Librarian as Project Manager

17/07/2012 § 2 Comments

In this installment of Hack Library’s School’s Emerging Career Series, Caro Pinto explores the role of librarian as project manager. Caro Pinto is the Social Science & Emerging Technologies Librarian at Hampshire College where she oversees collection development, outreach, and instruction for the School of Critical Social Inquiry, works on Digital Humanities projects at Hampshire and in the Five Colleges, and explores the technology landscape to find sustainable solutions for higher education. You can find Caro on Twitter and on her blog.

Librarians are helpful advocates in the research process. We aid our users in the location, retrieval, and evaluation of sources. However, as libraries implement more effective discovery layers and users come away with tens of thousands of results in mere seconds, our role has necessarily begun to shift from information retriever to information evaluator, arbiter, and now manager. We collaborate more closely with our users in the research process, helping to prepare data into management plans as part of grant requirements for the NSF and the NEH. Increasingly, we are librarians, but we are also project managers.

Is this an entirely new direction for librarians?

Yes and no. Behind the scenes there are many librarians involved in the management of library resources, collection management, and the oversight of digitization projects. But our users and our library school curriculums do not associate librarians with project management on projects of large scale conducted in collaboration with faculty and students in higher education settings. Increasingly, this is an emergent role for librarians in both digital humanities work and in large scale research projects in the social sciences and sciences.

What does this look like?

“I’d really like for the students to make a fabulous online exhibit,” exclaimed one of faculty members, “Can you help me make that happen?” As with research projects, many faculty members recognize that librarians have strengths in information organization and collection curation such that we should collaborate with them to push our students towards successful learning experiences and projects.
Faculty and students are beginning to leverage our training in a number of ways. When faculty and students want to create online exhibits using tools like Omeka, librarians guide the production through tutorials on metadata standards and principles of information organization. When working on large scale quantitative projects, librarians at universities like Columbia offer Digital Social Science labs with specialized equipment and expertise to interpret and deploy data. Librarians at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Mount Holyoke College help faculty develop sustainable and strategic data management plans, plans increasingly mandated by granting agencies like the National Science Foundation. They act as liaisons between campus compliance offices, grants and contracts representatives, and the faculty themselves, shepherding projects for immediate and long term success. After all, researchers in the social sciences and the sciences must keep their data so future parties can replicate it as necessary to continue the research process. Librarians are uniquely qualified to curate and preserve that data for its lifecycle.
But beyond compliance and logistics for various campus entities, librarians-cum-project managers offer a unique perspective because of role as neutral arbiters, research rabbis and priests, or therapists ready to talk through what’s working, what isn’t. Librarians are interdisciplinary; we work across disciplines and are able to cross boundaries to facilitate work and projects across schools, departments, and traditional disciplines. The benefits of neutrality can come from simple activities like introducing two liked minded faculty members to have a conversation about their work, or by pointing students towards faculty whose work intersects with their own in unexpected ways. Librarians manage projects and information, but they can also broker and manage relationships, too.

Practically speaking, where is this going?

One trend to pay attention to is the implementation of digital humanities within libraries. MITH and the Digital Scholarship Commons at Emory University are prime examples of how libraries’ neutrality represents a unique opportunity to create innovative new scholarship centers to facilitate horizontal work in the humanities and social sciences. More and more jobs are popping up at centers like this, with titles like digital humanities librarian, GIS librarian and data services librarian. These positions combine traditional skills like research support and teaching with new twists like data curation and new media production. Among other things, the positions shepherd work into final forms with rights management and open access publication taken into account.

These new positions and trends push our profession into new places, but also retain elements of traditional librarianship. I hope library school students will take note and look for pre-professional opportunities to get involved in digital humanities projects, digitization projects, and other hands-on opportunities learn about copyright, open access scholarship and new trends in scholarly communication such as ‘the library as publisher.’ Push yourself to publish in open access journals as a student, learn about linked open data, see how you can exercise management muscles on projects large and small. These experiences will pay off in job searches, but perhaps more importantly, will push our profession in new and exciting directions.

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