallow, consisting of skim reading, sending a Tweet and filing it somewhere at the back of my head. If nothing else, I hope that I will continue to use my blog as a way of engaging more critically with the articles and reports that I am reading.

I prefer building an argument to stating an opinion

I've been trained to write scholarly pieces that make reference to other people's works. I'm comfortable with that mode and find it hard to simply express an opinion without backing it up. I don't think this is a problem but I do wonder if blog posts with references are just silly, and if this actually means I need to spend more time writing some journal articles!

Short and sharp (no, not so much)

I wrote about 18,000 words over the month, with a lot of posts coming in around the 700-800 word mark. I don't think this is a bad length for a post, and I don't think they were particularly waffly, but I am wondering if the theme that I have applied to my blog might not be the best for posts of this length.

The other thing is that I am slooooooow. Many posts took me a couple of hours to write which would not really be sustainable on a daily basis without having to sacrifice other important things like sleep, exercise or time with my partner.

I'm not a visual thinker

Yes, I already knew this one too, but #blogjune certainly highlighted it. I really have to force myself to think about whether there is an image or two that could be added to a post for the poor people that aren't completely text-oriented like me.

I respond well to external constraints and deadlines

Which is why I will definitely see you next year for #blogjune!

29 June 2014

Looking to Canada for data management ideas

Here in Australia, we often look to the UK and the US as sources of inspiration about data management initiatives. I wonder why we don't look more to other countries. There is some great work happening in Canada at the moment that I think is worthy of more attention.

I am especially impressed at the level of library collaboration that is going in to building staff capability. In Australia, efforts to raise awareness and skills have been largely led by the Australian National Data Service through a program of webinars, regional 'roundtables,' and workshops, not all of which are targeted at librarians. While these are well-organised and well-attended, a more community-driven model in which everyone contributes to and benefits from programs more or less equally as a set of 'members' rather than as 'ANDS partners' (with the division between the hub and spokes that phrase implies) might look quite different. If that is the case, it will be interesting to observe how the development of data management services in Canadian research libraries progresses.

It seems that Canada's research funding councils currently do not ask for a formal data plan as part of the grant applications process; however many of them require (rather than just encourage, as the Australian Research Council does) data to be deposited in a repository at the end of a project [1]. There are signs that this is changing. As described by Michael Steeleworthy (Data Librarian at Wilfrid Laurier University), in 2013 a group of Canadian funding councils published a consultation paper that 
ask[ed] the nation’s scholarly community to develop a collaborative framework that encourages data sharing and invests in digital infrastructure... They also made three recommendations for RDM stakeholders that underscore the need for a holistic view of RDM’s people, processes, and technology: establish a culture of research data stewardship based on existing structures and practices at Canadian and international institutions; coordinate stakeholder engagement among all research partners, including libraries; and develop funding and resource capacity. [3]
In the absence of a centrally funded agency driving infrastructure development and providing project grants (such as ANDS here in Australia and Jisc in the UK), Canadian organisations seem to be building their data management capacity and capability more from the ground up. In the quotation above, the phrase "based on existing structures and practices" really jumps out at me as a key difference between what is happening in Australia and what is happening in Canada. While Canadian organisations are being asked to collectively develop the plans and funding models to achieve good stewardship of research data within the existing system, the establishment of ANDS in Australia has led to the development of a model in which large amounts of capability (in terms of staff with data management expertise) are located in a new lead agency, which partner organisations look to for vision, advice, training and community development. Neither model is more 'correct' than the other but they are certainly different approaches and must each come with benefits and drawbacks. 

Research Data Canada is described as "a stakeholder driven and supported organization dedicated to advancing the vision for research data in Canada." Individuals and members are encouraged to contribute, both financially where possible (though there is no membership fee) and through in-kind participation in working groups, projects and events programs. A very broad range of organisations is involved, not just as stakeholders who are consulted as required by a lead agency, but as active contributors to committees and working groups. This includes funding agencies, research infrastructure providers (for compute and academic networks), technology providers from industry, universities, government research organisations and a range of other government departments. 

Libraries also seem to be collaborating effectively by using existing channels for cooperation such as the Canadian Association for Research Libraries (CARL), rather than by devolving responsibility for capability building. Governance  is provided by the CARL Data Management Subcommittee (along with the the Research Data Canada Education & Training Subcommittee). As Steelworthy notes, data management competencies were made explicit by CARL in 2010, "including knowledge of data management and institutional repositories within scholarly communication, developing partnerships and collaborations with stakeholders, and understanding leading practices for digital curation and preservation". Recently a Canadian Community of Practice for Research Data Management in Libraries was established; this seems to be a real community effort that is sponsored by CARL and is being facilitated by seventeen staff across a range of institutions. This community emerged from a 2013 CARL training workshop in research data management services which invited institutions to send two participants to a four-day workshop. The course was co-developed by staff from seven organisations and was delivered by these staff as well as invited guests. The goal of the course was for participants to take back to their organisations an action plan for research data service development. 

A new project (Project ARC) started in March 2014 will build on these activities. The goal of this project is to build "a library-based research data management network" in Canada. Again, this project has been initiated from within the library sector by CARL. In the latest update for this project, Kathleen Shearer has described the design and population of a national information resource for data management planning and an automated data management planning tool that can help researchers create their data management plans. The project also plans to deliver a version of the MANTRA research data management training tutorial developed by the University of Edinburgh. [4]

To an outsider at least, it seems that existing library structures for cooperation are being used effectively in Canada to build research data management capability. Bottom-up initiatives that are developed and delivered within the community and for the community are the norm, and seem to be gaining great buy-in from the member organisations and the staff within them. There could be valuable lessons here for Australian research libraries and the agencies that support cooperation between them, such as the Council for Australian University Librarians (CAUL) and regional groups such as the Queensland University Libraries Office for Cooperation (QULOC).


[1] Steve Marks, Amber Leahey. 2014. Guides. Resarch Data Repositories. Data Management Plans. http://guides.scholarsportal.info/researchdatamanagement.

[2] Steeleworthy, Michael. 2014. “Research Data Management and the Canadian Academic Library: An Organizational Consideration of Data Management and Data Stewardship.” Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research 9 (1) (June). https://journal.lib.uoguelph.ca/index.php/perj/article/view/2990.

[3] CARL Library Education Working Group and the Building Capacity Subcommittee. 2010. Core Competencies for 21st Century CARL Librarians. Canadian Association of Research Libraries. http://www.carl-abrc.ca/uploads/pdfs/core_comp_profile-e.pdf.

[4] Shearer, Kathleen. 2014. “ARC Project Update.” Canadian Community of Practice for Research Data Management in Libraries. http://data-carl-abrc.ca/2014/06/24/project-arc-update/.

Harvest exhibition at GoMA (+ two lovely libraries)

This morning I went to two gallery talks that were part of the opening weekend festivities associated with a new exhibition at GoMA, Harvest.

The first talk was a discussion between one of GOMA's curators and the photographer Joachim Froese, who discussed the history of still life in art and its influence on his contemporary photographic practice. It was fascinating, and Joachim mentioned a book that I am definitely going to track down: Looking at the Overlooked: Four Essays on Still Life Painting (1990), by Norman Bryson. There was a Griffith Uni connection in that Joachim was a former student at Queensland College of Art.

The second talk featured Prof Hugh Possingham, the Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions at UQ. The talk was advertised as "exploring the significance of Tomás Saraceno's Biosphere works" but ended up as a much more wide-ranging discussion that touched on the value of failure as a learning experience, similarities between contemporary art practice and scientific simulation, foodwebs, island ecosystems, the industrialisation of agriculture, the need for multidisciplinary collaborations to make big advances in knowledge, and the lack of funding available for long-term research in Australia that does not solve immediately known problems in utilitarian ways.

The exhibition itself was great. The friend I went with said that it was nice to see the slot usually occupied by a winter blockbuster dedicated instead to a local show curated by GoMA staff that showcases some of the amazing works in their collection, and I totally agree. Some of my favourite pieces included an animated short by a young Taiwanese animator (Chen Li-Hua, Family Reunion, 2011 - you can see a still from this work here), Tracey Moffatt's photographic series First Jobs (see First jobs, pineapple cannery 1978 here), and an etching by Bonita Ely about the Murray River called Life is full of situations (see here). Another piece I really liked was the installation Forking Tongues by Malaysian artist Simrin Gill, which was a mandala created from silverware and dried chillies; the label for this exhibit mentioned the artist's interest in the trade of food across cultures and in colonialism.

On the way back to the city for lunch, I stopped in the middle of the bridge to take photos of the two lovely libraries that sit on opposite sides of the river.

One one side is the State Library of Queensland. The redeveloped SLQ building was opened in 2006. It was designed by Donovan Hill Peddle Thorp and received the RAIA Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture in 2007. I just discovered that the photographer mentioned above, Joachim Froese, was commissioned to do a series on the SLQ interiors which you can see here on his website.

On the other side of the river sits the Brisbane Square branch of Brisbane City Libraries (in the photo below, this is the blue box that sits at the bottom of the Brisbane City Council office block). The Brisbane Square tower was designed by Denton Corker Marshall and the Library (I think) was designed by City Design in the Brisbane City Council. You can read more about this library and see photos of its interior and furniture here.

I think both of these libraries are great examples of modern library architecture; if you are in Brisbane you should check them out.

28 June 2014

How researcher seniority affects attitudes to data management

I have been reading a really interesting article from Katherine Akers (Data Services, University of Michigan) and Jennifer Doty (Emory University Libraries) about how social factors such as the age or seniority of a researcher might influence their views on research data management [1]. I highly recommend this article not just because the results of the study at Emory are interesting, but also because it provides a review of the evidence base in this area, which should probably be informing practice more than it actually does.

The starting point for the study was the assumptions in discussions by information professionals that younger researchers are more interested in data sharing because they are immersed in an environment of more openness to information, and that older researchers might be more interested in preserving their legacies towards the end of their careers. As the authors point out, these are just that, assumptions, that are "primarily based on anecdotal evidence or small numbers of researcher interviews". They also note the contradictory results that have come from more formal studies.

Akers and Doty conducted a survey of academics at Emory in 2012 that received over 200 responses. The academics were divided up into four categories: professor (professor, professor emeritus, or dean); associate professor; assistant professor; or non-tenure track (instructor, lecturer, visiting scholar, or adjunct professor). In analysing their survey results, Akers and Doty found no significant rank-related differences in:
  • the volume of data or methods for data storage
  • willingness to share data
  • methods of data sharing
  • barriers to data sharing (such as private information, commercialisable intellectual property)
  • attitudes to not getting credit, possible misinterpretation or misuse, and the value of the data to others
  • the likelihood of depositing data in a repository
  • familiarity with data documentation and metadata
  • interest in most data services such as: help preparing data management plans; advice on legal and ethical issues; data management consultations for individuals and groups; an institutional data repository; help identifying suitable discipline repositories; metadata assistance; workshops for graduate students; digitisation; and data citation support.
However, some key differences did emerge:
  • Most professors and assistant professors and about half of the associate professors were somewhat or very familiar with data management plan requirements from funding agencies while most non-tenure staff were not. (Akers and Doty suggest this could be due to focus on teaching and less involvement in research grants.)
  • More senior researchers were more likely to indicate that the time and effort required for data sharing was a barrier. 
  • Non-tenure track researchers expressed a higher degree of interest in general data management workshops as a service that could be provided. 
Akers and Doty make some interesting observations. They suggest that outreach to early career researchers could focus on how datasets can be used to increase personal research impact and on the evidence that openly sharing research data increases the citation rate of associated journal articles.

For more senior researchers though, they suggest that investment in infrastructure might be more useful: these very time-poor researchers need tools that help them more efficiently organise data, generate metadata and deposit into open repositories. The lack of incentives in the current system might also need to be addressed for the time and effort involved in data management to be seen as worthwhile. 


[1] Akers, Katherine G., and Jennifer Doty. 2012. “Differences Among Faculty Ranks in Views on Research Data Management.” IASSIST Quarterly (Summer): 16-20. http://www.iassistdata.org/downloads/iqvol36_2_doty_0.pdf.

26 June 2014

Reflections on Twitter

A colleague emailed me yesterday to say that he had joined Twitter and to ask me if I would be able to have a chat with him about it. This got me thinking today about what I might say to him when he comes to see me next week.

I have been on Twitter since 15 November 2010 and passed the 2,000 tweets milestone sometime recently. I can say without a doubt that Twitter is probably my no.1 way of staying in touch with what is happening in my field as well as in cognate areas such as other library sectors, archives and recordkeeping, digital humanities, cultural collections, and e-learning. My network on Twitter has also helped me to avoid some of the isolation that can be involved in working in emerging areas where there may be no other person in your institution (or your city, or your country, depending on how small your niche is) for you to talk to.

I can remember quite clearly what finally tipped me into becoming a Twitter user after some years of scepticism; I was at the eResearch Australasia conference and realised that there was a very interesting 'back channel' happening on Twitter: people were live-tweeting the content of the presentations, but there were also discussions, links being provided to products and projects that were being talked about, as well as networking and social opportunities being organised on the fly.

Some of the things I have learned that I think I will pass on to my colleague are:

  • Start small - find a few key people to follow who tweet on the topics that are most of interest to you.
  • Don't worry about being a lurker for a while - it's OK to read and observe without tweeting yourself (though eventually you will realise you are missing out on half the fun).
  • Ditch the Twitter web application ASAP - experiment with the different desktop and mobile Twitter clients to find one that you like. After trying quite a few apps over the years, I now use the TweetDeck plugin for Chrome on my work and home PCs and recently started using Tweedle for Android on my phone.
  • Be clear in your own mind about whether your Twitter account is a work account or a professional account or a personal account. Find out if your organisation has a social media policy and be clear in your profile if the views you are expressing are official or your own opinions.
  • Don't be afraid to be yourself - the sky will not fall in if you drop an occasional more personal tweet into a mostly professional account.
  • If you are at an event, live-tweeting is a great way to help out other people who couldn't attend. Don't forget to use the conference hashtag and to include the name of the speaker and/or session number so that people can follow up if they are interested.
  • If you are not at an event, follow the hashtag from your desk - depending on the conference and the number of people tweeting you can get a surprisingly good overview of what's going on and can usually work out which 2-3 papers or presentations you might want to follow up on later. Cheap and easy professional development right at your desk!
  • If you enjoy your interaction with people on Twitter, make an effort to connect with them in real life. One of my favourite parts of VALA this year was the tweetup (which was of course tweeted itself by @flexnib!)
  • When you are out and about networking, think about writing your Twitter handle on your nametag. You might be talking to someone you know from Twitter and not even know about it! (Also, if you are organising an event, you could include Twitter handles on printed name badges and consider publicising a hashtag as part of the marketing.)
There is still plenty I have to learn about Twitter and it is important to reflect on how you use this tool if you want to get the most out of it. At VALA earlier this year, Kathleen Smeaton (@kathleensme) and Kate Davis (@katiedavis) gave a fascinating paper on librarians' use of Twitter (Kate has blogged the presentaton here.) Their research made me think about a number of things, but the one that stuck with me was the high proportion of librarian tweets that consisted of un-edited retweets.

Since this presentation I have been more conscious of having a look at a report or article before retweeting and offering some commentary, however short. Today, for example, I received a tweet from the Australian National Data Service (@andsdata) about their latest newsletter:
In the past, I probably would have retweeted this without providing an opinion (and maybe even without reading the newsletter). But, taking Kathleen and Kate's advice to be more opinionated into account (!), today I retweeted the link twice with some commentary on the articles I found most relevant:

After these tweets, Amanda Nixon (@MLNxn) from eResearch@Flinders and I had a further exchange about her article, which is really what Twitter should all about - making genuine personal connections with librarians and other professionals you share interests with, no matter where they live in the world.

25 June 2014

Q: Adapter or innovator? A: Adapter

I follow Joyce Seitzinger (@catspyjamasnz) on Twitter and today she posted this tweet from an event for doctoral students at Charles Sturt University:

What a good question! A little bit of digging later and I have discovered that I am most definitely... an adapter. Yep, not an innovator. Despite having worked in 'emerging' areas and 'startup' roles for the past twelve years, despite hanging out in a team with software developers that make cool things, and despite being a change agent in almost every job I seem to get, I am definitely not at the innovator end of the spectrum as described by Michael Kirton, the psychologist who has developed an instrument known as the KAI (Kirton Adaption–Innovation) Inventory based on research he conducted in the 1970s and 80s.

Kirton has released another book more recently that I think I might have to track down to read to learn more about this [1]. In the meantime, a nice summary of the characteristics of adapters and innovators as outlined by Kirton is provided by Hipple et al [2].

Efficient, thorough, adaptable, methodical, organized, precise, reliable, dependable Ingenious, original, independent, unconventional
Accepts problem definition Challenges problem definition
Does things better Does things differently
Concerned with resolving problems rather than finding them Discovers problems and avenues for their solutions
Seeks solutions to problems in tried and understood ways Manipulates problems by questioning existing assumptions
Reduces problems by improvement and greater efficiency, while aiming at continuity and stability Is catalyst to unsettled groups, irreverent of their consensual views
Seems impervious to boredom; able to maintain high accuracy in long spells of detailed work Capable of routine work (system maintenance) for only short bursts; quick to delegate routine tasks
Is an authority within established structures Tends to take control in unstructured situations

In looking at this list I would definitely put myself more in line with the first column than the second, and many of my colleagues more towards the second column. Interestingly though, many people who have written about this topic mention people who sit somewhere between the two extremes who can act as "bridges".

It's important to note that Kirton and those that are using his methods don't say that either adapters or innovators are more creative than the other group. Rather they are just different styles and different ways of approaching problem solving that might work more or less effectively depending on the context. You also do not have to be an innovator to be a change agent; in fact, in order to be a change agent in a particularly innovative environment you might actually need to take a more adaptive approach. (That is an odd thing to get your head round, but it does make sense eventually.)

Ideally you would have people with a mix of these characteristics as part of a team, although the article that includes the table above also mentions some of the perceptions that each group has of the other. According to that, I am probably seen by some of my more innovative colleagues as
Dogmatic, compliant, stuck in a rut, timid, conforming, and inflexible
while I could perceive them as
Unsound, impractical, abrasive, undisciplined, insensitive, and one who loves to create confusion
I am not sure if we could all actually work together if we had such a harsh view of other people's approaches, but there is probably a kernel of truth in these descriptions too. As "the librarian" in the team I do often seem to be the "voice of reason" banging on about boring things like copyright and complying with University policy when everyone else is excited about getting some hacking done.

Have you come across the Adaption-Innovation Inventory before and where do you think you might sit on this continuum? Do you work with people who are similar to you, or do they sit at the other end of the spectrum?


[1] Kirton, Michael J. 2003. Adaption-innovation: In the Context of Diversity and Change. Psychology Press.

[2] Hipple, Jack, David Hardy, Steven A. Wilson, and James Michalski. 2001. “Can Corporate Innovation Champions Survive?” Chemical Innovation, November. http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/archive/ci/31/i11/html/11hipple.html.

24 June 2014

New version of Research Data Curation Bibliography

It was a nice surprise today to receive an email from a colleague pointing out that an article I had co-authored appears in the latest version of the Research Data Curation Bibliography [1].

This bibliography is a great source of professional reading on research data management topics, with over 300 articles, books and technical reports included. (As an aside, I noticed when trying to add the bibliography itself to Zotero using the Chrome plugin that it is possible to import all these references directly into Zotero. PhD students in LIS must surely be cheering somewhere in the world right now.)

There are a number of articles included in the bibliography that focus on developments in Australia: the establishment and evolution of the Australian National Data Service (ANDS); predecessor infrastructure projects such as Australian Research Enabling Environment (ARCHER) and Dataset Acquisition, Accessibility, Annotation, E-Research Technologies (DART); institutional activities in universities such as Monash University and Griffith University; and Australian data management initiatives for disciplines such as crystallography and linguistics.


[1] Bailey, Charles W., Jnr. 2014. “Research Data Curation Bibliography.” Digital Scholarship. June 23. http://digital-scholarship.org/rdcb/rdcb.htm.

23 June 2014

Key skills for new roles: Katrina McAlpine, Uni of Wollongong (guest post)

Because there is no obvious pathway into eResearch and data management for librarians, I am always interested in hearing about the jobs that people have done before and the skills that they find most important. I often find some points of similarity with others that have moved into these new areas: a variety of work experiences particularly on projects, work with cultural collections, an interest in information professions outside of librarianship such as recordkeeping and archives and some university teaching experience are all things that I have discovered I share with Katrina McAlpine (you can find her on Twitter as @katreeeena). Another thing we have in common is having moved to new places; I wonder if the experiences that voluntary migrants gain from building a life in a new environment help us be more flexible and resilient when it comes to taking on new work opportunities too.

Katrina  recently moved into a new role at the University of Wollongong and she kindly provided me with some reflections on her transition - thanks for sharing your story, Katrina!

Katrina began her library career in 2006 and has worked in a range of roles related to records management and library functions, most recently at the State Library of New South Wales where she worked with cultural collections, social media, and curating online content as part of the eRecords and Innovation Projects and the Discover Collections teams. Katrina joined the University of Wollongong Library in 2014 where she is currently the Team Leader, Scholarly Content, leading publication management, research data management, and digitisation operations.

2014 has been a year of big change. I packed up and moved from Sydney to Wollongong to take on the role of Team Leader, Scholarly Content at the University of Wollongong Library. Right now I’m working in a new city, in a new role, and in a new area of librarianship for me. I’ve jumped across to academic libraries where my team is involved across scholarly communication, digitisation, and research data. 
Without going into my entire career in great detail (if anyone is particularly curious they can stalk me on LinkedIn), I’ve worked as a librarian in a public library, in records and document management, as a librarian in a 2-person library, then worked across a variety of librarian roles at SLNSW but primarily working on cataloguing original materials, and a brief stint in a federal government library as the technical services librarian. I’ve also had the fun experience of tutoring around metadata / resource description / classification / digital libraries in an undergraduate subject at UTS and marking a similar subject at QUT. 
Looking at these positions, I’m not sure that you could predict that I’d have ended up here working with scholarly content and research data in an academic library. Still, there are common elements and interests that I've built upon in each position that I think are invaluable in my new role, particularly when it comes to working with research data management and publications management:
The NSA might have made metadata a dirty word, but at uni I discovered I was good with metadata and it seems to have become one of those things that I really enjoy working with. Different roles have had different schemas and standards but it’s the same way of thinking. I always dreaded being labelled a ‘cataloguer’, but it’s really just the same thing, right? 
Open access to information
It wasn’t until I was studying that the importance of access to information struck me. In becoming a librarian I’ve always been concerned with people having unrestricted access to information. Even if I can’t be there putting it into their hands, I can work with the systems to make this information open, available, and findable. I think it’s important that research publications and data are made open and available whenever possible. 
Time management
I’ve done the balancing study with work, balancing tutoring on top of my full-time work, balanced committees and projects on top of other responsibilities, and at one stage I think I was juggling 3 different roles at the State Library. I won’t lie and pretend that it’s easy, but it’s definitely a skill I've worked up to and working as a team leader it feels like an essential skill. 
Professional development
At work I’ve had the good fortune of having some wonderful supervisors and managers who have supported my curiosity and desire to find out about so many aspects of the worlds of information, libraries, and cultural institutions. I’ve taken every chance to attend presentations, conferences, and networking events on work time or my own time, and I’ve never limited this to ‘just libraries’. I have a bad habit of putting my hand up for projects, groups and committees, and I spend a lot of time keeping up to date through Twitter, my personal networks, and a lot of different journals and blogs. Exhausting, sometimes hard to switch off, but it’s been really valuable in knowing what is happening outside of my own library sphere. 
While all of these things help, there are still challenges coming to any new role. In terms of research data management, while I was already interested in this area and followed discussions online and at conferences, working in this space has made me more aware of so many more opportunities and challenges. It’s been really great to look at work being done at institutions and universities in Australia and overseas, and I appreciate how much information they make available online and contacts who have been happy to share their thoughts with me, and as always Twitter has been super helpful for following current discussions and identifying who is doing what with research data, as well as having the good luck to meet people such as Sam working in this space. I think it’s an exciting time to be working in this area.

22 June 2014


I have been thinking about becoming a member of the International Association for Social Sciences Information Services and Technology (IASSIST) for many years, since Robin Rice (@sparrowbarley) from the University of Edinburgh first told me about the organisation. 

Last night I finally took the plunge and sent them my $US50 (bargain!) via PayPal for the 2014-2015 membership year. The thing that swung it for me was the superb program of the fortieth annual IASSIST conference, which was held in Toronto in early June. I didn't go to the conference but followed on the conference hashtag #iassist40 (which is well worth checking out). There were presentations from some of the organisations whose work in this space I really admire (including the Universities of Edinburgh, California and Michigan, Purdue University and the UK Data Archive), the theme was well-chosen (Aligning Data and Research Infrastructure) and many of the talks were on topics that really interest me (such as policy, skills development, and strategies for confidential data).

For those who don't know much about IASSIST, the website describes it as
...an international organization of professionals working in and with information technology and data services to support research and teaching in the social sciences. 
Its 300 members are from a variety of workplaces, including data archives, statistical agencies, research centers, libraries, academic departments, government departments, and non-profit organizations.
The majority of the membership is split between Europe and North America but there seems to be a small contingent of people from the Asia-Pacific too. The benefits of becoming a member include an email list, membership directory, jobs service, and the opportunity to join various committees and action groups. The organisation seems to be very grassroots in terms of its history and the way it works, which might distinguish it from more top-down initiatives such as the Research Data Alliance which are funded by government agencies and institutions, rather than by individuals.

Realistically I am not sure how much I will be able to contribute (other than financially through the membership) or what to expect from the various forums run by IASSIST. But I am looking forward to being part of a bigger network of international professionals with an interest in research data management, and see this as a good opportunity to interact with some new people (off Twitter anyway) and to gain more of an insight into what is happening in other national contexts. The only professional associations I have been a member of previously have been the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) and the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA). Joining IASSIST means, I think, identifying myself - after only eight years of work in this field! - as a data professional as well as a librarian.

21 June 2014

A day in the life of eResearch at Griffith

On Thursday our entire eResearch Services and Scholarly Applications Development (eRSAD) team got together for a half-yearly update on our program of work. Because our team of 30+ people is split across three campuses and most of our work is project-based, it's really difficult for any one person to know what's going on. I came away from the day feeling really energised and in awe of all the amazing talent that we have in our team.

The session consisted of a series of short updates on different things people are working on, which could be divided up into three main areas:

  • projects that support data capture, management, analysis and visualisation by particular research groups
  • activities that are more about underpinning infrastructure such as storage, computation, and enterprise tools for managing research impact
  • promotional activities that highlight the work of Griffith researchers and of the eResearch team.  
Some of the projects focused on particular research needs were:

Homepage for the BCCVL
A prototype design for the homepage for the website for the Prosecution Project
  • Redevelopment of the Australian National Corpus (AusNC), which supports linguistics research into Australian English
  • Supporting clinical trials through a randomisation service and through adoption of the RedCAP solution from Vanderbilt University for managing longitudinal health surveys 
  • Successful adoption of the Columbus software (based on the open microscopy OMERO product) for researchers from Griffith's Eskitis Institute for Drug Discovery 
  • Also with Eskitis, development work on Nature Bank, a collection of over 45,000 samples of plants and marine invertebrates that have have been processed into a library for high throughput screening.
The work on supporting infrastructure being done by our group includes:
  • Change management associated with new storage services for researchers for release later in 2014 including a Dropbox-like solution (ownCloud) and tools for easier provisioning of network shares (Operations Orchestration)
  • The redevelopment of our institutional data repository and other repositories for library collections, including a streaming server to support multiple repositories for teaching and learning, research, and corporate needs
  • Implementation of Symplectic Elements to support the identification and capture of information about research publications, including metrics and altmetrics
  • A two-year program of enhancements to the award-winning Griffith Research Hub
The homepage of the Griffith Research Hub, which aggregates metadata about Griffith researchers, projects, publications and data collections
  • Development of a more formal approach to software testing using Jenkins, a continuous integration system that runs tests, creates software builds, and help show the status of the builds.
  • Enhancements to our high performance computing services, including building easy-to-use web portals for less tech savvy users, job submission by email, and 'cloudbursting' (shedding computational load to cloud computing resources on demand).
Our Media Production team does high quality audiovisual work for our division (Information Services) as well as for external groups. On Thursday we got to see sneak previews of two videos the team have been working on, one of which was about the Columbus product for Microscopy mentioned above. Unfortunately these videos are not released yet but previous examples of the work of this team can be found in their gallery: I was in one of their videos last year and they made what could have been an excruciating experience into something that was actually quite fun!

Everyone I talked to agreed that having this session together with the team was really helpful, and that we should do something similar with other parts of our Information Services division soon to ensure they are aware of the work that we are doing and can help in promoting our services to researchers.

20 June 2014

A special feature of my place of work

The Nathan and Mt Gravatt campuses of Griffith University are surrounded by beautiful bushland which means that we sometimes get visitors that might be unusual at other universities...

Data management bookshelf: Pryor et al, Delivering Research Data Management Services (2014)

Pryor, Graham, Sarah Jones, and Angus Whyte, ed. 2014. Delivering Research Data Management Services: Fundamentals of Good Practice. London: Facet Publishing.

I'm the co-author of a chapter in this book (a case study about research data management at Monash University) so I was lucky enough to receive a free copy when it was published. It's a bit sad that I still haven't had a chance to read it yet because it looks really good.

The blurb for the book reads:

The research landscape is changing, with key global research funders now requiring institutions to demonstrate how they will preserve and share research data. However, the practice of structured research data management is very new, and the construction of services remains experimental and in need of models and standards of approach. This groundbreaking guide will lead researchers, institutions and policy makers through the processes needed to set up and run effective institutional research data management services. 
The editors have all been working in the field for many years. Graham Pryor's previous book, Managing Research Data [1], received positive reviews [2, 3, 4], with reviewers noting the frankness, clarity and pragmatism of his approach to this complex topic. Sarah Jones and Angus Whyte have been directly involved in the UK Digital Curation Centre's engagements with various research institutions to improve their research data management capability.

The three editors are also the authors of the first five chapters in the book, which provide an overview of options and approaches, roles and responsibilities, and infrastructure and service components, with a focus on developing sustainable services. From a quick flick through, it appears there is a strong focus in this first half on outputs from the DCC such as their Data Curation Lifecycle and DMPOnline data planning tool. (This is to be expected, though some sections of the earlier book have been criticised - see the review by Salo - on the grounds that more effort could be made to compare and contrast DCC outputs with alternative models and tools, so it will be interesting on deeper reading to see if this new book takes a similar approach or broadens its view.)

The second half of the book consists of case studies. The first three of these are institutional case studies from Johns Hopkins University (US), Southampton University (UK) and Monash University (Australia). A national case study on the UK Data Service (which focuses on social and economic research) is also included. The final chapter provides an overview of the services developed in various UK institutions as a result of their participation in the Jisc Managing Research Data program. I'm particularly interested in this last chapter because of the focus that Jisc has put on policy, roadmaps and training efforts.


[1] Pryor, Graham. 2012. Managing Research Data. London: Facet Publishing.

[2] Chow, Mei Ling. 2014. “A Review of ‘Managing Research Data’.” Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship 26 (1): 86–87. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1941126X.2014.880026. [subscription only]

[3] Reuben, Liz. 2012. “Managing Research Data.”Australian Academic and Research Libraries 43 (2) (June): 158. [subscription only]

[4] Salo, Dorothea. 2013. “Review of 'Managing Research Data'.”Collaborative Librarianship 5 (3): 225. http://collaborativelibrarianship.org/index.php/jocl/article/view/260/211.

18 June 2014

The development of eResearch@Flinders: Amanda Nixon at VALA 2014

I wanted to use this post to highlight an excellent presentation given by Amanda Nixon (@MLNxn) at this year's VALA conference in which she discussed the development of eResearch@Flinders.

The way that Flinders have built their eResearch team is quite unusual; the unit is located in the Library and is staffed by several librarians who have been funded in continuing roles, along with a statistical consultant. Amanda has a dual reporting line to both the University Librarian and the Executive Director, ICT Strategy and Integration. This is quite different from my experiences working in or alongside eResearch services at three other organisations, where the majority of the staff have been IT-oriented and where short-term contract work is the norm.

A video of Amanda's full presentation is available via the VALA website and you can also read the paper that she has written with her other colleagues, We built it and they are coming: the development of eResearch@Flinders.

eResearch@Flinders began in 2012 as a result of a project funded by the Australian National Data Service. Amanda identified in her presentation the strong service ethic that underpins their work and the core library skills that the team applies, including liaising with both researchers and service providers, creating metadata and managing digital resources and repositories. She provided a skills mapping from traditional library functions to eResearch functions, and talked about other useful skills she has picked up on the way, such as business analysis, event management, social media, software development project management, and environmental scanning. 

Amanda's session concluded with a Q&A, and she was asked about Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and evaluation. She noted the need for her service to have usage statistics to demonstrate return on investment (ROI) as well qualitative evidence that that the services are being used by researchers from a range of disciplines. Further measures about research collaborations and grant success are also things that eResearch@Flinders would like to gather in future as their service matures. 

17 June 2014

Hype vs reality: how many libraries have research data services anyway?

There is a lot of pressure on university libraries to start offering research data services; I am sure that on some days every librarian trying to improve data management feels like everyone else in the world is moving faster than she/he is.

This perception is not necessarily true though. Two key publications were released last year that provide some evidence about the extent to which libraries are actually getting involved in offering research data services. Both reports involved surveys of institutions about their current practices and their intentions for the future and both showed that while many libraries had strong intentions, they had not yet developed sustainable services.

One of these was a journal article by University of Sheffield researchers [1]. Key findings from this survey of 81 UK academic libraries were that:

  • Limited research data management services were in place; many organisations offered no services even in areas they regarded as a priority. Most services were 'basic' and those in place seemed to be those that were most closely related to existing areas of expertise (e.g. providing advice on intellectual property issues for data could be seen as an extension of copyright advisory services). 
  • Only around 20% of institutions were providing more technical services like auditing, metadata or a repository.
  • 41% reported they were undertaking early career researcher awareness-raising activities and 36% training for higher degree by research students, a significant increase from only 12% engaging in these activities at the time of a previous survey in early 2012.
  • Skills gaps and resourcing were explicitly identified as the biggest challenges for libraries. Many answers also referred implicitly to issues around the ambiguity of the role of the library, the library’s relationship with other parts of the institution and lack of clarity around responsibilities. 
  • Most institutions had put formal research data policies in place in 2012 or would do so during 2013 and the priority on research data was expected to become higher. 
  • The key drivers for change were funding agency mandates and JISC projects.

The other publication was a white paper for the Assocation of College and Research Libraries by researchers from the University of Tennessee [2]. Their results of a survey of 221 North American libraries showed that:
  • Only a small minority of academic libraries in US and Canada were offering research data services at the time of the survey.
  • However, a quarter to a third of the surveyed libraries planned to offer some services within the next two years. 
  • Changes were largely driven by funding agency requirements, and in particular the requirement for a data management plan from the National Science Foundation.
  • Libraries offering research data services have reassigned, or are planning to reassign, existing staff. 
  • Libraries are relying on conferences or workshops to provide training for their staff. They need institutional support to send their librarians for this professional development, but other models might also help to disperse expertise, such as mentorship relationships between different libraries. 
There is a lot more detailed data associated with individual survey questions in both of these publications; they are well worth a read and I guarantee will make you feel better about progress at your own institution, no matter where that progress may be at!

In the Australian context, it seems likely that similar numbers of university libraries will be offering, or considering offering, research data services. The Australian National Data Service (ANDS) has played an enabling role in Australia similar to that of JISC in the UK, by funding projects in organisations and by providing, as the Digital Curation Centre does, a range of information resources, planning tools and events that have helped build a strong national community of practice as well as institutional capabilities.

Two key differences in our environment are:
  1. The relative weakness of our major funding agencies' data requirements; the flurry of activity generated by the Australian Research Council's request in 2014 for (minimal) data management and sharing information from project applicants shows just how important a driver funding agency requirements are. 
  2. Australian university libraries have played a greater role in the development of institutional research data management policies, an area that neither UK nor US libraries were heavily involved in.
The authors from the UK make some interesting observations about the hype cycle and how it might apply:
Amongst library and information professionals, there now seems to be a significant amount of positive hype associated with RDM. This is evidenced in professional discussions at conferences and meetings, and in various online fora. Significantly, the hype itself becomes a driver for change with librarians being encouraged to implement change in line with current trends in the profession. However, the hype cycle model predicts that at some point this positive hype will turn negative as the scale and complexity of the challenge, resourcing implications and technical constraints become more apparent. Disillusion is usually linked to a loss of faith in the potential return on investment particularly associated with slower-than-expected adoption. Perhaps the slip into negativity for RDM will occur in 2014. This can often triggered by a small number of influential actors coming out debunking the ‘bandwagon’, something that could be impactful in a professional community, such as academic librarianship, characterised by strong networks. The attack is likely to focus on the difficulties of providing an infrastructure for diverse data at the institutional level.
I find myself both demoralised by, and in furious agreement with, this argument. In myself I recognise a strong desire to debunk the research data bandwagon - even though I am on it! - not out of malice but because I believe strongly that a more pragmatic, incremental and peer-to-peer approach will be needed once external funding (and the enthusiasm it is currently generating) runs out. I hope that Cox and Pinfield are right when they say that, despite the likelihood of a less positive phase coming up, the development of research data management services will continue because there are strong drivers (such as funding mandates and the sheer volume of data that needs to be stored) that will not go away.

Do you have any thoughts on hype cycles and research data management in your organisation? If we are at the positive hype point of the cycle now, how can we best prepare to ride out the troughs that might be coming before we get to a happier place where research data management services are in place, sustainable and well-used by our research communities?


[1] Cox, Andrew M., and Stephen Pinfield. 2013. “Research Data Management and Libraries: Current Activities and Future Priorities.” Journal of Librarianship and Information Science (June 28): 0961000613492542. doi:10.1177/0961000613492542. [subscription only]

[2] Tenopir, Carol, Ben Birch, and Suzie Allard. 2013. Academic Libraries and Research Data Services: Current Practices and Plans for the Future. An ACLR White Paper. Association of College and Research Libraries.

16 June 2014

Academic librarians as internal consultants

The January 2014 edition of the Journal of Academic Librarianship contains an interesting editorial about librarians acting as internal consultants. The authors argue that:
...there are some organizations which are more likely to have internal consultants: these would be organizations that face change and evolve, empower and grow their employees as opposed to keeping them in boxes (because by definition, an internal consultant is an out of the box actor), and are flexible and want to make the best use of their internal resources. [1]
They go on to provide a list of indicators of internal consultants:
  • Most of their work is project-based;
  • The situations and projects with which they are involved are critical and often unpleasant;
  • They are responsible for filling in when someone leaves or cleaning up a problem;
  • They are responsible for kicking off a new initiative;
  • Once the situation or problem is resolved or the new service or system implemented, it is handed off to someone else to maintain;
  • They act as a facilitator, providing the balance between management and the front lines or between other groups;
  • They are agents of change rather than reacting to change: this may mean being instrumental in the strategic planning process or pushing the envelope with new trends and technologies.
Two things in this list jumped out at me: the project-based nature of internal consulting work and the ability to deal with critical and sometimes unpleasant situations. These were among the key differences that my colleague Natasha Simons and I identified between working as a librarian in eResearch and working as a librarian in other kinds of research support. In our paper for VALA 2014, we noted:
  • eResearch at Griffith is almost exclusively organised around projects delivered within a very flat organisational structure. Staff are likely to be working within multiple interdisciplinary teams on a range of projects concurrently. This results in an emphasis on developing skills (and career pathways) in project management and change management rather than staff supervision and service provision.
  • eResearch service models generally require staff to act as internal consultants. The work involves challenging stakeholder assumptions and advocating changes required by the external environment but not necessarily sought by clients. A consulting model focuses on a future desirable state, and is quite different from delivering transactional ‘customer service’ based on current needs. It requires personal attributes like assertiveness and resilience that are not evenly spread through the different specialities in librarianship. [2]
The authors of the editorial in JAL refer to a book called Consulting on the Inside [3]. I am adding it to my professional reading list as one of the things that I will be working on in the near future is the development of an internal consulting model for research data management, which will probably involve both academic librarians as well as eResearch staff with technical expertise in areas such as data storage, application development and analysis/visualisation. While there are many models emerging for undertaking data consultations in a university environment, I'm not sure how well these align with internal consulting methodologies from other industries, and it could be interesting to compare and contrast. 

I did an internal consulting course as part of my professional development many years ago, and remember almost nothing about it. An Australian training company that appears to have been delivering courses to academic librarians in internal consulting skills argues that internal consultants can be very efficient because they know the organisational context, the culture, people, and politics and can 'hit the ground running' What organisation would not want to make the most of staff it had that could fulfil this role?

I'd love to hear about your experiences if you are a librarian who has been on one of these courses; it might be time for a refresher!


[1] Arant Kaspar, Wend, and Wyoma vanDuinkerken. 2014. “Other Duties as Assigned: Internal Consultants in Academic Libraries.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 40 (1) (January): 1–2. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2013.10.015.

[2] Simons, N. & Searle, S., 2014. Redefining “the librarian” in the context of emerging eResearch services. In VALA 2014 Proceedings.

[3] Scott, Beverly, and B. Kim Barnes. 2011. Consulting on the Inside: A Practical Guide for Internal Consultants. American Society for Training and Development.

15 June 2014

Identifying and acquiring datasets for repositories

Last Friday, along with Philippa Broadley (Research Data Librarian, Queensland University of Technology) and Marianne Brown (Data Collections Specialist, James Cook University), I attended a meeting of the Research Support Working Party of the Queensland University Libraries Office of Cooperation (QULOC). The working party have themed discussions at their regular meetings and this time around the topic was acquiring datasets for repositories, something that Philippa, Marianne and I all have experience with.

The discussion was very wide-ranging. Philippa provided a great overview of QUT's multi-pronged approach to identifying datasets, which includes:

  • Meetings between senior Library staff and senior research leaders
  • Outreach programs by liaison librarians, including attending departmental meetings
  • Newsletter articles
  • Building relationships with key research facilities, at point of establishment or at other critical times (e.g. a storage migration project)
  • A new ANDS-funded collaborative project with a spatial data focus, involving QUT's Institute for Future Environments as well as Queensland Government's Department of Natural Resources and Mines
  • Monitoring users of high performance computing (HPC) infrastructure at QUT
  • Monitoring QUT users of QRISCloud, the Queensland node of the Research Data Storage Infrastructure (RDSI) and the national research cloud provided by the National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources (NeCTAR)
  • Analysing reports from the publications repository (QUT ePrints) to identify willing depositors as well as publications that have been deposited with supplementary data
  • Contacting users of QUT's online survey service.
I made a couple of other suggestions including:
  • Seeking access to, or reports from, your Research Office's grants management system, e.g. of recently completed or about-to-be-completed projects
  • Using these reports to target researchers directly through emails and follow-up calls
  • 'Snowballing' i.e. asking every researcher you are dealing with if she/he can recommend anyone else for you to talk to
  • If the library is publishing open access journals or monographs, offering the ability to publish supplementary datasets through the repository
  • 'Repatriating' metadata from external repositories to ensure that datasets are part of the institutional record. 
Marianne's approach included some of the strategies noted above, but with a strong focus on linking data collection identification and acquisition with efforts to improve research data storage (as this is usually the researchers' most urgent need). Marianne also highlighted one of the benefits for researchers in linking from their institutional repository to an externally published dataset, which is that institutional repositories often feed the researcher profile system. 

Other themes that emerged from the discussion included:
  • The importance of automating data capture into repositories from data management solutions such as survey tools, electronic lab notebooks, and scientific imaging hardware such as microscopes, and the role that librarians can play in this, including metadata mapping and advice about licensing
  • Metadata being 'fit for purpose' in terms of identifying a dataset and its location as a minimum, rather than always needing a perfect full description
  • Aligning with changes in scholarly publishing such as the recent PLoS data policy and the emergence of data journals
  • The importance of short-term initiatives that focus on manual workflows for populating repositories with final state data as well as longer term strategies to build sustainable services that focus on earlier stages in the research lifecycle.
This was a really great session to attend and gave me some new ideas to put into practice at my own institutions. Thank to all involved for the chance to be part of it. 

14 June 2014

Data management bookshelf: Simons & Richardson, New Content in Digital Repositories (2013)

Simons, N. & Richardson, J., 2013. New Content in Digital Repositories: The Changing Research Landscape, Witney, Oxford: Chandos Publishing.

I haven't had a chance yet to read this book, which was written by two of my colleagues at Griffith, Natasha Simons and Joanna Richardson. Natasha and Joanna have a wealth of experience in repositories and research data management, and have previous publications in this area, including a highly regarded article in the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication on training needs for repository staff.

The blurb for the book reads:
New Content in Digital Repositories explores the diversity of content types being stored in digital repositories with a focus on research data, creative works, and the interesting challenges they pose. Chapters in this title cover: new content types in repositories; developing and training repository teams; metadata schemas and standards for diverse resources; persistent identifiers for research data and authors; research data: the new gold; exposing and sharing repository content; selecting repository software; repository statistics and altmetrics.
The book has a foreword by David Groenewegen, the Director, Research Infrastructure at Monash University Library, as well as an introduction by Simon Hodson, the Executive Director of CODATA, the International Council for Science: Committee on Data for Science and Technology.

There is a disappointing lack of reviews of this book so far!

13 June 2014

Project-focused librarianship: Part 3

In the last two posts I've talked about the benefits of getting involved in project work and some of the challenges. Today I wanted to finish up on this topic (for now!) with some observations about organisational project management capability and maturity.

Having now been involved in a range of projects at a range of organisations, I've observed that an organisation with a high level of maturity in project management will do many of the following things:

  • Ensure operational work and project work are balanced so that staff don’t get overworked and unhappy
  • Prepare formal budgets for all projects so that the true costs of undertaking something are understood by all the stakeholders
  • Seek consistency across all parts of the project lifecycle, rather than doing some parts well and other parts poorly 
  • Manage multiple projects collectively through portfolios and programs, and have a competitive process in which projects are judged not just on their own merits but against other projects
Of course, if you flip these you get some signs of immaturity. If you observe any of the following warning signs, your job as a project manager or project team member is going to be a lot harder!
  • Projects are staffed by people who already have operational roles requiring 100% (or more!) of their time; supervisors sign off on staff participating in projects but then don't in practice release those staff from their other duties to enable them to make the agreed contribution
  • Return on investment can't be calculated because no-one knows the actual cost of running the project, usually due to staff time not being properly budgeted (there's nothing wrong with running projects using 'in kind' resources but this should still be documented or how can you weigh up the costs vs the benefits?)
  • Lots of effort goes into project plans but little to none into project closedown and post-project evaluation; projects make the same mistakes over and over again because lessons learned are not documented and fed into future projects
  • Multiple projects, often involving the same people, are running at the same time, with no portfolio or program view that enables resourcing issues across projects to be addressed or priority to be placed on some projects over others.

12 June 2014

Project-focused librarianship: Part 2

After writing yesterday's glowingly positive endorsement of project management as an essential in every librarian's toolkit, I returned to my abstract for NLS6 and realised that my presentation had actually been far more critical! There were actually two more aspects to project management that I covered in last year's presentation so I've decide to make this a small series of three related posts. In Part 2 (this post) I'll talk a bit about some of the personal challenges faced by project-focused librarians.

Roles and relationships with non-project colleagues

One of my PM-focused colleagues put it like this:

You are working with people who are contributing as part of their business-as-usual - getting them to appreciate deadlines & dependencies is very difficult.
I would also add that as a project manager you are often a change agent. While some of your colleagues may be happy with the change that you represent, you can guarantee that others (sometimes nearly everyone) won't be. I can't remember my exact words at NLS6 but I think they were something like "Project management might not be a good choice if being disliked by your colleagues bothers you."

If being part of a stable team over a long period, working mostly with other librarians, and having uniformly cheery working relationships is important to you then project work may not be a good fit. On the other hand, if you like the idea of regularly embarking on a new, and possibly perilous, adventure with a new 'crew' (including lots of non-librarians), you will probably be happy with project work.

Short term contracts and the financial insecurity that goes along with that

I don't have kids or a mortgage so this one is less of a concern to me than I know it is for a lot of people. To be honest, with job cuts and casualisation a feature of every industry now, I would rather be able to demonstrate that I can work in a project mode since when cuts are made to operations, outsourcing and project work often goes up.

There is a generational aspect to this; I've only had one permanent position in my entire working life (20+ years, counting pre-librarian days) yet I have never been out of work except for a short time when I first moved overseas.

One of my PM buddies told me:
I find that I am not at all insecure about the future of my career. In the past, people stayed in one job for 40 years, seeking security in one job. Those days are gone.
Some days I feel my options are a bit limited by contract work; because my partner freelances it is difficult to commit to buying a house in the current climate so that is something that has gone on hold for us. I appreciate that for people with bigger existing financial commitments, the contract work side of project management can seem quite scary and might even be a showstopper.

A lack of defined career pathways, and the push to move into management

One of the challenges as a mid-career librarian is finding opportunities to progress within an organisation without taking on supervisory tasks. I work in an ageing profession and often feel pressure to 'step up to the plate' and get more involved as an operational manager, so that when everyone disappears in 5-10 years time all the libraries don't collapse for lack of managers. But then I think that it's possible to be a leader without being a manager, and that I should focus on my strengths, which are definitely best suited to projects.

I was very lucky to have a mentor in 2011-12 through a very well-organised program between Monash University and the State Library of Victoria, for which I am very grateful. My mentor helped me address this issue of career planning with a focus on projects. She told me about her own career, which had involved working on a range of projects and programs and developing expertise in organisational psychology and change management. She also introduced me to other librarians who had not had to move into management to have rewarding careers but had moved between various programs and projects quite freely.

This was very reassuring at the time, but I can still say without a doubt that the career structures in most libraries are not well-developed for people who want to focus on projects. Working in an organisation with a combined library and IT services division has been very eye-opening for me in terms of the greater focus on project-oriented roles (not just project managers, but other roles such as business analysts and change managers) that can be found in the IT industry compared to libraries.


My friendly PM informants and colleagues identified burnout as an issue, due to
Getting management to understand the need to resource a project properly
but also to the high-pressure, deadline-oriented nature of the work. This may not always be appreciated by all members of a project team, particularly if those team members have operational duties alongside their project contributions:
Having to push people constantly. Would rather just do stuff myself.
In 2012 I had six months away from project work in an operational role in a government department. I felt burnt out after ten years of non-stop project work in emerging areas and needed a break. But within about a week I was bored out of my brain!  On reflection, I realised that the problem might not be project work but my lack of strategies for coping with some of its demands. So while burnout can be an issue, it's also true that many of us thrive under a fair bit of pressure and when it is taken away we get restless again. It is good to be self-aware about these things.

Since that time, I've developed better time management skills (I use the Getting Things Done methodology, one of the techniques recommended by Kate Davis here). I take more seriously signs of stress like insomnia and cold sores, and most importantly, am learning to just say no to things, even things that I really really want to do. This has been hard, and I have to constantly monitor my own thoughts and actions to make sure that I'm not slipping back into old patterns of saying yes to everything and then freaking out quietly under my desk when I realise I've taken on way too much.

In summary, it's possible to develop strategies, either on your own or with the help of friends or professionals, to help you avoid burnout but it's a good thing to be aware of if you are thinking project work might be for you and know that you are prone to overcommitting.