Thoughts from #IDCC14 – Learning new tricks after grad school.

One thing that stuck with me from IDCC14 was the issue of training and continuing education for digital curation for people out of school. Mid career, early career, established career professionals could benefit from continuing education in the field.

There was a session at the conference that focused on improving SLIS curricula to prepare new grads to be equipped for the future. Some bullet points I took away from the panel:

  • Comparing CS and LIS grads – CS degress are more in demand (read: jobs) than LIS. LIS programs continue to produce more degrees than jobs.
  • LIS grads want more programming, change management, and engagement with scientific communities.
  • There is work to be done wrt keeping skills up-to-date, and drawing distinctions and roles within jobs.
  • Who should we be attracting to data curation? Most STEM grads want to be researchers, not curators.

My main takeaway from the session was the implicit mindset that for most people already out of grad school the ship had sailed and we’re a lost cause. Well, not all of us. Some already had the background (STEM, programming, tech) or were curious and self-motivated enough to develop the skills. Everybody else, they were out of luck.

Then today I saw this tweet from @LibSkrat:


It addresses the same problem from a different angle. We need change and new skills? Let’s just hire out of that problem. In some situations, such as natural attrition through retirements, this is happening. But what about the rest of us? Do we have to go back to school?

That’s one option, especially with certificate programs popping up at several SLIS programs. For those with the money and time, this could be a good investment. For people who can’t fully commit yet, there are MOOCs, which is also good. I think ultimately there will need to be many approaches to fit the different needs of the group.

Ultimately though, it’s the attitude that these skills must be formally taught and developed in school is disappointing. It lets people off the hook for their own professional development by implying they can’t do it informally. It’s a cop out in a way. I can easily see a colleague shrugging their shoulders, “I can’t do digital curation because I didn’t learn about that in school.” And while there is some work being done to educate current professionals on how to translate their skills to this new area, as long as there is the attitude of “we can hire for innovation, ” we’re going to hold ourselves back. Is this what happened when library automation stormed on the scene? I really hope not.

While we do need to revamp SLIS curricula to meet the changing needs of the workforce, we also need to encourage, support (with time and money), and promote learning within our profession. Of course, there are some people who push back, and I think it’s appropriate to call them out on their abdication of professional development. This means we need opportunities to grow, so let’s get on it.

(This isn’t even touching the false assumption that all new SLIS grads are tech geniuses who want to hack everything.)

Taxonomies for the masses: Is it really that easy?

000_2028.JPG, originally uploaded by Yake.

Today was the last day of the 2011 TRB Annual Meeting, which means my 7 day stretch of nothing but conferences is over. Praise be!

One topic that kept coming up over and over again was the need for more controlled vocabularies in transportation. I couldn’t tell if they were doing it because I, one of a handful of librarians at the meeting, was in the room or if they really wanted their own controlled vocabulary, but it all gave me hope.

But then it got to the group with people trying to reinvent the wheel, and tell us what should be done, because clearly the librarians and information managers have no idea how to do it. OK. That’s not entirely accurate. Really, I think these engineers and other folks think it’s easy. I mean, we make it seem easy, but they don’t see the work that goes into the vocabularies. I see a future where every program in every agency has its own vocabulary, with its own terms, and it will be an integration and retrieval nightmare.

This means we need to get out and educate people. Let them know the benefits of controlled vocabularies (and standard metadata), but also that you need to take some thought and care before plowing ahead. So it’s outreach and a discussion. Why do they want these thesauri? (Other than the obvious fact that thesauri rock.)

So there’s opportunity, and I think the road ahead will end up being good, but man we need to get out there and articulate what we can do, and then do it.

Long live indexing! You still need to to find stuff.

Music music, originally uploaded by angela marlaud.

This is a picture of the library at KALX. It’s my work away from work. Seriously. See that collection? It’s all alphabetized, and that’s it. Finding stuff is easy if you know we have it and what it’s called, thanks to an army of volunteers who spend hours every month shelf-reading. (Seriously, thank you!) The problem is discovery… we’re really bad on that, but alas… we have other things to worry about now… like running out of space. Don’t worry, we’re on it.

But think about what if my real work organized its collection like this… that would be horrible. How would anybody find anything? Luck? Memorization? Google? This is sort of how sometimes I think Google Scholar or article databases might work. It’s all just a big drive of loosely organized stuff waiting for you to ask for it specifically or to be stumbled upon. There’s a lot of “luck” and you might stub your toe.

For a while it seems libraries have been kicking around the idea that indexing is dying. The future will be the semantic web and indexers will be out of a job. Artificial intelligence will handle that or you won’t need it because you can search the full text. The future is going to be rad! (For more about the future of libraries, read Rochelle Mazar’s awesome post about it.) As an indexer and searcher, it makes me worried. Is indexing pointless? Well… bad indexing is, but that’s another story. (Some of the worst indexing I’ve seen has to come from machines, if it’s from people… yikes!)

Well, I had a moment a few weeks back that restored my faith in indexing. A student came in with a fairly straight forward question. They needed an engineering equation to analyze. No specific equation, just an equation from an engineering analysis that they could then discuss one of the variables. How do you find that? Scour engineering analyses? No need. We have mathematical models. That one term saved the day for all of the students working on this project, and it’s not really something I think our current or proposed methods for automatic indexing could easily pick up. Score one for the carbon filter. Keep on indexing.

Building a tiny taxonomy: Getting back to my IA roots.

This morning I decided to buckle down and dig into my website redesign project. The main hurdle this week has been getting the taxonomy designed so that content can be filtered and organized by it. I discussed my taxonomy tales a bit before, but now let me tell you where I am. That picture up top is the white board of my first iteration. I went through and marked out the priority subject areas we’re cataloguing. That is a pretty good indicator of the focus of our collection and thus our services. I had sort of hoped that I could use the TRB taxonomy, but when I tried to it was just unwieldy and not really appropriate to our needs. We really only deal with a slice of transportation, and I felt like we needed to also stay relatively superficial. I’m roughly organizing website, books, and journals. I’m not indexing things for TRIS with the TRT.

Our subject areas are:

  • Aviation operations/Airports
  • Bicycles/Pedestrians
  • Energy/Alternative fuels/Fuel cells
  • Finance and economics/Policy
  • Infrastructure
  • Intelligent transportation systems
  • Logistics
  • Pavements
  • Public transportation
  • Sustainability/TOD
  • Traffic engineering
  • Traffic safety/Public health

So then I tried to break out subtopics and see if maybe the heading topics could be refined. Taking it out to this illustrates how several of the subject areas are closely linked related to one another. It gets a little messy, but that makes sense when you have things like “Sustainability” which is still loosely defined. Safety is a huge issue for all the modes, and it’s something we see interest in from just about everybody.

So now that my whiteboard is full, I decided to try and make a diagram of the subjects on the computer.

This shows the sort of network relationship with the ideas. The next step is to plunk this into Drupal and see how it works. Hopefully it won’t be too messy, but who knows. I also need to make sure the terminology is sound, which of course it will depend on who I talk to and will vary from desk to desk. Oh well…

When this is done I’ll start worrying about formats.

Organize anything with a controlled vocabulary – or why I’m obsessed with taxonomies.

As I alluded to in another post, I’m working on a taxonomy for transportation websites. Why? I’m trying to redesign my library’s website, we’re moving to Drupal, and all my ideas and fantasies hinge on content being aggregated by thematic types. It’s magical, really. OK, not really, but lots of website do it and it eases browsing. It’s definitely one thing I love about the web. Not sure what I’m talking about? Check out Amazon, or Zappos, or even Craigslist. They’re all browsable by some sort of hierarchal structure – the taxonomy.

Anyhow… so I want to use a taxonomy to organize the content of our new site so that we don’t have to worry about that during content creation. If I blog about transit oriented development resources, by golly, you will find it in planning and transit (and maybe TOD?), all because I tagged it with the terms in the taxonomy.

Of course, life would be easy if we could just plug in the Transportation Research Thesaurus and use that. I tried. The TRT broke Drupal. It’s massive with something around 10,000, which for the purpose of organizing a website is excessive. As much as I love the TRT, and I really do (seriously, just ask me about it and I will start frothing at the mouth, going on and on for hours about it), it’s really been designed and maintained as a tool for indexing transportation research for databases like TRIS. (I also love TRIS, if you didn’t know.) Indexing articles for a database is very different than indexing content for a website. TRIS, due to its volume and scope, needs something fairly precise. If you want to find articles about “transit oriented development,” you can! But for a website, I don’t see people looking for that level of specificity, I mean, TRIS can handle that. Think about it like looking for stuff in a record store. I may really only be interested in a handful of punk bands, but I know they won’t have a section for be to browse that “Lookout Records” or “DIY Punk related to Plan-It X”. I’ll look under “punk” and it will suffice.

So since the TRT is too big, I thought I would just pare it down. Cut out the über specific stuff and focus on terms that I would actually need for our site. Well, looking at the broad facets, it was clear that’d be nearly impossible. I would probably end up spending more time figuring out what to keep and what to hack than if I started from scratch, so I am. I will be using the same terms when possible, but with a different hierarchy. (Really, I think the hierarchy gets in the way of the TRT, but that’s a whole other story.) I’m still sketching stuff out, but that’s the plan.

Well, actually the plan is once it’s done, use it to build our new site and then also release the XML file for the world to use. I bet other transportation organizations could benefit from this sort of thing, and wouldn’t be be nice if we didn’t keep reinventing the wheel. (TRT, why can’t you just work? Why?)

If anybody already has an existing taxonomy like this, please let me know! I want to use it! Otherwise, stay tuned.