#Beprexit and then what?

I expected the news that Elsevier had acquired Bepress to raise a larger kerfuffle in libraryland than it did. Certainly the people who tweeted or posted or emailed about it were deeply alarmed, if sometimes a little hazy about the actual implications. (No, this did not mean that journals on Bepress platforms had become Elsevier journals. Bepress repositories were not going to be forced to put up paywalls.)

But there wasn’t as much alarmed reaction as I thought there might be, given the depth of dislike and distrust of Elsevier in many pockets of libraryland.  Angst reigned for two days and that was about it for social media.  I’m sure the outrage was shared by many who didn’t chime in, but in this age of easy likes and retweets, I expected more.

There was another two day flurry a month later when the librarians at UPenn announced Operation Beprexit, their very cleverly named intention to leave Bepress for parts unknown. They're calling for librarian and research colleagues to join them on the journey to an infrastructure of open source, academia led, noncommercial solutions.  They’re taking a measured approach, setting up a committee to examine campus needs and open source options.  Nothing hasty.  I’m sure many in libraryland will be watching their progress with interest, but again there was rather less social media chatter than I expected. 

If I were a Bepress customer, I’d’ve greeted the news of the acquisition with cautious optimism. It’s always wise to approach mergers and changes of ownership cautiously. Even when they’re well thought out and well-designed, there can be bumps in the road and sometimes outright disasters. But when one looks at how Elsevier has handled the Mendeley and SSRN acquisitions, there’s plenty of cause for optimism. The Elsevier leadership obviously doesn’t want to do anything to damage those aspects of the acquired companies that have made them successful. They want to keep the teams in place, keep them moving in the same strategic directions.  At the same time, there’s an opportunity to more closely integrate them with other products in the portfolio. Most significantly, what Elsevier can provide is cash – they can reach into those deep pockets for development investments that would be out of reach of those small, if agile and creative companies on their own. Barring some stupid moves on the part of various managers and executives involved (always a possibility — no matter who the owner is), Bepress should continue to grow into an even more useful partner for librarians and their institutions than it has already proven itself to be.

But... but... but… Elsevier!

Yes, well, like it or not (and, for the record I do not) we live in a capitalist world where it is the for profit companies that have the resources, talent and organizational skills to build the tools that can be used to implement the kinds of workflows and analytics that librarians and researchers want.  Elsevier has done a very good job of positioning itself to be a major player in this space.  And despite its reputation, Elsevier has also done more than most organizations in providing immediate unfettered access to the Version of Record.  This is utterly unsatisfactory to those who want commercial companies out of scholarly communication altogether, but you can’t really argue that Elsevier is anti-OA.  They’re just not supportive of OA approaches that might put them out of business.  Go figure.

Librarians (the vocal OA partisan librarians, that is) complain that Elsevier’s interests and the interests of librarians are irrevocably at odds. All the company cares about is profit, they say, while librarians are focused on maximizing access. It’s a caricature caused, at least in part I suppose, by the fact that most librarians’ only exposure to people from Elsevier comes when trying to negotiate a license.  In that narrow transaction, the specific interests in getting the best deal certainly do have the two sides at odds. But viewing a company like Elsevier through that narrow lens is as myopic as publishers who see librarians as nothing but purchasers of content and are oblivious to everything else that we do. Companies stay in business only when they align themselves in supporting the interests of their customers. And most of the people in publishing that I know are in that business because they believe that the work they do has real social value and that the better they get at developing systems and services that address the real needs of their customers the more successful they'll be, the more successful their customers will be, and the better off society will be in general.

While some librarians’ angst is driven by an irrational hatred and fear of Elsevier, at least some see this as the time to take a stand against corporate dominance of the tools of scholarly communication.  A scholarly communication ecosystem managed entirely within the academy, with no need or room for commercial players, dedicated to no cost sharing of the products of research globally, remains the holy grail for many librarians who’ve dedicated their work lives to scholarly communication issues.  Many of them thought the OA movement would weaken the commercial publishers.  They look at Elsevier's continued strength with considerable alarm.  For some, the Bepress acquisition was the last straw.  Now’s the time to take a stand.

I’m sympathetic to the idealism underlying this.  I think it would be good, in the long run, for librarians and researchers to have more control over how the ecosystem develops.  So I wish the librarians at UPenn the very best.  I’m glad they’re taking a deliberate approach to looking at the options.

Still, I remain deeply skeptical of efforts to create an entirely separate ecosystem without engaging the people in commercial publishing.  These are talented and committed people with a wealth of knowledge about how scholarly communication systems actually work.  It’s the people who work in publishing who understand what it takes to develop and deliver high quality, well-vetted publications.  They understand the needs and desires of authors and readers, the challenges of developing useful peer review systems, the technical opportunities for moving beyond text, the minutiae of checking for error and fraud.  Certainly they have their blind spots, but that's why all of the other stakeholders need to be tightly engaged.  We count on the others to help us past our own blind spots.

The challenges society faces in opening access to scholarly information are vast.  They are technical, political, social and cultural.  The players include researchers, teachers, students, librarians, funders, members of the public, university administrators, people in publishing companies large and small, commercial and not-for-profit.  We all see the problems and solutions a little differently.  We all have unique insights.  We all have our own interests to protect, while we try to pursue the greater good.  We will continue to argue and fight and disagree as we struggle our way towards solutions.  That's okay.  That's what it takes.  


Making History

"The permanent arrival of Europeans to the Americas was a transformative event that undeniably and fundamentally changed the course of human history and set the stage for the development of our great Nation."  You could be forgiven for assuming this is Richard Spencer talking during his brief Charlottesville 3.0 demonstration.  It's not, but it undoubtedly cheered him and his companions when they read it in President Trump's Columbus Day proclamation.

Here's what Spencer did say on Saturday:  "We care about our heritage, we care about who we are, not just as Virginians, not just as Southerners, but as white people. ... You'll have to get used to us... We're going to come back again and again and again."  They sang "I Wish I Was in Dixie."  They chanted, "You will not replace us," and "The South will rise again," and "Russia is our friend."

In his Charlottesville Statement, posted back in August, Spencer says,“'European' refers to a core stock—Celtic, Germanic, Hellenic, Latin, Nordic, and Slavic—from which related cultures and a shared civilization sprang." For the White Nationalists, this is the true and only foundation of the United States.  It's the perceived erosion of that primary culture into a multiracial, multiethnic, egalitarian society that does not privilege any group over another that they find so threatening.  The Declaration of Independence proclaimed that all men are created equal, and the tortuous history of our country has been the struggle to figure out how to extend that promise to all people.   This the alt-right can't abide.  When Trump proclaims that the permanent arrival of Europeans was the transformative event that led to the development of the United States, he is explicitly telling them that he stands with them.

In Indianapolis on Sunday, other postures were taken.  Many of the 49ers took a knee, of course.  VP Pence, knowing that would be the case, told the press detail not to bother coming in to the stadium.  He knew he wouldn't be there long.  The Colts wore shirts that read, "We will stand for equality, justice, unity, respect, dialogue, opportunity."  Pence walked out, making it clear where he stands.  It was a great weekend for the alt-right.

History is made from our choices.  How we choose to view the past, how we choose to act in the present.  Where, and with whom, we choose to stand.  What we choose to stand for.  

 


The Violence of Ideas

Donald Trump isn't a racist.  Not in any conventional sense.  He's far too narcissistic, self-centered and opportunistic for that.  While the current crop of white nationalists proclaim loyalty to some mythical idea of whiteness, a tribal affiliation with an imaginary west European identity, Trump's only loyalty is to himself.  Hardly a white supremacist, he's a Trump supremacist.  He loves those who support him, belittles those who oppose him or are insufficiently loyal.  He surrounds himself with rich, white men because those are the people he knows.  He has no racial or tribal loyalty.  His sympathies lie with the white supremacists, not because he shares their dream of an ethnically pure state, but because their vision of the individuals who should be running things embodies how he sees himself.  His recklessness and lack of any ideology make him all the more dangerous.

His most recent comments, calling out the "bad dudes on the other side" highlights how he supports and empowers the alt-right.  By focusing on violent acts committed by people on "both sides" and then making bland statements saying that he opposes "hatred, bigotry and racism in all forms" he sidesteps any specific criticism or condemnation of the people and organizations leading the alt-right charge, while also giving comfort to those who claim that Black Lives Matter supporters (among others) are engaged in hatred, bigotry and racism.

The murder and beatings that occurred in Charlottesville are horrible.  But focusing on the violence deftly turns attention away from the ideas.  What should be even more shocking is that a mob of people bearing torches marched in support of the profoundly un-American idea that power in this country should be held only by those who exemplify a particular vision of white nationalism and who explicitly reject the principles of equality that the nation was founded on.

There's no acceptable justification for the violence perpetrated under the Antifa banner.  It is wrong morally and it is self-defeating tactically.  But I recognize that those who are willing to engage in it do so because they feel that the threat posed to American values by the alt-right is so severe that drastic action is justified.  They believe that the attempt to spread those ideas is an act of violence itself and that it must be prevented by any means necessary.  I believe they're right about the seriousness of the threat, but wrong about the tactics that can be used to oppose it.  But focusing on the violence, without examining the ideas behind it, risks equating their ideas with the ideas of those who are explicitly seeking to destroy an America that is built on the principle that every person has equal value.  This should be repugnant to every American patriot.

If the people who came to participate in the Unite the Right march had been as mild as lambs their presence should have horrified Americans just as much.  Spencer's manifesto, "The Charlottesville Statement," was written specifically to crystallize and advertise the views of the alt-right in advance of the march.   It is explicitly racist, explicitly anti-Semitic.  It proclaims the existential necessity of defining the state along racial and ethnic lines.  The people who came to march were not there to debate what we should do about statues celebrating Confederate war heroes.  They were there as part of a movement that seeks the end of a country built on democratic values.

How best to govern a nation founded on the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution has been the substance of political debate since the beginning.  The ideas of the alt-right are not part of that debate.  They are an explicit rejection of those principles and a rejection of the two and a half centuries that the nation has struggled to live up to them.  They are fundamentally anti-American.

But Trump's focus on the violence and the "bad dudes" implies that these ideas are just as worthy of consideration as any others.  After all, he says they are held by "some very fine people."  That the President of the United States can't find it in himself to fiercely and unequivocally reject and condemn those ideas is profoundly terrifying.  I don't think it's because he shares that ideology.  They just give him the adulation that he craves.

Donald Trump isn't a racist.  It's much worse than that.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Metadata 2020: Calling On Everybody

I wonder when I first heard the word.  I suppose I understood “metadata” as a fancy term for the cataloging I’d learned in library school, or the indexing I’d done at NLM.  A trendy, computer-y word for a very old concept.  Here I’d been “applying metadata” for all of my professional life and hadn’t even known it! 

These days you can’t take a step and a half in the world of scholarly communication without tripping over the word.  And there’s another word I see cropping up more frequently.  Metaphorically, we speak of that world of scholarly communication as an "ecosystem".  Where scientific knowledge once existed in discrete bits and the scutwork of scientific research was laboriously unearthing the connections between them in order to establish frameworks and platforms on which to build new discoveries, we now see an interconnected system of articles and data and loosely defined “research outputs.”  Or at least we see the potential for such a system.  Its infrastructure is metadata. 

The Metadata 2020 initiative is a crucial step in moving the community from the metaphorical image of what an ecosystem might be to a vibrant, effective, usable and efficient system of interconnection.  I use the word “community” advisedly, because the critical foundational insight of Metadata 2020 is that progress and realization will require a broad community effort.  As a librarian, I may think of metadata as derived from traditional tools for describing books & articles.  But a publisher sees it differently.  A data scientist has their own approach and sensibility.  The people working for funding agencies have their unique angle.  We all have different priorities regarding which flavor of metadata we think is most important.

As Ginny Hendricks points out, each of the groups that cares about metadata has approached it in their own way, developing approaches to solutions that meet their own needs.  Great progress has been made, but as long as we continue in this piecemeal fractured fashion we'll fall short of the interconnected vision we all should share.

The goal of Metadata 2020 is to bring these various approaches into closer alignment, to foster the necessary conversations and collaborations.   You can sign up here to receive occasional news and updates.  You have an important role to play.

Imagine a world in which you can move from reference to reference, object to object, gathering new insights, discovering new connections and new collaborators, revealing unanticipated patterns, all without running into the roadblocks and blind alleys and rabbit holes that waste our time and deliver frustration.  If you've bothered to read this far, you know how important this is.  And you almost certainly have expertise to contribute. Make it happen.

 

 

 


Grateful to young black men

Funny things, stereotypes.  You have a few encounters with people and decide they typify everybody who shares their characteristics.  So you make quick judgments about people you've never met.  If the stereotypes get deep enough under your skin, and you meet people who don't match them, you decide that they must just be exceptions.

When Lynn and I travel by car, as we did recently on our two week trip to Wisconsin and back, we stop every couple of hours for gas, or a sandwich, or a restroom break.  And there I'll be, unfolding Guido, my 3-wheeled walker, from the back of the car, struggling my way to the door of the gas station or rest stop or McDonald's (McDonald's being my default because the restroom is always in the same place and there's usually a handicapped parking place near the door nearest to it.)

People are generally lovely.  I can manage most doors myself, but often there will be someone who'll notice and hold one open for me.  And most consistently, that someone will be a young black man.  It's so consistent, in fact, that as I'm making my way toward the building, if there's a black dude coming up behind me, or about to exit the place, I feel myself relax a bit, because I'm sure he'll get the door.  Certainly, many of the other people who might be around are likely to help.  But I don't count on them the way I've come to count on the black guys.  

I have a theory about this.  If you know that your skin color and your sex strike a visceral fear in a large segment of the population, and that because of that fear they see you as a threat, and that because of that threat you are a target and are vulnerable, you pay attention to everyone around you.  You're exceptionally alert, because your life might depend on it.  You got the talk from your Mom or your Dad or your grandmother or the uncle who took you under his wing.  You don't make a big deal of it.  Much of the time maybe you don't even think about it.  It's not a conscious thing, it's just part of how you carry yourself.  So you're going to notice the old white dude with the black hat and the scraggly white beard struggling his way toward the door.  It takes less than half a second to see that you're probably safe from him and because you were raised right, of course you're going to wait and hold the door.  Maybe you're even going to pick up your step to get past him to get to the door first.  You probably won't make eye contact, you don't really think about it.  It's just the right thing to do.  When he looks at you and grins and says thank you, maybe you'll give him a quick nod.

I certainly don't mean to minimize the extraordinary kindness and helpfulness of so many people that we run into.  My affliction offers me wondrous opportunities daily to marvel at the generosity of people.  But the fact remains that for many people I'm invisible.  They're not unkind or neglectful when they let the door swing back at me or when they push past me in a way that almost knocks me down.  They'd be chagrined if they noticed.  But they don't need to notice.  

I'm never invisible to the black guys.  I'm grateful for that.  But I know it's because they can't afford the risk.

 


Putting Things Together

Then I remembered the ginger ale.

I was just about to put the cabbage in.  I had plenty of butter in the pan and the pancetta had rendered out its fat, but I still needed some braising liquid.  We're out of the frozen cubes of stock that Lynn makes when we've finished a rotisserie chicken or I would've used a couple of those.  I was about to give up and grab the vermouth when I gave the carrots and onions and garlic and pancetta one more stir.  The carrots' orange was bright and glistening in the butter and fat and I remembered the carrots braised in butter and ginger ale that I'd fixed some months ago.  Happy boy, now.  That's it.  Hint of ginger and a touch of sweet.  Lynn keeps a rack of soda cans there near the kitchen door.  Splash some in.  Ten minutes covered, then a minute more for the last of the liquid to cook off.  Finished with a few dashes of sherry vinegar.  

The plan had evolved during the day.  There's quite a bit in the refrigerator to work with and now that I'm taking on another meal each week I was mulling menus.  Three-quarters of a head of cabbage in the lower drawer.  That'd be easy with a bit of onion.  I asked Lynn if she'd get a kielbasa out of the freezer.  I could steam chunks of that in with the cabbage and onion.

Then, after I'd gone upstairs and was doing the morning exercising, I thought of the pancetta.  I'd been musing about an amatriciana or a carbonara later in the week, but the pancetta would go well with the cabbage.  I finished my stretches and sent a text to Lynn -- leave the kielbasa, I'll use up the pancetta.  Later on decided that garlic was now in order and that carrots would add some color and heft.  I was still making it up all the way to the moment I remembered the ginger ale.

This is my favorite way of working in the kitchen.  No recipe.  No measuring.  A notion of a plan.  I'll browse recipes online for ideas (that's where the sherry vinegar came from).  Then I'll try to turn myself loose.

It comes from being decades in the kitchen.  Some good cookbooks that teach technique and not just following recipes.  (Thank you, Jack Bishop.)  Paying close attention when we're out to eat at the way our favorite chefs find balance in the unusual.  (Praises to Duane Nutter.)  

And then there's the competition with Lynn.

In the years before the short circuit, when I was responsible for getting supper on every weeknight, I loved the chopping and combining and stirring.  It was so wonderfully concrete after another day spent planning and cajoling and nudging and trying to help the people I worked with accomplish things.  I was good at that and it was marvelously rewarding but there was rarely a sense of accomplishment that felt like completion.  Opening the wine and putting the plates on the table gave me that.

Then the years when I was incapable.  Dragging myself exhausted after working through the day, hands enfeebled, not able to stand for more than a few minutes at a time.  Lynn had to take on all the daily cooking.  It was years before I was able to do more than the very occasional special meal or my pasta lunch on Saturdays.  The Christmas spaghetti.  Josie helping me with potato pancakes.

Slowly it came back.  Truly, the competition with Lynn helped.  She expanded her repertoire, continued to hone her skills, increase her knowledge (thanks in no small part to her "beloved Kenji") and emphasize appearance as much as flavor and balance.  I'd always relished the fact that we were equal partners in the kitchen, albeit with very different styles.  Now I was clearly falling behind.

A meal like last night's, the pleasure that came from fixing it and eating it, reassures me.  I don't think I'll ever be her equal in presentation.  I just don't have that visual sense.  But I'm back to doing my share.


What Comes Next

"Are you moving?"

It's a common question when I tell people I'm retiring from UAB this fall.

I explain that we moved into Lynn's dreamhouse 17 years ago, that it's stuffed with artwork and books, perched up above a pretty little lake with swans and great blue herons, that Marian and Josie live just 20 minutes away, and that for all of our state's flaws, we're very happy in Alabama.  Plus, Lynn just installed a touch-action faucet in the kitchen.  She's quite giddy about it.

So no, we're not moving.

"What are you going to do?"

That's the other obvious question.  I point out that I'm retiring from UAB, but not from the rest of my life.  I'm still on the editorial boards of several journals and I enjoy that quite a bit.  I'll be able to spend more time on OSI.  There's the steering committee for Metadata 2020, a project that I think is very important.  I'll keep pushing for open data and a more open, affordable and transparent scholarly communication ecosystem.  I'm not going to go looking for consulting gigs, but if some interesting projects came my way, I'd certainly be open to them.

I hope to do more writing, both professional and personal, starting with posting on the blog more often.  And see what else develops.

I'll gradually increase my daily exercising.  I'm very consistently doing 25-30 minutes a day of stretching and leg strengthening and it makes a tremendous difference.  I'd like to increase that to an hour.  My goal is to walk with confidence for two to three blocks using only the walking stick for support.  That won't happen soon, but there's no reason to think I can't get there eventually.  "Neuroplasticity."  My favorite word.

I'll have more time for guitar and harmonica.  I can awkwardly strum my way through Helpless and Bird On A Wire now, although I wouldn't want to do it in public.  That's another goal.

I'll pick up making dinner another night each week (I do two nights a week now) and I'll take over most of the kitchen cleanup.  I still don't have enough touch sensitivity and hand dexterity to trust myself with the good glassware, but I can handle the rest and it's a chore that Lynn really hates.

All that being said, having watched a good number of my friends retire in the past few years the one constant seems to be that the reality is different from whatever it is they thought it would be.  So I have plans -- I don't want to wake up one morning wondering, what now?  But I'm not going to hold myself too tightly to any of them.

Except that I did promise Lynn about the dishes.

 


This Is Me

Invited to contribute a piece to the latest issue of Against the Grain, I wrote a short essay on The Insufficiency of Facts.  I'm reasonably pleased with it.  There's also this brief author profile -- one of those where you supply answers to prefab questions.  It was fun.  And the answers turned out to be true!

Born and lived: Born in the little paper mill town of Kaukauna, Wisconsin and lived there until college.  Then other towns in Wisconsin, on to Washington DC and St. Louis before landing in Birmingham over 20 years ago.

Early life: A precocious and reckless reader, writer from an early age, guitar player, philosophy student, poet and long-haired denizen of the counter culture.  Factory worker and forklift driver until libraries got their hooks in me.

Professional career and activities: Post-grad associate at the National Library of Medicine, medical library director in St. Louis & Birmingham, now data strategist.  Editor, essayist, itinerant speaker.  Dweller in the nexus where library interests and publisher interests intersect.  Open access heretic who believes there’s more for librarians and publishers to agree on than to fight about – if we’re willing to listen.

Family: Lynn, Marian & Josie – the three generations of women who illuminate my life.

In my spare time: A persistent and reckless reader, writer in the early morning, guitar & harmonica player, student of philosophy & poems, bald & bearded iconoclast.

Favorite books: Joyce’s Ulysses, all of Herriman’s Krazy Kat comix, anything/everything by Jim Harrison, Rainer Rilke, Seamus Heaney. After that my list would change every week.

Pet peeves: People so sure of themselves that they think they have nothing to learn from people who disagree with them.

Most memorable career achievement: Report and Recommendations From The Scholarly Publishing Roundtable.

Goal I hope to achieve in five years:  I am remarkably bad at five year goals.

How/where do I see the industry in five years:  A fool’s game, but since you insist:  The major developments of significance will be happening at the edges of contemporary library and publishing organizations.  They’ll have to do with slowly emerging standards for handling open data, a shift in repository focus from copies of peer reviewed articles to other scholarly outputs, a general shift within the academy toward evaluation of scholarly output that doesn’t rely primarily on peer reviewed articles, and increasingly robust discovery tools for identifying info resources of interest regardless of format and location.  The people working in contemporary library and publishing organizations will struggle to adapt to these changes.  Some few will manage to get out in front.


You Work For Us Now

Poor Donald.  If he's going to feel compelled to tweet his annoyance every time someone reminds him that he's going to be held to account for fulfilling his pledge to be president of all the people, he's going to have very busy little thumbs.

The message from the Hamilton cast to the VP elect was perfectly respectful and entirely appropriate.  The show itself is a stirring evocation of the wonder  that is the American experiment -- that people from all backgrounds, from all over the world, can come together and create a nation, create community based on an idea -- freedom of thought and belief, based on mutual caring and respect.  As Jon Stewart said in his recent CBS interview, this ain't natural.  It goes against our tribal instincts.  It's hard work.  And it's work that never ends.  But it's the work that keeps America great.

I spent some time this afternoon watching Sharon Jones videos.  Amidst the messages of people mourning her loss, I wanted to be reminded of how intensely alive she was. Watch her in Paris, taking the crowd through the Soul Train dances.  A slim figure in an orange hoodie sneaks out from the wings with a guitar.  Prince couldn't stay away.

I keep a picture of Bowie on my desk, one of those last promo shots of him, taken just weeks before he died, jaunty in his fedora, brilliant grin on his face.  The pictures were released on his birthday.  Of course he knew what he was facing.  If he  could grin like that, so can we.

Face it.  We all die.  Nobody's figured out how to avoid it.  What counts is the joy and creation with which we live.  The ways in which we reach out and care for each other.  Our artists do it the most directly, but it's in our grasp every day, in every human encounter.  That's what keeps us going, even though we know we're going into the dark.

Brandon Dixon told the audience to stop booing before he read the statement.  "There's nothing to boo here. ... We're all here sharing a story of love..."  He knows that love wins.  Even when it's not easy.  Maybe especially when it's not easy.

The President-elect and the crew he's gathering around him don't understand that.  They think that strength comes from being hard.  That greatness comes from smashing your enemies.  And that your enemies are those who disagree with you, who will remind you of the depth of the responsibilities that you've taken on.

Poor Donald.  Sad to be so disconnected from the joy and passion that makes life worth living, that defeats death, in the end.  He's in for a rough four years.  He needs to be reminded every day that he's taken on a sacred trust.  That he's going to be held to account.  It can be done respectfully, as the Hamilton cast did.  But it will be done relentlessly.  He's not going to like it.  But he's working for us now.


Data and the Librarians

It was the launch of the first publicly available bibliographic database, the very beginning of online search.  And it led some librarians to think it was time to leave the profession.

In her monthly column in the MLA News, the sage Lucretia McClure points us to Irwin Pizer's 1994 Doe Lecture where he describes the launch of the SUNY Biomedical Communication Network in 1968.  I've always been quite proud of the fact that online searching was invented by medical librarians.  Without Irwin Pizer (and others) there'd've been no Sergey Brin.

While it's true that online searching was scary enough to drive some librarians into early retirement, others (as Lucretia says) "could not wait to dive into the automation revolution."  By the time I entered the profession a decade and a half later, online searching was shifting from being a specialized skill to a basic proficiency that all librarians were expected to have.  Then came the World Wide Web and librarians who based their sense of their professional selves on their competence in searching the Dialog databases or MEDLINE felt the ground lurch beneath them once again.  I believe there may have been a few more early retirements.

But of course there were more librarians who were excited about it all.  And I noticed to my delight, as the decade of the nineties wound on, that at conferences it was easy to see more new graduates of library schools eager to make their mark in the online world.  Librarians knew how to surf the web.  Librarians were cool.  Pizer's BCN was ancient history.

It was timely for me to be reminded of this this morning as I'm getting ready to review a couple of data management books: Lisa Federer's edited collection, The Medical Library Association Guide to Data Management For Librarians and Margaret Henderson's Data Management: A Practical Guide for Librarians.  The shift into developing data management services that we're seeing in academic libraries across the country promises to be at least as radical and disruptive as the invention of online searching fifty years ago.

I'm sure there are some librarians who are watching "big data" conversations taking over conferences and discussion lists and thinking this may be a good time to get out.  But the webinar I attended this morning,"Creating a Campus-wide Research Data Services Committee: The Good, The Bad, and The…" makes it clear that just as in those earlier upheavals, there are smart and energetic librarians eager to take it on. (This was part one -- part two is Thursday morning, 11/17).

But it's a huge undertaking and while there are many reasons that it makes sense for librarians to take on these roles, few practicing librarians have the day-to-day skills that are necessary.  There's a huge learning curve.  And this morning's presentations make clear how very far we have yet to go.

Those earlier revolutions, online database searching and navigating the World Wide Web, applied technology to the traditional domain of the reference librarian.  They vastly expanded the information resources available, with a concomitant increase in the challenge of acquiring mastery, but it was still fundamentally the librarian in the library, working with students and faculty, helping them find and use the information resources they required.

The challenges of data management might seem similar, calling on the skills of the cataloger and indexer to provide metadata and context for datasets.  But the shift is more radical.  It requires a new kind of partnership between the librarian and the researcher and new forms of organization and collaboration between the library and the other components of the institution.  What is apparent from this morning's presentations and is a theme that runs through most of what I see as librarians work to develop data management services, is how isolated librarians typically are from understanding the range of work and activity that makes up the days of the average faculty researcher.  It's not really surprising.  Although librarians work with people from all across campus, our interactions with them usually touch only a very small part of their daily activity.  And because we are so focused on providing a particular library service to them, we can miss their bigger picture.  This myopia affects the development of data management services.  The natural tendency, because this is the way we've always operated, is to define and develop a set of services that we think researchers need, and then try to figure out how to get them to use those services.

I touched on this in my recent essay in JeSLIB.  As I've been thinking about the challenges of data management over the past two years I've had two significant advantages for developing what I've come to believe is a necessary perspective.  First, I'm operating out of the Provost's Office rather than the library.  This is incredibly useful in keeping me focused on what researchers need, rather than what the library can provide.  Second, I come to this after nineteen years as director of the health sciences library, where I operated as a member of the Council of Deans, part of the senior leadership of the university.  I know the people, I know the issues, I know the politics.  In too many libraries, the primary responsibility for developing data management services has been turned over to a mid-level librarian who usually has other responsibilities as well.  But to have the kind of impact that is necessary, these services have to be collaborations with the Research office, Offices of Sponsored Programs, research centers, IT and others.  Mid-level librarians generally don't even know what all these entities are, much less who are the people in them and what challenges they face.  Doing that kind of outreach is going to require that the senior people in the library do some of the heavy lifting, opening doors and clearing the way for those smart and energetic data librarians that they're hiring and training.

Fifteen years ago it was common to see ads for electronic resources librarians.  I'd look at these ads and tell my staff, if we're not all becoming electronic resources librarians to some degree, we're not doing the job that our communities need us to do.  I feel the same way about data management librarians.  Just as online database searching and WWW navigation became bread and butter services for libraries, helping the institution do a better job of managing research data will become just a regular thing that librarians do.

For now, though, those pioneering librarians are like Pizer's crew at SUNY, half a century ago, inventing the future without a map, with only a sketch of a plan, but with great enthusiasm and, as Pizer said, thinking back on his career, "a sense of wonder."  What a fabulous time to be a librarian!