It Takes Spencer Keralis

It Takes Spencer Keralis

 
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Spencer Keralis’ Illinois Experts Profile

Have you ever thought about what really goes into supporting digital scholarship? Well, some may say it takes a village but here at the University of Illinois it’s bigger than that. It Takes a Campus. The Scholarly Commons will be interviewing experts across campus about all the new and exciting things that are happening to support digital scholarship. We will sit down with a specialist to learn about what they do, how they do it and why they got started working in their field. Here what we mean when we say it takes a campus to do what we do.

 

Mallory Untch: Hello and welcome back to another episode of “It Takes a Campus.” My name is Mallory and I am currently a Graduate Assistant at the Scholarly Commons and today I am joined with Spencer Keralis our Digital Humanities Librarian here at the University of Illinois. Spencer, hello and thank you so much for being with me today, at least virtually.

 

Spencer Keralis: It’s good to see you, Mallory.

 

Mallory: Would you mind explaining what your definition of Digital Humanities is, what it fully entails because I do think it can be quite broad and people can have different interpretations of really what the field is as a holistic…thing?

 

Spencer: Sure, I think within Digital Humanities there’s kind of like defining Digital Humanities is kind of a genre piece, like it shows up in every publication and every special issue and everything where people are like “What is Digital Humanities or what are Digital Humanities? Is it plural? Is it not? So, I think that it’s important though that, to have a definition of Digital Humanities for institutional reasons, right? So, what, because what counts as Digital Humanities can be really fraught for especially for junior scholars or for graduate students who are trying to get some exposure and some experience in it. And also, for libraries institutionally, defining Digital Humanities will define what you’re going to be investing and supporting, as well.

 

So, the definition that I’ve become most comfortable with over the years is the one that we use in the Digital Frontiers community. Digital Frontiers is a nonprofit that I manage that has been working in the Digital Humanities intersection between DH and libraries for almost ten years now and we say that Digital Humanities “is the creative development and use of the digital resources for Humanities research, teaching, and learning.” And that’s been what we’ve been using for the last several years. One thing that that leaves out, though, is Scholarly Communications and Digital Publishing. Not just Open Access Publishing but this innovative platform-based Digital Publishing things like Omeka and Scalar and even WordPress has become really important over the last several years and I think it’s becoming increasingly important as we moved into a more distributed digital environment and as the need for Open Educational Resources (OER) in Open Publishing becomes greater. So, I think there’s a lot that the Digital Humanities community can do to intervene in that space and it’s really important for us to be not discounting that work and not undervaluing work that is published digitally.

 

Mallory: Yeah, from what I understand in the Digital Humanities there’s a side for publishing, so, using platforms like Omeka and Scalar, like you said and then there’s also this computational side of the Digital Humanities which is the text analysis and text mining, things of that nature. Is that right? Obviously, it’s not as black and white but can you talk about how they kind of work together?

 

Spencer: Well, unfortunately, they kind of don’t. I mean there’s been there’s a real sort of separation between the two and so you’ll have a scholar, like our own Ted Underwood who does large-scale corpus analysis, quantitative analysis of large bodies of text and he publishes…it’s right here, I’ve got his book, the monograph, you know, a paper book that, you know, is not interactive, not, no access to the underlying data no…it’s a static physical object. And I think there should be more of a connection between that kind of the computational, quantitative work and the…that work should be published in digital form to help expose the underlying data, to share the algorithms to make it more effective scholarly communication. So, I think that disconnect is something that like maybe your generation of DH scholars is going to have to bridge because with the demands of tenure and things like that my generation has largely failed at doing that. So, I think there’s a real opportunity though to start bridging that divide. And I think Academic Presses have to get on board with it, as well.

 

Mallory: Yeah that makes sense and I do think that a lot of Digital Humanities is in academia or do you think there’s a way for DH to be working outside of the academic world?

 

Spencer: I think that part of the problem is with the label DH, right? So, there are, I know tons of people in public libraries who are doing Digital Humanities projects, but they don’t call them Digital Humanities projects. They just say, “I’m doing a digital exhibit for this community based on our collections” and as far as I’m concerned that’s Digital Humanities but it doesn’t need a label to be and it doesn’t need the label to be relevant and valued and important for the community.

Within academia, I think we make the mistake of siloing things off too  much. Like, Public Humanities has this now community of practice that’s growing and growing interest in it. Community-centered research is a thing and Digital Humanities is a thing, but I think those three things need to be talking more. And to make A. the tools more readily available to people beyond the walls of academia to be able to do not only quantitative analysis and things like that but to do digital publishing and so, and I think that we kind of have a little bit of a responsibility especially at a public institution, a land-grant institution to be bridging some of those divides and getting some of these DH methods and Scholarly Communications methods into the hands of the general public.

 

Mallory: That makes a lot of sense. So, working with the label of Digital Humanities, where is that line, I guess? And I guess you’re saying that there isn’t really a line, it’s just about someone calling it a DH project or not. So, I was wondering, like, when is it a DH project, when is it just like a general research project?

 

Spencer: Yeah, I mean, it’s the Gertrude Stein thing of “A rose is a rose is a rose.” A DH project is a DH project is a DH project.

 

Mallory: Yeah

 

Spencer: I mean and there are scholars in the Humanities in this institution who are doing work with digital methods and digital primary sources and producing digital outputs that do not, would never label themselves as a digital humanist and would not show up at a DH conference, you know. So, I think that there’s been some, some stigma around DH. There was the perception of DH as being really cliquey in like the early 2000s that it’s never quite been able to shake and there’s also a kind of reluctance in, especially amongst senior faculty in the Humanities to recognize digital products and digital outputs as legitimate research.

There was an Ithaca S&R Report recently that, on “Supporting Research in the Languages,” in Languages and Literature and it was really awful like the way people they were…part of the problem with the report focused on senior faculty. The 80% of the respondents were tenured and so there was very few voices from junior faculty or, and no voices at all from teaching faculty. So interventions in digital pedagogy and in Digital Humanities were really devalued by the respondents to that report and of course, it presented those findings really uncritically as though they were just facts which unfortunately can be really damaging for those of us who are sort of toiling in this space because it makes it look like the work that we’re doing is totally misrecognized and not valued.

Which is institutionally like not necessarily the case but there are, of course, you know some faculty that  just won’t recognize anything, it’s that kind of infantilization and hazing of the academy where if because I went through this you have to go through it too or because this is how I was successful this is the only model for success that there is and that’s really short-sighted and honestly like that’s not what the academy is supposed to be like it’s supposed to be about creativity and although, I hate this word innovation. And when you stick to models of scholarly communication that are over a hundred years old and models of peer review that encode bias and abuse and insist on citation politics where the same old white men get cited over and over in order to state in order to establish your credibility that’s not creativity and that’s not Innovation. it’s profoundly anti-intellectual.

 

Mallory: I totally agree. I totally agree with you. I always say when I tell people I know you, I’m like he always has something interesting to say. I guess that kind of leads me to where you fall into this role in academia as the Digital Humanities Librarian. What does that mean? What do you do as a Digital Humanities Librarian and is this a common position in libraries or are people, digital humanists, usually working in other fields?

 

Spencer: So, one of the things that I found is that Digital Humanities as a librarian, as a focus of librarianship is emerging as a field. Just like Digital Humanities, even though it’s decades old is still emerging as a field. Partly because it is so diverse, partly because it’s undergoing a lot of growing pains in terms of pressure from, important pressure, from the women and scholars of color and other marginalized voices asserting themselves within the field and that’s super important. Librarianship is also crucial to it because really like there is no DH without digital libraries like you’ve unless you have digital primary, digitize primary sources and access to that underlying data you got no project, right? But it also, I like the title of the podcast, “It Takes a Campus,” because it really does like I can’t do everything for anybody and I can do and some people I can’t do anything for it but I can find out who the person is that can do something for them.

So, within the libraries, we don’t host platforms. We don’t host projects, but we work with Research IT Web Hosting Department to make sure their faculty’s projects can come to life. We do have the IOPN (Illinois Open Publishing Network) Scholarly Publishing arm but that’s really for sort of like sustained book-length kind of projects. But for somebody who wants to have a website for their research or an Omeka site for their class, Research IT manages that; I help with the library instruction side, getting them familiar with the technology and helping the students feel confident with it and providing some training to the faculty to get them up and running. But the actual sort of hosting is handled through a different department. And so, I’ve only been here a little over a year and it’s taken me a fair amount of time to sort of get to know what the landscape was of resources. So, getting to know who the experts are over in CITL (Center for Innovation inTeaching and Learning), getting a relationship with folks in ATLAS (Applied Technologies for Learning in the Arts and Sciences) over in FAS and with the, of the great team in the Web Hosting Department at Research IT and just sort of getting a sense of who’s got what stuff where and who their constituencies are.

So, it’s a, it’s been a really interesting process to get to know that because I was at the University of North Texas for 8 years, so I had solid institutional knowledge there. Here, I’m kind of like still trying to figure things out. So, it’s a lot of getting questions, figuring out if I know the answer and if I don’t know the answer, figuring out who to get the person to. So, in some ways it’s, it can be a little frustrating because I don’t have a lot of sustained contact with any given project, especially if it’s not something that we are directly involved in but it is productive in that we get people to the right place and get them, get their research or their scholarship moving and have a real good will experience for them on behalf of the library. So, there’s, there is, had been a sort of misconception that we don’t support DH well here, I don’t find that to be the case at all. I think we do it in a way that is sustainable because we can’t do everything, and the library should not be doing everything for everybody. There are other centers of excellence on campus and we shouldn’t be duplicating efforts . But we also need to be a good player in the community and recognize those centers of excellence, pass them business when we get it and they’re going to reciprocate when they get questions that we are able to answer or projects that we are able to support.

 

Mallory: Mhmm, and we’re really fortunate being at this university like as large as it is, we do have all of these different resources to be passing people along if that’s the way to say it but that is really where our podcast title came from because we were talking about oh, like you know it takes a village to like raise a kid but you know the University of Illinois is like it’s over 50,000 people on campus, students, faculty, staff, et cetera. We’re bigger than some villages and so it takes a lot to work with people. And the students and the researchers here are working on some large-scale projects and so it’s awesome that we do have these resources and these people and these groups that can support it.

 

Spencer: Yeah and you know, one of the things that we, that I have found is that the projects that need us the most, that need me, and the Scholarly Commons and Research IT Web Hosting are not the big data projects. You know, the big data projects have funding, they’ve got the supercomputing center, they’ve got you national and international collaborators so like they don’t, they’re not going to be the ones that are coming to us for a lot of assistance but it’s the small and medium data projects. Projects that rely on the underlying text data from some of the resources that we subscribe to. You know because a lot of our primary source databases, we have the underlying text data available for scholars to do text mining with through Gale and Proquest and Adam Matthew and some of our other vendors and they wouldn’t otherwise have access to that, that data, especially for these small projects that maybe don’t have funding yet, that don’t have teams of researchers. It’s just one person and maybe a graduate assistant who are sort of getting started or that the scope of the project doesn’t necessarily need big data but without the resources that the library has, they wouldn’t be able to do that work. Likewise, for teaching like we’re, there’s so much robust support for pedagogy on this campus with CITL, Research IT and the expertise in the libraries. It’s a, it’s a really great place to be….to experiment with digital pedagogy and to be working with those resources in your classrooms.

 

Mallory: Do you get a chance to work on your own DH projects? I know you just worked on something about cat memes, is that right?

 

Spencer: Yeah, so I am an accidental digital humanist. I am not trained as a DH scholar, my background is in early American literature and book history, history of the book so, and I got in I got into this because I was down the deep, dark hole of dissertation and got a job offer from the University of North Texas for a Council on Library and Information Resources position working on research data management plans and at that point the job market was not as bad as it is now but it was pretty bad and so I was like I’m going to take this job and I’m going to see what it’s like and see what happens and you know ten years later here I am, still going. So, most of what I know, I’m kind of an autodidact and a lot of folks who came into DH at sort of the same time I did are also autodidacts and we all sort of taught ourselves as we’ve gone along. That said my research is really centered on like media history and so the cat memes thing was sort of drawing off history of the book stuff from that I worked on in my dissertation and merging that with sort of new media studies. I don’t use a ton of what I would consider DH methods in my research. I am working on a text mining project right now but it’s sort of that sort of LIS focused where, where, JJ Pionke, our Health Sciences Librarian, and I are looking at 30 years of LIS literature from the passage of the Americans with Disability Act and looking at how the engagement with disability has evolved over the course of that period. So, we are working with text data and we’re doing some text data mining, I’m doing some qualitative analysis of research data management plans with some other folks that I’ve been with for years but in the end but in terms of my book history stuff, it’s more about sort of like Media Theory, Media Archaeology that informs that is informed by DH methods although the research, the main research method is actually pretty traditional book history kind of stuff so.

 

Mallory: Yeah that is interesting because I think that when you say you’re working with JJ especially it made me think that like DH is such an interdisciplinary field and it brings together you know, humanists and maybe other types of scientists and Humanities is in the title, obviously, Digital Humanities but does it limit to just the Humanities fields or do other fields bleed in? Or have you ever seen a project that kind of merged together to really contrasting fields trying to come together on a DH project?

 

Spencer: Yeah, so, the thing to remember about Digital Humanities is that none of these methods originated in the Humanities. You know, Text Data Mining has been around a long time. Computational Linguistics was a thing before I was born, even, so it’s not new. Corpus Analysis and things like that have been for a while and they were derived from collaborations between linguists and computer scientists. Sentiment Analysis came out of marketing research. You know, Digital Publishing has, you know, been around for a long time and that was mainly driven by marketing and digital content design in the computer science and other places.

So, what we’re doing with DH is sort of bringing those methodologies to bear on Humanities research questions. That said like most of, or many of my clients or patrons that I work with are not humanists. I get folks in Economic and Business and Education who are doing projects within their disciplines that are using Text Data Mining or Data Visualization or GIS and things within their disciplines and not necessarily with any sort of Humanities valance at all. So, in some ways like I’m afraid that for some folks seeing Humanities in my title could be a barrier to them coming to me for help but which is one reason why I think we rely on Scholarly Commons for referrals is because you say “This is your guy to get access to this text data” instead of having them just having to scroll through the library list and say like “Humanities? I’m not going to talk to Humanities guy.” You know, so it’s a… but at the same time Digital Scholarship Librarian is so broad its almost vacant of meaning.

So, there’s no good title. The most important thing is that we know how to find, that people know how to find the resources that they need and the coordination that the Scholarly Commons does, really helps with that regardless of what my title is. You know, my title could be Easter Bunny as long as you guys get me, get people to me when they need me, that’s the important thing.

Mallory: Yeah we can just change all the Librarians, too, because I feel like some people they do you get confused because as librarians we obviously know what we do as librarians but a lot of people don’t know how to use the libraries or the resources that we have, especially like I just ‘said, like at a large institution like this we’re lucky to have a DH librarian and a Copyright Librarian so like distinct in these fields it is true that people can get deterred from getting help or they just see that and they don’t know that you can help and that’s what’s great, again, about having this giant community we all know who to push people to. But I guess one of my final questions that I just want to leave this with is what inspires you about this field? Why do you, why do you continue to work in Digital Humanities?

 

Spencer: Because it’s a job and the job market is still terrible. Like first and foremost like this is a gig right this is a this is a thing that I do to pay my bills if you know it’s not necessarily germane to my primary research interests but it is intellectually stimulating I am always learning. I never stop learning and I think that’s super important just to keep like your brain fresh, right? So, but I think the thing that’s most inspiring to me about this field is how passionate and how devoted and how angry many of its practitioners are that they absolutely reject stagnancy and they absolutely reject bias and they absolutely demand inclusion and equity and accessibility and which means that the field is progressing.

It’s not stagnating the way I see some sort of traditional forms of scholarly communication and traditional forms of research doing. Where it’s just replicating the same ideas over and over again where you’re just doing the same thing that your dissertation advisor did, that their dissertation advisor did, that their dissertation advisor did. Digital Humanities is compelling people to step outside of those little buckets and the fact that we have some amazing people in the field like Miriam Posner and Thomas Padilla and Roopika Risam and Kathy Harris and Rebecca Frost Davis and Matt Gold, who are and Lauren Klein, who are pushing the field forward. You know, it’s like my heroes list there, Dorothy Kim, Alex Gil, Jackie Wernimont, you know it’s the people who are insisting that these other voices are heard and that these projects are used for the common good for social justice and for improving the world.

That’s what’s inspiring to me and then that’s going a range of things from Rebecca Frost Davis and Kathy Harris and Matt Gold and Jentery Sayers Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities Resources Toolkit that I helped curate an entry for, all the way up to like Alex Gil and his collaborators who did the Separados Project documenting the money trail of I.C.E facilities across the country. You know, that’s diversity that you find in Digital Humanities and that’s the pressure that it’s putting on the sort of stayed and conservative aspects of the academy as a whole but also the more conservatives elements in the Humanities and that’s what I think is cool about DH. That’s the stuff that I want to be involved in.

 

Mallory: Yeah, that’s very inspiring, at least for me and I think, from how I see it that DH is a very valuable way of demonstrating your research. It’s not just putting something online and saying “Hey, this is digital and it’s in the Humanities, this is Digital Humanities!” It really is, like you just said it’s really broad and progressive. Actually, this year, I don’t know if you know this, is the 10th Anniversary of the Scholarly Commons and Thomas Padilla is, we’re giving an event and he’s going to be speaking virtually at the event.

 

Spencer: I did know that actually.

 

Mallory: Yeah, yeah, it’s a big deal at the Scholarly Commons that we’re ten years old. That will be happening in October for all you listening.

 

Spencer: I wish Thomas was able to come though.

 

Mallory: Yeah.

 

Spencer: Doing this all social distance nonsense…I’m getting tired of it. I need some people.

 

Mallory: It’s hard. I’m getting very tired of it. My cats love it though. They really do.

 

Spencer: Yeah, mine is right above my desk in her little window hammock right now.

 

Mallory: Well, Spencer, thank you so much for talking with me today I really appreciated our conversation and I was really excited to talk to you on behalf of the Scholarly Commons, I’m sure everybody is interested in what you have to say but at the Scholarly Commons we do work with a lot of researchers for Digital Humanities and we work very closely with Spencer so for those of you listening if you’re interested please do visit us at the Main Library and this semester we’re live online so you can “Ask a Librarian” on our website and we love to chat so be sure to reach out. Spencer, thanks again.

 

Spencer: Thanks Mallory. Take Care.

 

Mallory: Thank you, everyone, for listening.

 

It Takes a Campus of the podcast brought to you by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Scholarly Commons located in the Main Library. If you want more from us be sure to check out our blog Commons Knowledge publish.illinois.edu/commonsknowledge and follow us on Twitter @ScholCommons. That’s S C H O L Commons. The opening and closing song is Tranquility Base by A.A. Alto. You can find their album Bright Colors in the Free Music Archive by searching for A A  Alto at freemusicarchive.org. Thanks for listening.

 

It Takes Sara Benson

It Takes Sara Benson

 
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Sara Benson’s Illinois Experts Profile

Have you ever thought about what really goes in to supporting digital scholarship? Well, some may say it takes a village, but here at the University of Illinois, it’s bigger than that. It takes a campus. The Scholarly Commons will be interviewing experts across campus about all the new and exciting things that are happening to support digital scholarship. We will sit down with a specialist to learn about what they do, how they do it, and why they got started working in their field. Hear what we mean when we say it takes a campus to do what we do.
In today’s episode we have Sara Benson, Copyright Librarian at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Main Library. She is interviewed by the previous graduate assistant of the Scholarly Commons, Billy Tringali who is now the Law Librarian for Outreach at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Here we go.
0:00:55
Billy:
Hello and welcome to the library experts podcast at the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign. I am Billy Tringali with the Scholarly Commons and I am here with Sara Benson, our Copyright Librarian. Sara, thank you so much for being on my podcast.
Sara:
Well, welcome to the wild and wooly world of podcasting.
Billy:
I’m very excited to be getting involved with it. This is going to be a very fun project. You have a podcast and I think that would be a cool thing to open with discussing.
0:01:25
Sara:
Sure. So, I have a podcast. It is called Copyright Chat. It’s a little hard to find on iTunes because when you search for it, if you write out the word ‘copyright’ you don’t find it. If you search my name, you will find it, or if you put the copyright symbol in there and then you put the copyright symbol ‘hat’. So, maybe my name was selected poorly but I like it.
Billy:
I like it a lot!
Sara:
Yeah and it—and on the podcast, I talk to a variety of experts on copyright. Most, a lot of them are copyright librarians but not all, and we just talk about current copyright issues and it is really, pretty fun, I think, and so, it’s not meant only for experts, it’s meant for lay audiences, as well, so I invite anyone who is interested to listen.
0:02:15
Billy:
And that leads very well into your field of expertise. You are the Copyright Librarian for the University. What does that mean? What does it mean to be a Copyright Librarian?
Sara:
That’s a really good question. I think it varies depending on the institution. So, some folks at their job are the copyright police.
Billy:
Oooh
Sara:
If they have to enforce copyright all over campus…
Billy:
Oh wow.
Sara:
…and knock on doors and be very unwelcomed. Luckily, that’s not my job.
Billy:
That’s great!
Sara:
My job is more of an advocate with, for instance, the U.S. Copyright Office. If there are changes that would help libraries and librarians, I will respond to Call for Comments.
Billy:
Wow
0:03:00
Sara:
I, also, do a lot of educating. So, I do guest lectures. I consider my podcast part of my education arm and I talk to pretty much anyone who will talk to me and that includes staff members, it includes book store staff who are making, say, copies for course packs, it includes people who are making MOOCs [Massive Open Online Course], it includes faculty, students, even community members, since our library is a public library…
Billy:
Yes
Sara:
…from a land grant institution. If I get a phone call from, say, a local artist about, you know, what are my rights and copyright, what should I do with this or that, I will send them to information. But the, one of the key things that I have to do in my job is to give people a disclaimer which is: I am a lawyer but I’m not your lawyer. So, I cannot give legal advice in my role as a librarian and I’ve actually had people offer to pay me…
Billy:
Wow
Sara:
…to give them legal advice and I just can’t do that for many reasons. One is that it would be a conflict of interest with my job.
Billy:
Yes
Sara:
Also, that’s not a role of a librarian, right?
Billy:
Right.
0:04:15
Sara:
Our role, in any arm of librarianship, is to help people find what they are looking for in terms of information but not do the research for people.
Billy:
Exactly.
Sara:
Yeah, so, you don’t come to the library and say, “Do this research for me.” You say, “Can you help me formulate this research?” or “Can you help me find this book?” or “I’m not sure where to begin,” and that’s the same kind of information that I give it’s just specific to copyright.
Billy:
And you were a lawyer before you were a librarian.
Sara:
Correct. So, I’ve had a long career. It started as a practicing attorney. I started at a big law firm in Dallas, Texas.
Billy:
Wow
Sara:
I was practicing commercial litigation defense for big corporations; I won’t name any of them right now and I did a—I found myself doing a lot of pro bono work which is free work for clients who can’t pay and a lot of family law, actually.
Billy:
Wow
Sara:
And so, I found myself really not motivated by making money and helping big corporations make money. I was more motivated by the heart of helping people.
Billy:
That’s wonderful.
0:05:15
Sara:
So, I decided big law wasn’t for me and I wanted to kind of change career paths and ultimately, I wanted to become a professor…
Billy:
Yes
Sara:
…because I really liked teaching but before I did that, I got my Master’s of Law and I joined a small boutique law firm in Austin, Texas while my husband finished his graduate degree and I was practicing domestic violence law.
Billy:
Wow
Sara:
So, I was helping women and children, mostly—we did have male clients, as well but mostly women and children—to escape very violent situations and it was really rewarding word but it was very stressful and so, I enjoyed doing that but I only did it for a short time…
Billy:
Yeah
Sara:
…for various reasons. One of which was that my husband graduated and we both went on the job market. We ended up here at University of Illinois and I was at the law school teaching mostly legal research and writing for ten years. I did teach a little of domestic violence and sexual orientation and the law…
Billy:
Wow
Sara:
…and contracts and a bunch of other things and then I decided to get my Master’s of Library Science degree.
Billy:
Hey!
0:06:32
Sara:
And right away, I went to Career Services and said, “Hey, what can I do with, you know, a law degree and an MLS degree?” and they said, “Oh well, you can be a Copyright Librarian” and my first response to that was that sounds horrible. I just thought I don’t want to do that because, you know, when you hear copyright you think I’m going to be looking at legalese all day.
Billy:
Right
Sara:
I’m going to be looking at contracts. I know a lot about contracts, don’t get me wrong. They’re not really fun.
Billy:
No, I can’t imagine they would be.
Sara:
They’re okay but they’re, you know, I didn’t want to shuffle paper all day.
Billy:
No
Sara:
And I thought that was the job of a Copyright Librarian.
Billy:
Right
Sara:
Because I didn’t know, and so, I thought, “Well, okay, I’ll give this, you know, the college try and I’ll take copyright law at the law school as part of my MLS degree.
Billy:
Wow
0:07:23
Sara:
So, I found myself in a law class with some of my former students…
Billy:
That’s crazy!
Sara:
…and with a professor, Professor Heald, who was my former colleague.
Billy:
Oh my gosh.
Sara:
So, I sat through that class and I found that it was really fun! Copyright law was fun! Who knew?
Billy:
Not me but that’s great!
Sara:
And it’s, you know, like all law, it’s full of stories but the stories involve things such as art, music, performance, dance…
Billy:
Wow
Sara:
…all these wonderful, interesting cases that are not boring at all.
Billy:
No
Sara:
I found it really exciting and really, really a challenging area of the law too because there’s a lot of uncertainty, especially in fair use, and I really found it challenging and fun and engaging and I decided, “Hey, copyright law is great, maybe I would like being a Copyright Librarian.”
Billy:
Yeah
0:08:18
Sara:
The truth of the matter is, I do. I really love it. I’m feeling really lucky that I found this field that is so dynamic that you really don’t know what you’re going to get on a daily basis. You can get a question about author’s rights and you can get a question about permissions, you can get a question about licensing, you can get a question about fair use. You can get a question about so many different things.
Billy:
Wow
Sara:
And so, it’s really fun and one of the most enjoyable things is—okay, so I’ll tell you the truth about being a lawyer:
Billy:
Yes, please.
Sara:
Most people don’t like lawyers. This is not shocking.
Billy:
No, I don’t think that is going to be a revelation but it’s fun to hear from a lawyer.
Sara:
No, there’s a lot of lawyers jokes out there and I think there may be a reason for that but, people are not usually happy to see a lawyer because a lawyer is usually there to say “No” or they’re there to say, “Pay me a lot of money.” But people do like librarians!
Billy:
They do!
0:09:17
Sara:
They find us helpful and they come to us when they are at their wit’s end and they just don’t know what else to do.
Billy:
Yeah
Sara:
And often, what we do is we help them. We show them a path forward and we provide them with much needed guidance at a time of need.
Billy:
Yes
Sara:
Right? So, when we provide them some clear guidance and direction, they’re usually quite thankful and it’s a wonderful feeling to be thanked because as a lawyer, you are not thanked. Where in my job, as a Copyright Librarian, it’s almost daily that I get a heartfelt thank you from a client or someone, a patron, and it’s really rewarding.
Billy:
That is wonderful.
Sara:
So, I really enjoy that aspect of it. I also, have a wonderful group of colleagues.
0:10:04
Billy:
Yes, I wanted to ask. Are you amongst several lawyers amongst your colleagues? What does it take to be a Copyright Librarian? Do you have to have a law degree?
Sara:
Those are good questions. So…
Billy:
I hope so.
Sara:
…when I talk about colleagues as Copyright Librarians, I’m talking about national and international Copyright Librarians. I’m the only Copyright Librarian at the University of Illinois and I’m the only one we’ve ever had…
Billy:
Wow
Sara:
…who’s full-time doing copyright librarianship.
Billy:
That’s incredible.
Sara:
The copyright librarians, they’re such a great group of people. Again, I think they’re driven by helping people.
Billy:
Yes
Sara:
And a lot of them are lawyers, but I will say this: there are some of us who don’t have a law degree at all, and you really don’t need one to do this job. What you need is you need to enjoy challenge because it’s not going to be easy.
Billy:
Oh boy!
0:10:52
Sara:
But if you’re up for a challenge and you really enjoy the challenge and you’re willing to put the time in to really learn the field, you really don’t need to be a lawyer and there are folks out there who are just as well versed in copyright librarianship and copyright law as I am who don’t have a J.D. I’m thinking of Eric Harbeson as a notable librarian. He’s a music librarian at Colorado-Boulder. He actually went to the iSchool.
Billy:
Hey!
Sara:
And he is a phenomenal librarian and knows he could argue me to the table about copyright law. Now, I’m not going to say he would necessarily, you know, prove me wrong or anything but we can go back and forth, and he can hold his own because he knows the law that well.
0:11:34
Billy:
Yeah. You’ve talked about what an amazing career this would be, but can you give us, sort of, a day in the life? Can you give us some of the questions you might receive as a Copyright Librarian?
Sara:
Sure. So, in a given day I might get questions from, for instance, someone who wants to put on a public performance of a musical work, maybe, a dance troop or music troop and they’re worried about the performance rights, and the same day there may be a student group that wants to show a film and they don’t know if they can do so without paying for public performance rights. Many of the films that we have streaming through the library, we do have public performance rights for.
Billy:
That’s great.
Sara:
But people don’t necessarily know that.
Billy:
No
Sara:
I might, also, have a professor who wants to make copies of a certain work and put them on their course reserve page and they’re not sure if they need to pay a licensing fee to do that.
Billy:
Right
Sara:
And then the same day, I might have a student who is working on an article and is thinking about publishing it and maybe they don’t understand what they need to do in order to do that. For instance, maybe someone is writing a dissertation and they plan to publish their dissertation as a whole but they also want to publish part of it as book chapters.
Billy:
Yeah
Sara:
So, they need to think carefully about that and reserving the right to use the chapters in their dissertation when they actually compile the whole thing or else, they might have to go back and ask for permission from each publisher.
Billy:
Wow
Sara:
So, there are many different issues.
Billy:
What a day!
Sara:
That would be a pretty busy day, but I’ve had busy days like that. But, I’m always happy to help them and they’re usually happy to get some sort of guidance.
0:13:22
Billy:
So, for lay people listening, like myself, what is the basic knowledge of copyright that you think we should have?
Sara:
That’s a good question. So, I think as librarians…
Billy:
Yes
Sara:
…I’m going to talk to the librarians here…
Billy:
Yes, hello, we’re listening!
Sara:
Yes, not general lay people because generally that would be different.
Billy:
Yes
Sara:
But I do think as librarians there are a few key things. The biggest thing I would say is to understand how copyright is formed.
Billy:
Yes
Sara:
Because today, we don’t have any formalities that are required. So, in other words, you don’t have to put a copyright symbol on your work.
Billy:
Wow
Sara:
You don’t have to file it with the Copyright Office, you don’t have to renew your registration. Those things—now, some of those things are helpful.
Billy:
Yeah
0:14:08
Sara:
The copyright symbol is helpful to put people on notice and it is helpful to register your work because if you don’t, you will forfeit statuary damages and you will not be able to sue anyone. So, there are prerequisites to suing people and getting certain damages, but you don’t have to put it on your work to have a copyright.
Billy:
Ahh
Sara:
And the other thing that I would say is really important is to understand fair use, which is very complicated but not so complicated that you can’t understand it.
Billy:
Good
0:14:37
Sara:
So, I think people should try to understand fair use. I think, they should look at Section 108…
Billy:
Hmm
Sara:
…those are the library exceptions that allow libraries to make, well, they allow library patrons to make copies on our copy machine.
Billy:
That’s very good!
Sara:
They allow us to engage in interlibrary loan, which is really important.
Billy:
That’s huge.
Sara:
They allow us to make copies for preservation and archival uses.
Billy:
Yeah
Sara:
And they tell us when we can make those copies available to patrons.
Billy:
Yeah
0:15:05
Sara:
So, those are things that, I think, are really important. Those sections and then the Right of First Sale, I think, is really important because that’s what allows us to lend books in the first place.
Billy:
Great
Sara:
Right? So, the first sale doctrine says that once I have sold a book then and you have bought it, you’re allowed to do whatever you want with it.
Billy:
Wow
Sara:
You can sell it to somebody else, you can give it to somebody else, you can put it in your free library in your backyard.
Billy:
Yeah
Sara:
Right? You can do whatever you want. That’s why libraries in the U.S. can lend books that in copyright. We bought them…
Billy:
Yeah
Sara:
…and then we can lend them.
Billy:
Wow
Sara:
Now we can’t…
Billy:
Is that not true everywhere?
0:14:46
Sara:
It’s not. Well, okay, it is true but what happens is there are things that are called Public Lending Rights that are employed in other nations and what happens there is that they have to then collect money to a general fund that then redistributed to authors.
Billy:
Wow
Sara:
And in the U.S., we do not have that. So, once a library buys a book, they can lend it as much as they want, that particular copy…
Billy:
Yes
Sara:
…not multiple copies…
Billy:
No
Sara:
…that particular copy without paying any other fees.
Billy:
Wow
Sara:
Whereas in other countries, such as Europe—you might have countries in Europe I should say. Saying Europe is a country is inaccurate, but in countries in Europe they would have to collect funds for the authors…
Billy:
Wow
Sara:
…for those lending and that sounds good on principle…
Billy:
It does but…
Sara:
…but it can be really tricky because how do you determine how much any given author gets. There has been—some people say those funds are not well spent or managed.
Billy:
Yeah
0:16:55
Sara:
And in general, I—it’s not as good for the public…
Billy:
No
Sara:
…because it’s harder for them to then get access to those books…
Billy:
Yeah
Sara:
…and it makes it more expensive for libraries to lend books.
Billy:
Yeah
Sara:
So, I’m very happy with the right of for sale.
Billy:
Yeah
Sara:
And the broad rights it gives us in the U.S. So, that’s another thing, I would say is important to know. I think, the face-to-face teaching is really helpful if you’re in an academic library…
Billy:
Definitely
Sara:
…or if you’re in a school library.
Billy:
Yeah
Sara:
The K-12 level, it’s really helpful to know that.
Billy:
And that falls under fair use?
0:17:33
Sara:
No, that—there’s a separate section. It’s Section 110-1 that gives you the right to perform or display any work in the context of face-to-face teaching which means in the classroom with students at a given time.
Billy:
That’s incredible.
Sara:
Yeah, so that’s how, for instance, if our library buys a copy of a movie…
Billy:
Yes
Sara:
…then a professor can show it in their classroom without having any other license…
Billy:
Yeah
Sara:
…or without having paid any other fee. Our copyright law in the U.S. is very friendly to educators, researchers…
Billy:
Yeah
Sara:
… the public, libraries. There are a lot of great things about our copyright laws. It’s a really nice balance between authors rights and the rights of the public.
0:18:25
Billy:
That’s fantastic. That’s very cool. Sara, thank you so much for being on this podcast. I really appreciate it.
Sara:
Well, thank you for having me. It was very enjoyable, and I encourage anyone who has additional questions for me to send me an email, look me up on the web. I am always happy to talk to people about copyright.
Billy:
Yes! And do you want to plug your podcast one more time at the end of this?
Sara:
Sure. So, you can find my podcast called Copyright Chat at iTunes and I’ve been told the easiest way is to search for my name Sara Benson with no H.
Billy:
Thank you, again.
0:19:07
It Takes a Campus is a podcast brought to you by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Scholarly Commons located in the Main Library. If you want more from us, be sure to check out our blog “Commons Knowledge” at publish.illinois.edu/commonsknowledge and follow us on Twitter at ScholCommons. That’s S C H O L Commons. The opening and closing song is “Tranquility Base” by A. A. Aalto. You can find their album “Bright Colors” in the free music archive by searching for A.A. Aalto at freemusicarchive.org.
Thanks for listening.

It Takes Harriett Green

It Takes Harriett Green

 
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Have you ever thought about what really goes into supporting digital scholarship? Well, some may say it takes a village but here at the University of Illinois, it’s bigger than that. It takes a campus. The Scholarly Commons will be interviewing experts across campus about all the new and exciting things that are happening to support digital scholarship. We will sit down with specialists to learn about what they do, how they do it, and why they got started working in their field. Hear what we mean when we say it takes a campus to do what we do.

 

On this episode we have Harriett Green as our guest. Harriett was previously Head of the Scholarly Communications and Publishing Unit and Scholarly Communications and Publishing Librarian at the University of Illinois. She now serves as the Associate University Librarian for the Digital Scholarship and Technology Services Division at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Harriett is interviewed by Billy Tringali. Billy is now the Law Librarian for Outreach at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Harriett and Billy discuss a few of resources available at Illinois and offer great insight into the field. Enjoy.

00:01:11
Billy:
So, hello and welcome to the Scholarly Commons podcast. I’m Billy Tringali and I am here with Harriett Green. Harriett, thank you so much for being on the show.
Harriett:
Thank you for having me.
Billy:
Of course, and you are the Head of Scholarly Communication and Publishing for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Harriett:
Yes, and Scholarly Communication and Publishing Librarian.
Billy:
That’s fantastic! What a title, that’s big.
Harriett:
Yes, there’s a lot of things in it.
Billy:
Yes, do you want to break it down?
00:01:37
Harriett:
Sure. So, as Head of Scholarly Communication and Publishing I’m the head of a unit. So, we have four full-time librarians, library professionals…
Billy:
Wow
Harriett:
… plus grad assistants. And we cover different areas of well, scholarly communication…
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
… and open access publishing. So, my particular expertise is in publishing, scholarly communication, especially for humanities and social sciences, and working with people as they try to use, working with researchers and students as they try to use different tools for sharing their research, doing their research work, and just engaging with their scholarship in different ways.
Billy:
That is fascinating.
Harriett:
Mhmm.
Billy:
That’s very cool.
Harriett:
Thank you.
00:02:19
Billy:
Yeah. So, what is scholarly communication? What is the field of scholarly communication because you mention so many things there and they all fall under this umbrella. How would you describe it?
Harriett:
I envision it as really an ecosystem…
Billy:
Oooh
Harriett:
…of all the ways that people are talking about their research, sharing it, learning, and traditionally scholarly communication has been journals, print monographs, print journals, kind of just the printed page…
Billy:
Yes
Harriett:
…across the disciplines really but we’ve really seen in the last few decades, couple decades especially, really in the sciences and then kind of rippling out to the social sciences and the humanities, people using leveraging, technologies, the internet to share their research in different ways so whether that’s blogs or podcasts such as this…
Billy:
Yeah!
Harriett:
…online pre-prints of their articles, all sorts of ways that people are sharing research data, that’s a huge part, as well.
Billy:
Yeah
00:03:15
Harriett:
So, there’s many different aspects of how people work with content, work with data, and share that data and communicate with each other about it.
Billy:
That’s amazing, that’s very cool. Hello, we’re engaging in scholarly communication as we speak.
Harriett:
Yes, we are. So, it’s a really rich field and there’s many many different areas that all kind of connect into it whether it’s copyright, open access…
Billy:
Wow
Harriett:
…there’s many others, I mean I can go on…
Billy:
Please do!
Harriett:
There’s quite a bit of, you know, really thinking through and as librarians how do we…we’ve always been involved in scholarly communication.
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
From, you know, from being the repository…
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
…of where all the things are held but now it’s not just being a repository but we have lots and lots of opportunities to work with students, to work with faculty, to work with all sorts of researchers as they’re seeking to use the research, so not just helping them find it but also working with them throughout their research life cycle.
Billy:
That’s amazing. So, making sure that they’re not just putting something out there that no one is ever going to see.
00:04:11
Harriett:
Right, right. There’s many different ways – using our own expertise as information managers and architects of building systems that disseminate information, really opening their eyes to what they can do beyond just printing your paper. What are all the other things that you can do to get people to know about your work.
Billy:
What are the other things that you can do?
Harriett:
Sure. In our unit, actually, we support a host of platforms that allow people to at least leverage digital tools to make use of their research for both monographs and journals. So, for journals, we support Open Journal Systems…
Billy:
Oooh
Harriett:
…which is an open source platform. It’s widely used around the world out of Simon Fraser University in British Colombia and the PKP project, the Public Knowledge Project, and that’s actually a great organization that we’re a member of, which builds these kinds of open communication platforms…
Billy:
That’s amazing.
Harriett:
…and so, we’re using both their open journal system platform to help people who want to do open access journals…
Billy:
Yeah
00:05:05
Harriett:
…we’re looking to pilot a couple journals and we already work with undergraduate research journals…
Billy:
Wow
Harriett:
…and those have been hosted in OJS for the past couple years and that’s an initiative led by Merinda Hensley…
Billy:
Yes
Harriett:
…in the Scholarly Commons and so that’s one platform then for journals.
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
And then for books or “books” in quotes, which can be a whole host of things, we support Omeka which allows people to do digital exhibitions.
Billy:
Wow
Harriett:
So, if you want to showcase images, audio, video, in an exhibition type platform; Scalar, which allows people to do nonlinear books.
Billy:
Wow
00:05:37
Harriett:
So, people can, again, interconnect all sorts of materials and their texts in different ways to really have a dynamic interactive publication; and then pressbooks which is looks like a pretty straightforward typeset PDF
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
But again, allows people to read a book online in a really clean format, like an E-book…
Billy:
Wow
Harriett:
…and then Commons in a Box and that’s a new platform developed at the City University of New York, CUNY.
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
And it’s actually kind of like social network for academics. So, you can mount this platform at Commons in a Box and then research groups can have their own discussion forums, their own WordPress sites…
Billy:
Wow
00:06:11
Harriett:
And so that’s kind of another aspect of Scholarly Communication, not just publishing but also how do you work together how do you collaborate, and how are you sharing your data, how are you sharing your documentation and can you see the research happening live? And so Commons in a Box and the CUNY Academic Commons is a great things that we’re going to try to start here at Illinois; allows research groups, student groups, faculty groups to engage in that way too.
Billy:
That’s huge, that’s amazing.
Harriett:
Yeah, so it’s going to be exciting
Billy:
And you mentioned all the way down to undergraduates…
Harriett:
Yes, yes there’s…so we’ve actually been, perhaps the most visible work has been undergraduates thus far…
Billy:
Wow
Harriett:
…with the research journals and then also in my earlier work, I’ve worked with undergraduates as they’ve built Omeka sites, as they’ve built Scalar sites for class projects.
Billy:
That is incredible.
00:06:58
Harriett:
So, and that’s something that’s interesting as faculty members and teachers are really looking to kind of break open the way that students are doing work, these platforms offer a way for students to really do some cool work but also engage…
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
…in what they’re researching and bring together say video clips of a movie and then doing, you know, a film analysis of that video clip.
Billy:
That’s incredible.
Harriett:
You know, or doing, one group I worked with did video blogs and they put their video blogs on the site and then they did their whole, basically kind of their paper, it was about youth activism…
Billy:
That’s so cool.
Harriett:
…and they did a blog about it so there’re all these things that students are really able to dive in.
Billy:
That’s amazing.
00:07:35
Harriett:
So, that’s just the tip of the iceberg…
Billy:
Oh wow!
Harriett:
…of things that are happening here at Illinois and then if you look across the country there are so many other things that people are doing, students and faculty are doing…
Billy:
Wow
Harriett:
…to do these kind of very dynamic interactive ways of showing their research.
Billy:
This is a huge field.
Harriett:
It is. There are areas that I probably have no time but like with copyright and with institutional repositories is the other aspect that we cover here.
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
So that’s in my department. It’s called IDEALS.
Billy:
Wow
Harriett:
And that allows people to post articles, post your poster, anything that you’ve produced, and you want it to be preserved in a long-term fashion, you can host in our institutional repository.
Billy:
Wow
Harriett:
And that’s actually the other piece that we’ve had for a long time, since almost ten years ago, ten years, I think now, of having an institutional repository where people can do open access publishing to a certain extent by putting your articles up there.
Billy:
That’s incredible.
00:08:29
Harriett:
And now we have a mandate on campus…
Billy:
Ooooh
Harriett:
…to strongly encourage faculty to make their work open access, so we had IDEALS and only in the last couple years have we had a mandate to really encourage people to do it.
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
But still very, very much a work in progress.
Billy:
Wow
Harriett:
So, that’s, those are kind of like the big elements of what we’ve been doing or what we have. So we have elements that have existed and now were really trying to build more coherent program…
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
…here at the library that really builds upon the great work that, you know, my predecessors and other librarians have done.
Billy:
And I think when people think of libraries, I don’t think they would often think of publishing or communication even.
Harriett:
No and I mean, there’s still a debate out there…
Billy:
Really?
Harriett:
…should libraries be involved in this kind of work? But we’re seeing and it’s still very new I’d say, it’s only in the last ten years that you’ve seen libraries doing publishing, building repositories, institutional repositories, and there’s been some pioneers: Like Michigan, University of Michigan has been doing this for a while.
Billy:
Wow
Harriett:
And I think University of Virginia has been doing quite a bit of work the last couple of decades, as well.
Billy:
Yeah
00:09:30
Harriett:
But on the whole, it’s all still very new. But we see that there’s this gray area where you have University Presses which is where faculty are trying to publish their books…
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
So, they can get tenure.
Billy:
Yes
Harriett:
And commercial publishers like Random House or Simon & Schuster, which is also another way people sometimes share scholarship.
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
But there’s a big gap in getting your book with the University Press or getting your article in the super, super prestigious journal…
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
…that takes two years to come out and all this work that’s going on constantly.
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
And so, people at the very minimum, we’ve seen both, you know, just here my own work and across the country, that faculty and students are looking for agile, quicker ways to share their work.
Billy:
Right
00:10:12
Harriett:
And so, it’s not just the super finished project that’s a book or a, you know, nice journal but also maybe work in progress. Maybe putting a preprint up there so people can see oh, here’s an early version of the article or getting the work out there with the audio or art images that you used.
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
And getting it up there a lot faster than again, waiting for that book with the flat images on there…
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
…three years down the road, so we see that there’s this whole world of scholarship that needs, wants to be shared.
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
In the digital age, we’re in now, you know, we expect things. You know, things are tweeted every millisecond.
Billy:
Exactly
Harriett:
People are blogging every day and when you compare that to, you know, the four years it takes to put out a book, especially in the humanities, it’s taken two years to get from a journal to, you know, submitting your article to even seeing it in print, that’s you know, there’s a whole realm of things that should be happening in between that space.
Billy:
Wow
00:11:07
Harriett:
And libraries have the agility. We have the infrastructure to really support digital publishing…
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
…and different ways of engaging in scholarship and faster ways.
Billy:
Yes, definitely.
Harriett:
And it’s evolving but it’s something we’re seeing a need for and I think its continuing. And there’s quite a bit of literature out there, as well.
Billy:
Oooh
Harriett:
A recent report from the Association of Research Libraries just put out a report about libraries and publishing in presses that I encourage people to read.
Billy:
Yeah
00:11:35
Harriett:
Billy:
Wow
Harriett:
And so that one’s got a lot of good data, really recent data on what’s happening, as well.
Billy:
Yeah, now, you’ve mentioned open access, the speed of publishing, and libraries role in that…
Harriett:
Mhmm
Billy:
What would you say is currently the biggest issues in the field of scholarly communication?
Harriett:
Well, in thinking about this, I might say, you know, there was a hole with open access…
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
The big thing was this very, activist, like, we’re going to make all the information free…
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
…it’s going to be out there, we have to liberate the information but now there’s nuances to that and we’re now realizing, you know, everything from concerns of different disciplines, you know, the way they work in terms of being able to expose patents or expose different types of data. How do we honor, you know, medical data…
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
…and HIPPA data that might be embedded in that.
Billy:
Yeah
00:12:25
Harriett:
And there’s ways around that, as well, but also thinking about, you know, indigenous cultures and you know, making information free…
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
…making open data free, well what are the cultural ramifications of that, as well?
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
If you’re dealing, especially in anthropology, sociology, some of the social sciences that are dealing with cultures and ethnicities…
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
…where you have to be context of where this data’s coming from.
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
How are we sharing this scholarship? So, I think as we’re grappling with that…
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
…and how to really both expose the broadest range of scholarship but also honor and really take into account the ethics of data, the ethics of cultures that we’re working with as we do our scholarship.
Billy:
Wow
00:13:01
Harriett:
And then, also, with impact. And as, I think, a struggle with this, as scholars, are engaging in new forms of scholarship. How do they show impact of their work?
Billy:
Yes
Harriett:
And it’s not, it can’t just be oh, you know, five people tweeted about my work. But, how do you convey that to a tenure committee?
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
And so there’s this tension of that we want to encourage scholars, encourage students to, you know, try new digital tools, try these new ways of publishing and sharing scholarship but at the same time how can we help them still advance in their own careers?
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
Or how can they…
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
…you know, still make, get tenure, still advance at the academy through these very traditional means.
Billy:
Right
00:13:41
Harriett:
So, I think the ways of working of the academy and the way scholarship is happening, there’s still a tension, there’s still, and you know, that’s something that we had to already confront, is, you know, as we try to, you know, bring people in to work with us.
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
Helping to work to address all their needs because this is real need alongside, you know, the equal, equally valid…
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
…pressing need to making information free is but, you know, what are all the contexts…
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
…how do we make sure that everybody can participate in this ecosystem…
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
…and still be able to meet the needs they have?
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
If that makes sense.
Billy:
It does! I love that description: ecosystem.
00:14:15
Harriett:
Mhmm, I mean, it’s more and more, it’s not just one thing or another, but there’s lots of players, there’s lots of parts and there’s no, and it really depends on the context you’re working in.
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
Us, at a Research University, is very different from, you know, the small liberal arts college, like Illinois College, down the road.
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
There’s too…there’s so many different factors that get involved.
Billy:
So within this ecosystem, I’m sure that we’ve talked about everything from undergraduates to graduates students to faculty to librarians, what should varieties of people know about this field? What should students know?
Harriett:
I think, it behooves students to be aware of where you’re getting information. There’s, you know, when you click on to download a journal article knowing, you know, what’s behind that, you know, the library paid $20,000…
Billy:
Right
00:15:05
Harriett:
…to get you that article to you or where’s that book coming from? If it’s coming from interlibrary loan realize there’s a whole system of people and money that’s behind that, getting that book to you and shipped to you and so I think both students and you know, even faculty, you know, being aware of where this information is coming from, it isn’t free.
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
There’s a lot of different infrastructure behind that…
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
…in both appreciating it but also, advocating for ways to make it more free.
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
So, when we talk about open access that requires on the part of the part of students and faculty being willing to make their scholarship open…
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
…so, that maybe librarians don’t have to pay as much and maybe your best friend who doesn’t go to a school that has as many resources as Illinois, they don’t have to beg you to send it but they rather…
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
…which we’re aware that happens, but rather everybody has equal access to the information.
Billy:
Right
00:15:52
Harriett:
So, that’s one thing I would say, is just students just being aware of where your research is coming from, where you’re getting information. And then, you know, ways that they can participate…
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
And then, you know, along those lines, like with educators especially faculty who publish…
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
…and researchers who publish, being aware of your author’s rights. That’s another issue.
Billy:
Wow
Harriett:
That’s a big issue in scholarly communication.
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
Yeah, that might go as one of the bigger issues in the field, as well, but making people aware of their copyrights.
Billy:
Yeah
00:16:19
Harriett:
And that, you know, all too many publishers when you sign the standard agreement you basically are like, “Oh here. Have my entire thing and you can do whatever you want with it,”
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
You don’t have to sign that.
Billy:
Oooh
Harriett:
You can just tell them, they just need, and as Sara [Benson] has told you…
Billy:
Yes, Sara’s been on the program.
Harriett:
…copyright is a bundle of rights.
Billy:
It is.
Harriett:
And she says that in much more expert details so I’ll let listeners listen to that episodes but its, you know, being discerning of how you give up your copyrights.
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
You know, what your scholarship is being used for, where is it going?
Billy:
Yeah
00:16:50
Harriett:
And just, you know, that’s a thing we’re really trying to do in my department is really educate researchers on their rights, what they can claim, what they should retain…
Billy:
Wow
Harriett:
…and how to really, you know, retain their scholarship and their intellectual property.
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
So, that’s something that I think all, everybody, anybody who wants to engage in scholarship should know.
Billy:
Definitely, know what you’re signing up for…
Harriett:
Right
Billy:
… when you get into that huge journal.
Harriett:
Exactly, exactly. And then also, as you’re creating stuff, you know, fair use. So, we have, especially, in education realm, you know, the ability to use pieces of music and art and literature.
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
…within our works as part of fair use.
Billy:
Right
00:17:32
Harriett:
And, you know, there’s many different bills through Congress, and the Mickey Mouse Act, that really are all about claiming copyright to the fullest extent.
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
When there are ways that we can use and remix works. So, this is no way any kind of advice.
Billy:
No
Harriett:
But, you know, people should be aware of fair use basically and don’t be afraid to employ it if you’re, you know, doing work and creating work.
Billy:
Yeah
00:17:55
Harriett:
Now, there are guidelines, there are parameters and there’s a great checklist on our website: the copyright guide for the fair use checklist. And that’s a really good way of, you know, ascertaining, you know, are you within the bounds of fair use.
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
So, there are guidelines, but, you know, don’t be afraid to use is, as well.
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
And so, I would say as students and creators and researchers.
Billy:
That’s fantastic
Harriett:
And then with librarians and information professionals, I think you know, nowadays, I think, every information professional really should know more about copyright and scholarly communications issues.
Billy:
Definitely
00:18:26
Harriett:
Because especially as were helping people, you know, whether, you’re in a special library with a, you know, working in a law firm or something, or you’re working the reference desk…
Billy:
Right
Harriett:
…people are coming to use more and more with these questions…
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
…of how, what can they use, how can they share their own work and there’s basic levels of education that I think everybody really needs to know especially if you work in the information profession.
Billy:
Yeah, and that we would all benefit from.
Harriett:
Yeah, yeah
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
And there’s more and more materials out there, you know the Creative Commons has a new curriculum coming out that they just got IMLS [The Institute of Museum and Library Services] funding for. That’s going to be a resource.
Billy:
Yeah
00:19:01
Harriett:
And then my unit, a couple people were doing the Library Publishing Curriculum which is another IMLS project and we’re participating in that, and that’s another way for people to learn more about all the ins and outs, as well.
Billy:
Wow
Harriett:
So, there’s more and more materials out there that people can self-educate, as well as, learn.
Billy:
Yeah
Harriett:
Yeah
Billy:
So there’s plenty of information.
Harriett:
Right
Billy:
There’s always a place to learn.
Harriett:
Right, always.
00:19:25
It Takes a Campus is a podcast brought to you by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Scholarly Commons, located in the Main Library. If you want more from us be sure to check out our blog, Commons Knowledge at publish.illinois.edu/commonsknowledge and follow us on Twitter at ScholCommons. That’s S C H O L Commons.

 

The opening and closing song is Tranquility Base by AAA Alto. You can find their album, “Bright Colors,” in the Free Music Archive by searching for A A A Alto at freemusicarchive.org.

 

Thanks for listening.

It Takes Dena Strong

It Takes Dena Strong

 
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[00:00:02]
Have you ever thought about what really goes into supporting digital scholarship? Well, some may say it takes a village, but here at the University of Illinois, it’s bigger than that. It takes a campus. The Scholarly Commons will be interviewing experts across campus about all the new and exciting things that are happening to support digital scholarship. We will sit down with specialists to learn about what they do, how they do it, and why they got started working in their field. Hear what we mean when we say it takes a campus to do what we do.
[00:00:38]
Billy Tringali:
Hello and welcome to the Scholarly Commons podcast. My name is Billy Tringali and I am here with Dena Strong. Dena, would you care to introduce yourself?
Dena Strong:
Sure, my name’s Dena Strong. I’m one of the Senior Information Design Specialists at Technology Services on campus and Technology Services is a little bit different than Tech Services which I believe is Technical Services, possibly, in the library context and so I’m often explaining to folks exactly where it is I report and who I talk to.
[00:01:06]
Billy:
Can you tell us a little bit about information design?
Dena:
Sure. At the University of Illinois, specifically, in Tech Services, information design is kind of a large umbrella. The history of where that title came from was that we used to be a group called User Experience Design and we had a lot of usability testing, we had accessibility, we had quality assessment, we had several other groups under that same umbrella, as well as, some developers and it was all sort of clustered around running the campus IT website and information like that.
Billy:
Yeah.
[00:01:44]
Dena:
And then they decided that rather than have that be one united group, they’d rather take our skill sets and embed us within other units.
Billy:
Wow.
Dena:
So, I’m part of Web and Collaborative Services and another one of the Senior Information Design Specialists is part of QAA and another one is a part of the Interface Development team. And so we’ve kind of gone from a centralized model to being more embedded with the folks we work with.
[00:02:07]
Billy:
That’s very cool. So, what is, currently, either here at the University Library or just in the field in general, what is happening in information design?
Dena:
Information design, in my world, it’s where you get people talking to computers, people talking to people, computers talking to computers, databases interchanging information, APIs exposing things to other systems that they aren’t necessarily connected to, accessibility, findability, reproducibility, adaptation, flexibility, transformation. It’s a pile of potential colors on a palette that you get to play with and mash up and paint all over the IT canvas.
[00:02:50]
Billy:
Wow! I love that. That’s very cool.
Dena:
Thank you.
Billy:
Would you care to go into greater detail about any of those? This is all, this is all very fascinating.
[00:03:00]
Dena:
Yeah, okay. So, the way that I got into being called an Information Design Specialist was that I’d started out as a technical writer. And so that looked at, specifically, the content layer but as time went by they were having fewer and fewer technical writers employed and I’m, and I was, you know, around the time of the last big drop in the economy when the state was not hiring people and laying people off and they were talking about cutting the benefit that allowed people to get their degrees if they were employees here and so I’d been debating whether or not I wanted to go back and get a master’s degree for a while and I’m like, okay, this is got to be the time to do it because if I can come out with a degree and without, like, thousands of dollars in debt, I need to do this thing now.
Billy:
Yeah, that’s pretty ideal!
[00:03:48]
Dena:
So, around 2012 I joined the Library and Information Science School here and I loved doing that. I really wish, though, that knowing what I know now, that I’d waited 3 more years because the degrees that they have now are the degrees I actually wanted to get. They just didn’t quite have them at the time. I felt like I had to jump it. But, like information management and user interaction, and things like that.
[00:04:11]
Billy:
Yeah. What is it a day in the life of an Information Design Specialist because you list so many different things and what kind of problems do you encounter, what do you, what do you deal with?
Dena:
Okay. So, I do a lot of one-on-one consulting with people who have technology problems or information connection problems. I do a lot of group consulting. Basically, if people are scratching their heads about how do we make this better for people, I am one of the people whose shoulders they tap on.
Billy:
Wow.
[00:04:43]
Dena:
I kind of like that role. Like, for example, some of the projects that I’m currently, simultaneously working on, there’s the Research IT Portal. They are designing that from scratch as sort of a, there’s a slice of campus wide technology catalog involved in there and so what I’m bringing to that part of that is I’ve got the usability background, I’ve got, I’ve worked on the Tech Services Service Catalog which we’re going to be doing that plus five more things with the Research IT Portal. And so I was the only person on the team who’d been part of that project so I am bringing that background in. I’m bringing in connections with researchers all over campus. So, one of my favorite parts about my job, one of the reasons I’m so happy to be where I am right now, is that they let me do things like be a partner four hours a week with the Research Data Service here at the library. So, I come over here and I find out what Research Data Service folks are doing. It started out a couple years back when they were first developing the Illinois Data Bank and I was looking for a practicum because I was just finishing up my library science degree and I really, really wanted to work with the RDS and so I knocked on the door and said, “Hi, here’s a bunch of things that I could potentially do for you” and Heidi said “Hmmm, we could use some usability testing on this thing,” and so that was what I did for them for the first semester and they found, they found me a useful person to have around.
[00:06:10]
Dena:
Because I can also bring in things, like, accessibility testing like, you know, Box, like updates. I think one of the things that I do that might be most helpful at the moment is just physically bridging the gap between Technology Services and the library team to bringing information back and forth, bringing culture back and forth, bringing updates on projects because you know there’s a lot of silos on this campus where, you know, but at the same time there’s an information firehose going on and so you’ve kind of got to, you’ve got to figure out how to get the right information to the right people at the right level.
Billy:
Yeah
[00:06:47]
Dena:
Another thing I find myself doing frequently is if I’ve been to meetings, if I’ve been to conferences, I will do different translated sets of notes for different groups of people so that I’m not wasting high ranked people’s time with too many details but I’m giving them to this is the snippet that I think you’re going to want to know this is the stuff that’s going to be important for you.
Billy:
Wow
[00:07:06]
Dena:
And so one of my previous jobs was in journalism, so I’ve kind of, I kind of lean on that to tune what it is people are wanting to hear to my understanding of where they’re at, what they’re working on, and what else is going on. And another slice of that, I’m also involved with, there’s a weekly thing called Caffeine Breaks. So, all the IT folks get together bring a beverage and talk about the topic of the week. Sometimes, like most recently, one of the big ones was the Spectre virus and well, I don’t know if it’s exactly a virus, it’s a flaw in the, the flaw in the way the chips are designed and so it’s really hard to get around and we’re really dependent on what the big chip manufacturers are going to provide and sometimes it doesn’t play well with Windows or Apple operating systems and so there is dueling patches going on between Intel and Windows and Mac and so having a weekly venue to make that, you know make those conversations better able to be had. I’m proud of being a part of that team and I’m also part of the IT Pro Forum team which is a larger about 250-
[00:08:09]
No, actually, last count was around 400 people, get together twice a year, hold, it’s, if you’ve heard Educause. It’s kind of like Educause for this specific campus for people in IT who wouldn’t ordinarily get the funding to go off to like Brazil or Alaska or Las Vegas or wherever the big conferences are being held. So, this is for us, by us, about what we need to know.
[00:08:34]
That’s another slice of information design in that I spend a lot of energy trying to figure out how… I kind of envy the Webmasters Conference team because they know that everybody is going to their conference is going to be a webmaster, is going to be related to the web. We’ve got the web folks but we’ve also got networking, security, infrastructure, cloud services like a whole broad spectrum of people and I want to make sure there’s something in every time slot that could be interesting to someone.
Billy:
Right
[00:09:04]
Dena:
I want to make it really worth their time. So that, I’ve been doing that for about ten years now.
Billy:
Wow
Dena:
And that keeps me connected with what’s going on campus. I guess, in a way, I’m, I’m sort of an information hub.
Billy:
Yes
Dena:
And I really like being an information hub.
[00:09:18]
Billy:
This seems like such a broad and diverse field, where you have to wear so many different hats. Does that get exhausting?
Dena:
Yes, but I love it.
Billy:
Oh! That’s very good!
[00:09:29]
Dena:
I’m also part of the Software Carpentry team, along with Elizabeth Wickes and Neal Davis.
Billy:
Can you tell us what that is?
Dena:
Software carpentry?
Billy:
Yes
[00:09:39]
Dena:
Okay, so, I found out about software carpentry because Elizabeth, who is now on the International Board of Directors, mentioned it at the Research Data Service. And the way she described it is it’s teaching researchers whose primary focus is something that is not computer science just enough computer science to do what they need to do more efficiently. And I loved that. I loved, I mean, I’ve tried so many times to take computer science programming classes. I know enough programming to speak intelligibly with programmers.
[00:10:11]
But I find, you know, tracking down that last missing semicolon physically painful. So, that’s why I like being on the design side of it and knowing enough to communicate design to implementation but then leaving someone who has the skill set and the tool set and the practice to do the actual implementation.
Billy:
Wow
Dena:
And so, for me, software carpentry gives other people the capacity to do that. It helps them learn to speak the languages of the people they’re going to be collaborating with, it gives them tools that are specifically designed to what it is that they’re needing to do. There are discipline specific versions, particularly, of the data carpentry side where they have like an ecology specific version and a GIS specific version, they have a library specific version and so you go in and you teach to the group of people that you are interacting with. I really want to do an IT Pro specific version, as well, because so many IT Pros have told me, you know, okay this one this this shell thing I could go in and teach that but GIT just is totally confusing or I’ve never experienced R and I’m working with the researchers working with R so I need a quick start way that doesn’t have five layers of prerequisites to go through the entire semester to learn this thing.
Billy:
Wow
[00:11:25]
Dena:
So, that’s, I’m hoping to spin up Software Carpentry LITE for IT Pros and 4-hour workshops, so traditional software carpentry has two whole days of workshop and so you’re going to have Bash, you’re going to have, you’re probably going to have GIT, and then you’re going to have something that is like either Python or R and some sort of data management, either the data cleaning or Sequel or OpenRefine or something like that.
Billy:
Wow
Dena:
But it’s really hard to get IT Pros two whole days of not doing anything else and they could be coming in already knowing Bash and Python and they may just need GIT or they may just need R.
Billy:
Right
[00:12:01]
Dena:
So I want to provide those chunks on a more regular basis adjusted from the research audience to the IT audience.
Billy:
That is amazing!
Dena:
Cool!
Billy:
This is so much of pairing people with technology.
Dena:
Yes, exactly.
Billy:
You are, you’re the bridge between these things.
Dena:
Yes that’s exactly what I want to be!
Billy:
So for those that are interested in information design, for those that are interested in, in hopefully, becoming bridges themselves, do you have any advice for students, for educators, for librarians, for patrons?
[00:12:39]
Dena:
Okay. I think my first piece of advice would be, be interested in everything.
Billy:
Yes!
Dena:
I have never met an art form I didn’t like, I’ve never met a book that I didn’t want, -okay I might have met a couple you know if they’re like particularly violent or something but yeah. The second piece is learn to listen. Because so much of what I do involves trying to, trying to get a better grasp on the real nature of the problem that people are encountering.
Billy:
Right
Dena:
One of the first things that they teach you and I found it over and over in my usability testing experience, is when you ask someone what they want in an interface, they will ask for the moon and the stars and everything but when you actually sit them down in front of the thing and watch them use it, it turns out that what they really need may or may not be something they could even articulate.
[00:13:40]
Billy:
Wow
Dena:
Because they’re just, they’re trying to click on a piece of the interface to get something to happen and you’re watching them click and click and click. One particular example is there was an interface I was helping to do usability testing on and there was a person’s name was up there in the corner from after they log in and Facebook and Google and a lot of places have trained you that you click on your name and you get to your profile.
Billy:
Yeah
Dena:
Well, they clicked on their name there was nothing there, there was only log out and people would log out of the system thinking that was the way to find the profile. And so nobody would have said that out loud but being able to sit there and watch them and, and understand the nature of their problem helps, helps get the system to be made so much better.
[00:14:21]
Billy:
Wow, that’s fantastic! So we’ve, we’ve talked a good amount about information design but let’s, let’s talk about Dena.
Dena:
Well, okay!
Billy:
How did you, you talked a little bit about coming into the iSchool, but how did you find yourself in in this position, how did you get to where you are as the bridge?
Dena:
So, I used to think that if I just tried hard enough I could learn all the things that I needed to learn in one lifetime. And then around a couple of years before I decided to go to library school, I’m like, I can’t, there’s too much information out there, the world is too big, it’s moving too fast, I cannot physically fit anything it into my head. So what I need to do instead is find out who knows the stuff and hang out with people who know the stuff and organize the stuff and make, make it findable because if you can’t find it, it may as well not exist. So that’s everything from how do you mend broken links to how do you track the history of database driven websites to…this is sort of a bit of a tangent but one of my final projects in library school was about what do you do if you’re an independent media creator, if you’re creating your own film and it takes you five to ten years to work on this film.
Billy:
Right
Dena:
But, in the meantime, your operating system has changed, your software has changed, your codecs have changed, the physical format of the drives that you’re working on have changed.
Billy:
Yeah
[00:15:46]
Dena:
I did interviews with several local media creators and I took that project to Kyoto this past fall.
Billy:
Wow, that’s amazing.
Dena:
I did like a three year follow up with the same people that I talked to three years earlier and the guesses that they’d made about what they would be doing in the future versus what they were actually doing was really significantly different to it.
Billy:
Wow
Dena:
So, one of the, one of the things that worries me the most about digital interaction, digital data is how very, very fragile all of this information that we’re generating is.
[00:16:19]
Billy:
Yeah
Dena:
I have an easier time finding information from the year 900 than I do my own undergraduate papers.
Billy:
Wow
Dena:
Because you know the media has decayed.
Billy:
Yeah
Dena:
The things that were on paper like, if you just did them in the junky printer with the dot matrix and stuff, they faded out. I’ve lost my own history from less than twenty years ago.
Billy:
Wow
Dena:
And I work with people who are working on like the Twentieth Anniversary Editions of translations that they’ve done.
Billy:
Yeah
Dena:
And they have to redo the entire project from scratch because none of the formats are compatible anymore.
Billy:
Wow
Dena:
So it’s a little bit terrifying.
Billy:
Yeah, definitely!
[00:17:04]
Dena:
I keep an eye towards digital preservation any time that I do a thing. And I mean there’s, there’s best practices and then there’s real world practices. I mean in my, in my, in my best practices world, I would not be using Google Docs as much as I do, I would not be using Box Notes as much as I do, I would not be tying myself into an entirely ethereal online system that is dependent upon the university’s maintenance of a financial contract in a situation where God knows what our financial state is going to be two years from now. But, in the real practical world it’s so much easier and so much faster and it’s accessible from any device, that I have a lot of Google Docs, a lot of Box Notes.
Billy:
Yeah
Dena:
And then if it’s really urgent to me sometimes I will take the time and convert it off to HTML and I don’t do that as much as I should.
Billy:
Right
Dena:
So, even being somebody who has the stuff in her head, you know, it is sort in the background, oh my God what about, what about you know the next, the next time we don’t have a budget what happens to our, our contracts then.
[00:18:13]
I know what the answers are but they’re not easy yet.
Billy:
Yeah
Dena:
And so, at the pace at which everything is moving, we need to make both, I mean, I also see that as an aspect of accessibility. So, I have a certification and it’s called IADP. It’s taught by Tim Offenstein, Keith Hays, Hadi Rangin and Marc Thompson, here on campus. It’s like one of the first certifications in accessibility related issues, I believe in the world. They’ve had 4 or 5 cohorts go through and what they focus on is how do you make information accessible to people with all sorts of different disabilities; visual, audio, tactile, intellectual, any sort of access issue but that also touches on mobile devices, like you know, the physical size of things.
Billy:
Yeah
Dena:
And that also, in my book, at least, touches on digital preservation in terms of how do you, how do you, if it’s, if you can no longer get hold of it, it is no longer accessible. Again, life at the intersections.
[00:19:19]
The things that you find at those corners are not easy problems to solve but I love the challenge.
Billy:
That’s fantastic. What do you see the next generation of information design? What do you see people getting into? What you see them exploring? What would you like to see them exploring?
Dena:
I want to see them exploring usability. I want interfaces to be completely, as close to completely transparent as you physically can get them.
Billy:
That’s very good. That’s very cool.
[00:19:49]
And I know you talked a little bit about this earlier but can we go through just, again, how you, how you found yourself in this, in this field?
[00:19:58]

 

Dena:
Okay. The story that I tell folks of how I ended up in Champaign was that I graduated from college and I was, I had a double major in English and Technical Theater. And so for a lot of people that was pre-McDonalds and so I was working five part-time jobs simultaneously, hoping for one of them to become permanent and I was talking to my writers group about, “Yikes how do you do this thing,” and one of the folks at my writer’s group said: “Hey, we need a technical writer.” I had no desire to do anything with computers which was really hilarious because here I am now like really, really happy as a computer person. If you had asked like just-graduated-from-college-me about the prospect of like making a life that was all about computers, I would have run screaming but I love it now.
Billy:
Wow
Dena:
Because what it’s capable of has caught up with what I needed it to be.
Billy:
Yeah
[00:20:57]
Dena:
I needed to not have to write HTML out of my head on the command line in VI but that’s where I started in 1993.
Billy:
Wow
Dena:
And now there is Dreamweaver, and now there’s drag and drop interfaces, and now there’s WordPress.
Billy:
Yeah
Dena:
And so I guess I just kind of grew up with the system.
[0:21:15]
And so after I was complaining with my writers group and they said, “Have you looked for a technical writer?” I came over, I worked for Argus Systems Group in Savoy right around the dot com back crash and so as they laid off half of the company and I was packing my boxes to walk out the door, another friend said “Hey they’ve got a technical writer job open at the U of I, go throw your resume at that,” like it literally closed the next day. So, I wrote my resume as fast as I possibly could and then I got hired on, at what was then, CCSO.
[00:22:49]
Billy:
Yeah
Dena:
And that’s the job that I’ve had ever since. But it’s, I’ve been redefining the role over the years from technical writer to database designer. I built the first wireless database because I knew that people needed to know where they could get wireless access before it was everywhere.
Billy:
Yeah
Dena:
So, I went to my boss with a proposal saying “Let me, let me make a database of this; let’s get the data from here, let’s get the data from there, let’s make it searchable, let’s make index-able.” And I mean I look back now at the interface for that and I go: “Oh, that hurts.” But, I can do so much better now but you know, in the meantime, there’s been Google Maps, there have been overlays, there’s been API access yet and so I did the best that I could at the time that it was there and now it’s so much easier. And I can see it continuing to get easier for people to do things for the sake of doing them not just because there’s code there to be wrangled, right?
[00:22:46]
I have a lot of friends for whom chasing down that missing semicolon is a massive motivator and they love it, they love the challenge and will love the debugging.
Billy:
Yeah
Dena:
And I just want to get this thing done.
I admired their dedication. I admire their passion. I wish I was wired like that, I’m not. But I speak enough of their language to make that bridge happen for other folks who are out there saying, “I have research, I have scads of data, I don’t know how to get the actual information I need out of it so where do we store it, how do we preserve it, how do we version control it, what do you do when…”– there’s actually a really interesting use case that came up with Amazon Web Services a few months ago. So, there were some scientists at Beckman doing, I believe it was MRI research and they were running a specific version of software analysis on it. And then someone upgraded a server.
[00:23:45]
A piece of software got patched and the analysis that got run after that upgrade were significantly off of the ones that were run before. And so, all the sudden that’s four months of work that are incompatible and they came to Tech Services saying: “Oh my god, what do we do?” And Tony Rimovsky who is the head of our cloud services effort says: “All right, let me crack my fingers. We got you on this.” He took the other version of the software, put it on Amazon Web Services in the cloud and let it scale to the point where they could run that four months of processing in, I believe, it was 3 days.
Billy:
Wow
Dena:
He spun it up, ran the stuff, shut it down, and on the whole, it saved a ton of money because it was not, they weren’t having to wait for four months for that stuff to render again.
Billy:
Right
Dena:
And so, I see, the world that I see in the future is one where you can do that not just for researchers but also for my video programmer friends.
Billy:
Yeah
[00:24:48]
Dena:
Because Nina Paley, “Sita Sings the Blues,” she’s a phenomenal artist and her working environment for that series is a MAC from earlier than 2010 because of compatibility issues with everything that is newer, so she like is constantly raiding Ebay for components for that old system.
Billy:
Wow
Dena:
She’s working on another one about the books, Book of Exodus, it’s also in Flash but if, for her paying jobs, she is working on a much newer system, that is not compatible with Flash, she can’t, she can’t run her old stuff on that new system.
Billy:
Yeah
Dena:
And so the world that I did not see in 2014 that I see today is the capacity to connect to Amazon and say beep clone this machine. Make it, make this exact machine with this exact license and this exact software, run in the cloud for me.
Billy:
Wow
Dena:
And then you have your Digital Preservation for, at least, the lifetime of Amazon. And I want this to happen so badly. I don’t know how to get there because Amazon Web Services, right now, is difficult for the non-IT specialist to use and there’s a lot of hurdles and a lot of jumps and even for folks who came through IT with you know, the individual machine world, the way that you think about things, the way you handle things in AWS is significantly different.
[00:25:07]
Billy:
Wow
Dena:
So, the first layer of usability transformation is getting it to the point where it is easy for IT folks to use. The second layer is getting it where it’s easy for everybody to use. We’re going to get there I just know how it’s going to take.
Billy:
Dena, that is amazing.
Dena:
Cool!
Billy:
That is very cool. Thank you so much for being on the program, I’ve had such a wonderful time speaking with you.
Dena:
Thank you so much for inviting me.
Billy:
Thank you so much for listening to the Scholarly Commons Podcast. We will see you next time.
 

[00:26:37]

 

It Takes a Campus is a podcast brought to you by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Scholarly Commons, located in the Main Library . If you want more from us be sure to check out our blog Commons Knowledge at publish.illinois.edu/commonsknowledge and follow us on Twitter at ScholCommons. That’s S C H O L Commons.

 

The opening and closing song is “Tranquility Base” by A.A. Aalto. You can find their album “Bright Colors” in the free music archive by searching for “A. A. Aalto” at freemusicarchive.org.

 

In this episode we had Billy Tringali speaking with Dena Strong from Technology Services. Billy is now the Law Librarian for Outreach at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.