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Settling In At The Edge of Chaos

The New Job

"Effective September 8, I'll be Director of Digital Data Curation Strategies reporting to the office of the Provost."  I've started sending this announcement around to the discussion lists, alerting the far-flung professional network to my change in circumstance.

There's been a nice assortment of congratulations and well-wishes.  But what has surprised me have been the comments from people who assume that this means they won't see me at the usual library conferences anymore.  What?  I'm still a medical librarian.  I'm still a member of MLA & SCMLA & MCMLA & ALHeLA.  I won't be representing UAB at the AAHSL meetings anymore, it's true, but I'll continue to go to the other conferences.  And given the increasing importance of data curation at research institutions I expect to be more involved with the work of some of my librarian colleagues rather than less.

Lynn reminds me that she went through a similar thing 25 years ago when she left UAB to work for EBSCO.  She had to work very hard to get people to understand that she was no less of a librarian just because she was no longer working in a traditional library job.  I guess I'll have to do the same thing.

John Meador, most recently Dean of Libraries at SUNY-Binghamton, picked up the reins as UAB Dean of Libraries August 5.  The challenge he has accepted is to merge the two existing library organizations -- Lister Hill and Mervyn H. Sterne -- into a single organization serving the entire university community.  Unlike some recent reorganizations (UNC & Florida come to mind), UAB's roots as a primarily biomedical research institution offers some unique opportunities.  The two libraries are similar in size of staff and budget, are located just a few blocks from each other on a compact urban campus, and serve an increasingly multidisciplinary institution.  So while services will continue to be delivered from both buildings, we anticipate that, over time, a single, seamless organization will be formed to provide those services.

It's a bit of a conceptual leap because even though most of the important work that librarians do now takes place outside of the building, we still think of the library organization and the library building as occupying the same space.  As I was trying to explain the goals of the merger to a faculty member he said, "But the biomedical literature will still be based at Lister Hill, won't it?"  I had to tell him, gently, "Actually, since we spend less than 1% of our content budget on print, that hasn't been the case for five years now."  The reference librarians do far more of their work by chat, email, phone, webinar, office hours in classroom buildings, or meetings & workshops around campus than they do in person in the building.  The building is still very important, of course, but basing the organization on the physical limitations of the building is an anachronism.

One consequence of the merger is that the two Director positions go away.  The Director, Lister Hill and Director, Mervyn Sterne functioned as deans, although we didn't have that title.  But we met as part of the Deans Council and had the same level of budgetary and personnel authority as the deans.  Now that there is a single individual with the title, as well as the authority, of Dean, those two director positions are superfluous.

So what has opened up for me turns out to be quite marvelous.  Every research institution in the country is trying to figure out how to effectively manage research data.  What services should the institution provide?  How do you effectively manage security?  How do you establish policies and monitor compliance with the full range of increasingly complex federal requirements?  How do you make data available for reuse in clean and well-structured contextualized environments?

A number of institutions have made some headway in sorting this out, but part of the challenge is that there isn't really a single entity within the modern research university that is the logical home for the full range of issues that need to be addressed and coordinated.  It requires true collaboration among the libraries, IT, the research office and the various pockets of excellence and expertise that exist across the campus -- often unknown to each other.

My task, for the next several months, will be to map what exists at UAB, to figure out who is doing what, to identify where there are significant gaps, and then to work with all of the various players to help develop strategies for pulling all of the pieces together into a coordinated whole.  From this vantage point it looks ridiculously complex.  

I plan to have a lot of fun with it.

 

 

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