DH 2017 Talk: Libraries & Digital Research
This is the slightly-edited-for-print talk and slides presented by Zoe Borovsky, Dawn Childress, and Claudia Horning at the DH 2017 conference in Montréal.
[Slide 2] Digital Research Start-Up Partnerships (DResSUP) is a framework for engaging researchers with the library during the inception through the active stages of the digital research life-cycle (planning, collecting & curating, cleaning & refining, analyzing & visualizing, and sharing). We (5 library staff) have, over the last two years, operated on a shoestring budget. Our University Librarian provides about $5k so we can hire a graduate student assistant. We put out an annual call for proposals to graduate students in the humanities and social sciences; students apply and we accept 5 or 6 projects. Over a 6-week period, we work with these students to “incubate” their projects. During the first 3 weeks, we tailor workshops to their interests. During the final 3 weeks, we meet with them in groups and individually to focus on specific aspects of their research projects.
Of course, students love DResSUP. What surprised us the most was the enthusiasm of our library colleagues as they learned about the program and the projects. Building upon that curiosity and enthusiasm, we recently added a librarian cohort to the DResSUP program (DResSUP for Librarians) during the 2017 Spring quarter that prepares our participant librarians for an immersive experience in the Summer. (Claudia will talk more about this)
[Slide 3] Here’s an example of the type of projects we undertake: Nina was Urban Planning grad student, working on her dissertation, she had collected 3 months of Twitter data related to street harassment; she was using Atlas TI and, during her coding process, had lost sight of the big picture; We showed her how to export the data out of Atlas TI and provided her with alternative ways of visualizing and analyzing her data. She was able to finish her dissertation much more quickly than her advisors had expected. Now she is a lecturer at CalState Long Beach; she comes back to lecture at UCLA and talk with students in the DResSUP program. Another student, at the beginning of her master’s program in Sociology, was able to use her work to obtain 3 years of NSF funding.
[Slide 4] With the principles of minimal computing and minimal design in mind, we embrace a philosophy of “minimalism’ - especially where it helps to keep us nimble and sustainable. We aim to keep the program small in scale, but portable, modular, extensible, and reproducible. We are often asked, “But how do you plan to scale it up so that you can teach all the things to all the people?!” The answer is, “We don’t!” Our intention is keep the program small and self-selecting, with a focus on reproducibility, not on scaling up. Our lessons are modular and we are building toward a framework where these modules can be assembled as needed into a tailor-made curricula.
Following this “minimal” & “modular” approach allows us to move away from the generic, one size fits all workshop and instead offer a more tailored experience that embraces the “boutique.” We are creating a growing curriculum that is ready to cover all manner of digital scholarship needs (from project planning and management to collecting, cleaning, and analyzing data), then we flex to fit each DResSUP cohort’s needs. For example, we might focus more or less on web scraping over getting data out of licensed databases during the collection phase if needed. This year, several researchers have projects involving oral histories, so we invited the head of our Center for Oral History Research to offer a session dedicated to conducting and working with oral histories in research.
[Slide 5] DResSUP takes a partnership approach to incubating digital research projects, rather than a fellowship model. Participating graduate students are not paid and they bring their own projects to the program. In this model, there is the expectation that participants put in the work they need to define and complete a portion of their own research project. When we say “partnerships”, we don’t mean that we are acting as partners on their research projects - rather it is a learning and teaching partnership. Graduate students and librarians set the agenda together and the participants have the opportunity to share their own knowledge and skills with the group. This strategy is targeted to and works well with graduate students. Within the UCLA community, there is a noticeable gap in these types of services so the grad students are eager and motivated participants.
[Slide 6] DResSUP emphasizes process over product or tools. We encourage participants to focus on generating prototypes using data sets curated to the participants’ research question. In this way, we are teaching research as process – a framework that can be generalized and adapted to other research areas including grant writing, non-digital research methods, and professional activities.
[Slide 7] One of the primary goals of the program is to build community and communities of practice around digital research at UCLA. To this end, DResSUP provides graduate students with a cohort with which they can share and discuss their work. The graduate students that participate also give back and contribute to the community by returning to teach or guest lecture for the next cohort of graduate students. They also take what they know into their departments and academic communities, thereby serving as vectors who spread knowledge about digital research practices and library expertise to faculty, fellow students, and other peers. Likewise, librarians who join the DResSUP team will they take what they’ve learned and give back to the community by offering workshops, consultations, and bring their new expertise into the units they serve. In this way, we are growing the library’s capacity while also growing the community itself.
[Slide 8] DResSUP is a high-touch/quality over quantity project - relatively equal number of librarians to grad students benefits of this approach:
each partnership is a detailed case study of researcher needs that we wouldn’t have otherwise Even better, it helps us see the edges of our own capacity too; it’s a self-assessing process. Which brings us to DResSUP4Librarians - as we talked with our colleagues about this approach, they expressed interest in participating This led us to develop a separate training program that starts with librarian partners, who spend their Spring learning about digital research tools and methodologies. This new cohort of librarians then intersects with the Summer graduate program Our new librarian partners spend part of their summer mentoring grad students (while also continuing their own learning & research) - ideally pairing a subject librarian with a grad student in one of the departments they serve, or who is doing similar research & analysis The process is designed to give librarians a window into the active phases of research. To learn what researchers are doing with the data and what the implications are for how libraries support research?
[Slide 9] Oftentimes, the ethos of librarianship presents it as a service model, and we want to challenge that, or at least add to that. We’re looking to enrich the profession, and give librarians good reasons to participate. It’s a quality experience over quantity (for example, of student consultations, etc.): DResSUP is professional development for both our core team and our partner librarians.
Also helps Library by building capacity to meet researcher needs: As Dawn mentioned, researchers are our partners rather than fellows; they’re learning alongside us –
It provides a valuable, visible learning environment for library staff who want to skill up: build their own capacity and expertise, and hone new skills in a team-based environment. Immersing librarians in research at the analytical phase, and familiarizing them with the tools researchers are using (or which we can recommend) – tools which are also useful in librarian’s own research. This way, librarians are active throughout the research cycle, not just in resource discovery and publishing. Sending librarians to existing training programs, such as boot camps or intensive Summer institutes, for these skills doesn’t necessarily build these team-based, collaborative, active partnerships, engaging with researchers in ways librarians may not be currently, and giving them the opportunity to specialize in new areas: pedagogy, for example.
[Slide 10] We called this presentation “sharing the incubator” because we developed DResSUP as a local, sustainable model for UCLA library staff to engage with researchers at an early stage of their careers. In addition to incubating graduate student projects, we are incubating an infrastructure that demonstrates to our colleagues how, (although we all work in separate departments) we can work together as a team across library departments. Our next step will be to develop a research assistant training program that we can offer during the academic year–we’re pleased that UCLA’s Vice Chancellor of Research has provided funding in support of this effort.
DResSUP challenges library staff to:
- Move beyond one-shot instruction sessions and workshops, engaging, actively, as a team, in all phases of the research process.
- Rethink divisions of library staff into units that are (or are not) designated as public service by providing ways for a broader range of library staff to engage with researchers
- Build community gradually (and organically) while assessing capacity/demands amongst our colleagues and constituencies
- View the library as a collection of expert consultants who guide the research process as users and user communities assemble and analyze research collections or build upon/utilize the library collections