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Get to Know SIG DL: Digital Libraries

ASIS&T SIG DL logoOur next interview in the “Get to Know A SIG / Get to Know a Chapter” series is with SIG DL (Digital Libraries), which “provides a forum for discussion about research, development, and use of digital libraries in corporate, academic, and public contexts.” SIG DL is one of the largest of the ASIS&T Special Interest Groups, and one with quite a broad range of interests and activities. SIG DL also won the 2014 SIG of the Year award, as awarded at the recent ASIS&T Annual Meeting in Seattle.

To learn more about SIG DL I interviewed Kevin Comerford, SIG DL chair and Digital Initiatives Librarian at the University of New Mexico, and Virginia (Ginnie) Dressler, incoming SIG DL Communications Officer and Digital Projects Librarian at Kent State University. We talked about SIG DL’s areas of interest, the activities they engage in at ASIS&T Annual Meetings and elsewhere, the benefits of becoming a member and volunteering to help out with the SIG, and their engagement with their members, among other topics of interest. Hopefully this interview allows you to get to know SIG DL better, and perhaps become interested in joining and contributing to their activities and efforts! (The interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity and to reflect additional follow-up conversation with Ginnie that occurred via e-mail after the interview.)

About SIG DL

Adam: How long have each of you been a member of ASIS&T, and how long have each of you been a member of SIG Digital Libraries?

Kevin: I’ve been a member of ASIS&T for two stretches of like seven years each. I go back to the 90s, when I first joined ASIS&T. And I’ve been a member of SIG DL for three years now.

Ginnie: So, I was a member of and started going to ASIS&T in 2008, though I’ve been more involved with the local chapter, the Northern Ohio Chapter. I’ve been part of SIG DL for I think a couple of years, although this year is probably the first year I’m really actively involved.

Adam: So both of you are relatively new, in some ways, to the SIG, in that you’ve only been involved for a couple of years, three years at the most, right? But you’re excited to get involved?

Kevin: Definitely.

Ginnie: Yes, it seems like a good group, I think.

Kevin: Most definitely. When I first joined ASIS&T, before it became ASIS&T (with the T), there was no SIG DL and there really wasn’t a whole lot of emphasis on digital libraries. And I’ve been pleased to see it develop over the years to where digital librarianship has not only gained a presence at ASIS&T, but has really become one of the more interesting forces in developing where the organization is going and providing services to ASIS&T members.

Adam: So somewhat it’s obvious in the name, that SIG DL focuses on digital libraries, right? But perhaps could you be a bit more specific in the topics that the SIG focuses on, and whether it focuses mostly on research, practice, or a combination of those?

Kevin: SIG DL is very wide-ranging in its scope. We cover everything from digital publishing and scholarly communications to digital asset management and research data management. This includes both interests in technology and tools used for various digital librarianship practices and projects, but also in digital library programming and services that are provided through digital libraries. So, we have a lot of, a wide-ranging membership; we have university professors at iSchools, and we have a lot of practitioners who are in one of the areas that I’ve mentioned. Some of them are in cultural heritage, digitization and publishing online, and some of them are corporate, and then we have some in the motion picture industry, and we have some who are actually research data management specialists.

You know, “digital libraries” covers a multitude of sins [group laughs] and on one hand, internally, you know, nobody really knows what a digital library is, because it can be so many different things to so many different people. And so with the programming that we’ve offered, through our webinar series, and through our sponsorship of the Digital Liaisons events, and so forth, we try to be as varied as our membership, and provide a lot of different programs and areas to help provide the professional development that the members are looking for.


Adam: So you already started about some of the activities that SIG DL engages in at the Annual Meeting, so perhaps you could talk a little bit more about the kinds of presentations or discussions would expect to see, hear, and engage in from attending your Annual Meeting events?

Kevin: Sure. Well, our main activity at the Annual Meeting for the last several years has been the Digital Liaisons student poster and lightning talk competition. And what we try to encourage is, students who are either in school right now in an information school program or who have recently graduated, we give them the opportunity to showcase some of their own work, either applied projects or their research. And again, we’ve had a number of different varied types of papers and talks that are submitted. Last year, we had several analytical information science presenters, who were talking about information retrieval performance and statistical analyses of information retrieval systems and search engines. We also have, like I said, a number of cultural heritage specialists. We had one really great presentation this year from a student at the University of Hawaii, who talked about a Hawaiian digital culture web site that she had been able to work on. And then our newly elected Digital Liaisons Committee chair, Alyson Gamble—she’s coordinating Digital Liaisons this coming year—but Alyson presented both years, both last year and this year, on projects she’s doing for a museum library. And then we’ve had a number of really great posters that cover everything from—we had one that was really great that talked about research data management and data sets, this year, as well as some more technical papers on software applications and scholarly communications, and so forth.

Virginia (Ginnie) Dressler

Virginia (Ginnie) Dressler, incoming ASIS&T SIG DL Communications Officer and Digital Projects Librarian at Kent State University.

Adam: Sure, sure. And Ginnie, you’ve been to some of these events yourself, right, you said?

Ginnie: Well actually, I just started sitting in on some of the SIG DL stuff this last Annual Meeting. So I actually have not been to very many, but there was definitely an appeal to me with this group, as a very active SIG. I think SIG DL, its appeal for me is that they’ve got a lot of activity, things going on.

Adam: How about outside the Annual Meetings? Do you engage in any activities outside of those, other than of course the general organizing of what goes on at the Annual Meeting?

Kevin: We do a couple of different ongoing programs during the year. The SIG DL executive team meets once a month. Then we have an active newsletter program; the newsletter is issued quarterly, and we put out regular calls for both articles on digital librarianship topics, but also member news and events, and so forth, so that we can showcase what individual members are doing in the newsletter.

We also have a webinar series that we offer, and it usually starts in the spring and goes through the summer. We usually offer three webinars, and we try to engage topics and we get feedback on what is interesting to the SIG DL membership. So, last year we did one webinar on the Internet Archive’s subscription Archive-It web archiving service; we did another webinar on the Dataverse research data management application; and we did another general webinar, which was sort of an introduction to digital asset management.

Adam: Sure.

Kevin: And then we offer an award every year, the Deborah Barreau award, for the SIG DL member who is not an officer, but who has contributed the most in terms of being engaged with SIG DL. This was won by Ngozi Okoro this year for his work in coordinating our webinar series.

Adam: Great, very cool, very cool!

Benefits and Partnerships

Adam: So again, we’ve already talked this a little bit, but let’s get into it a bit more specifically: What do you feel is the most important benefit a member of SIG DL receives by becoming involved in the SIG’s activities and engaging with the SIG?

Kevin: Well, a lot of our members—we’ve done a number of membership surveys, and—our members are very busy, professional people. So, we’ve found that having a lot of interactive events during the year, outside of the Annual Meeting, is of less interest to them than making sure that we push information out to them.

Adam: Sure.

Kevin: So, somebody who joins SIG DL, for them we have lots of volunteer opportunities for people who want to be engaged actively in our programs, and in defining what subjects and so forth we’re going to cover in the newsletter, and the webinars, and etc. So we have that aspect, which can attract people who are looking to be actively engaged in shaping SIG DL.

And then if you’re just joining as a regular member, you can be sure that you’re going to receive the newsletter, web site updates. We have a Facebook group that we keep updated, pretty much weekly; we also have a Twitter account that we maintain regularly. And, we find a lot of the members like to post their activities and events they’re either attending or participating in on our Facebook and Twitter sites. So we have a number of different online participation tools that we use; a lot of push content that goes out to members.

Adam: Right. And so basically keeping in the information loop regarding the SIG’s activities, and regarding digital libraries, and research data management, and all these topics in general, you think that’s the main benefit people get?

Kevin: That’s right, definitely. We’ve also partnered with a couple of the other SIGs on specific events, and other organizations. So one of the services we provided to users the past two years, and we’ll probably do again this year, but we had several SIG DL members who live-tweeted the RDAP Summit (Research Data Access and Preservation Summit) each of the last two years. And so they went to the conference and provided live tweet updates about conference proceedings. And then, we also this last year, we worked a little bit with the Arts and Humanities SIG [SIG AH] on the Digital Liaisons session, and we’re probably doing—We’ve got a number of offers from other SIGs that we’re going to take them up on this year; I think SIG MET is one that wants to do some more in-depth collaboration this next year, that we’ll be able to work with. So I think, because of our, the activities that we’ve developed over the last couple of years, we’ve gotten more and more opportunities to cross-pollinate with the other ASIS&T SIGs and groups.

Adam: Sure, sure. You’re doing a great job of anticipating my questions here, by the way [all laugh], but back to the benefits a second, because I want to give Ginnie a chance to respond, as someone newly involved, to what she feels is the most important benefit she is getting by becoming active in the SIG and going to its events.

Ginnie: Sure. For me, the benefits of joining SIG DL is the chance to network with other digital library practitioners and individuals who are also in the same “digital headspace” as I am. I think, if you are in any way involved with any aspect of digital libraries, this SIG is a great way to meet other like-minded folks. As I mentioned and Kevin also has talked about, the SIG is very active and has a ton of ways to get involved and participate, be that through the annual conference, special meetings, or the number of other methods Kevin has mentioned already.

Online Engagement

Adam: So you already mentioned the online venues, so you have a web site, you have a Facebook group, you have a Twitter account as well, you said, for the SIG?

Kevin: Yes.

Ginnie: We also have an e-mail listserv and a LinkedIn group.

Adam: Sure. And also, you’ve already mentioned what members can find you posting there. But do you feel that’s very successful in engaging members with the SIG and with ASIS&T as a whole?

Kevin: For sure. I mean, like one of the things, in terms of ASIS&T as a whole, one of the things that we do is that we do include significant, related digital library news from the ASIS&T organization in both our newsletter and our Facebook updates. So we try not to just, you know, recycle ASIS&T news, but to put it in context for digital libraries. And again, like I said we’ve done in the past couple of years several member surveys, and found that the way that we’re doing the push content model for users is what they tell us that they like the best, out of the different types of outreach and programming that we can offer. So I think one of the things we’ll be looking at this year that will be different, in terms of our outreach, is that—as I mentioned—we’ve got several opportunities to collaborate with other ASIS&T SIGs. And so their members may want different types of programming and services, and we’ll definitely be looking at what makes the collaborations work the best in terms of reaching out to members of all those other groups too.

Ginnie: Yes. And in terms of what we have currently, we have a number of communication avenues which help promote both our current activities and group updates, as well as passing along information from other communities on related opportunities of interest. The listserv, in particular, has a good array of content from a variety of members, from other activities of interest to job postings, and so forth.

Serving and Maintaining a Strong SIG

Adam: Kevin, you’re currently the Chair of SIG DL, correct?

Kevin: Yes.

Adam: And Ginnie is the incoming Communications person, right?

Kevin: That’s correct.

Adam: And so—and obviously Ginnie, you have less experience in this than Kevin does, but—what’s it like being the Chair of the SIG, or being the Communications Officer for the SIG?

Kevin Comerford

Kevin Comerford, SIG DL Chair and Digital Initiatives Librarian at the University of New Mexico.

Kevin: Sure. Well, being Chair is, it’s mainly a coordinating position where I look for excellent talent in terms of people who can help us with developing programming and coordinating events and so forth. And then I make sure that we stay on our—we have a whole variety of deadlines for making sure we have our Annual Meeting submission for our sessions in, and that the webinars get scheduled, the newsletter goes out, that everybody has enough help, that all the online accounts and the web site and so forth get updated. So a lot of it is keeping up and lending a hand where people need it.

I think one of the things that doesn’t get emphasized enough over in ASIS&T when we have, like the New Members Brunch and so forth, is that it’s important for members to know that the SIGs need ongoing help, and having members involved for more than one year at a time is important for the continuity, you know, to keep up the momentum on the programs, and make sure that we have people with expertise. So I think it’s, continuity and longevity of participation are things that we probably, all SIGs need to promote more within their individual organizations.

This year we won SIG of the Year

Adam: Congratulations!

Kevin: Yeah! And while I worked really hard on all of our programs over the previous year, it was really, most of those programs that came to fruition—like our newsletter—were things that were started a year or even further back, that needed some time to develop and mature so that we could win the SIG of the Year. So, it’s not just the people who are currently involved, but the people who have been involved, both in the past and over several years, that need to be highlighted in every one of our ASIS&T SIGs. Those are the people that are really responsible for the high quality of content that we can provide to our members.

Adam: Sure, sure, and I would definitely agree with that from everything I’ve seen. So yeah, congratulations, and it sounds like you feel that continuity is a big thing that SIG DL has done to help it get the SIG of the Year award, right?

Kevin: Yes, absolutely.

Adam: Ginnie, how about your participation so far in SIG DL, as incoming Communications Officer?

Ginnie: Well so far, I have enjoyed the position and being a part of SIG DL. I think the position was a great reason to take a more active role, and will lead to me becoming more involved with the SIG. It also gives me the chance to meet other SIGs in the co-sponsored events. I’m definitely looking forward to the next year, and I anticipate working with the group in some shape or form for many years to come.

Adam: I certainly expect you would encourage others to volunteer for the SIG, to help out, right?

Ginnie: I would definitely encourage people to get involved! It’s a great group of people, and I think even if you may not be in the Digital Library niche, there are still plenty of things of interest.

Kevin: Right. Even though I just talked a whole bunch about longevity of participation, we have, particularly in terms of generating new news and announcements and so forth, we have lots of opportunities for ASIS&T members, whether or not they’re involved in SIG DL right now, but we have lots of opportunities for short term participation, and want to help develop our ability to help younger professionals who may need publication credit; if we can help them with the newsletter and writing articles and so forth, and making sure they know that that opportunity is there. The more involved people who want to, you know, put some service credit on their curriculum vitae.

Adam: Sure, sure. How can they go about volunteering, and what particular areas are you looking for volunteers in, in terms of officers in particular, as well as these more informal roles?

Kevin: Well, fortunately this year—and I know this isn’t the case for all of the SIGs—but this year we were fortunate to come out of the Annual Meeting with a full slate of officers and coordinators for our projects.

Adam: Good, good!

Kevin: Often times that’s not the case, and we have to go looking for people. Right now, though, we really need our contributors to the newsletter, and people who would be interested in helping with Digital Liaisons next year, or RDAP, or the webinar program. So we have a lot—since we have a full slate of officers, we have a lot of contributor-type roles, and people can just contact me directly, and I’m happy to get them paired up with somebody who they can work with. Really, they can contact any of the officers, but if you want to make a central effort to point people to, they can contact me directly.

Adam: Sure!


Adam: You already mentioned collaborating with some of the other SIGs; you mentioned SIG AH, and SIG MET as being a potential collaboration for next year. How does SIG DL interface with the broader ASIS&T organization, beyond just the other SIGs?

Kevin: Well, we participate each year in the SIG Cabinet meetings, and work with the SIG Cabinet Director and Deputy Director each year. And they help us with budget and reporting deadlines and so forth. Some of the things that we do and interact with ASIS&T on, like this last year, we decided we wanted to offer a larger spread of prizes for the Digital Liaisons participants, you know, cash prizes. So we went to the SIG Cabinet Director, at the time Kathryn LaBarre, and were able to get a cost share grant from ASIS&T, where we put up some of the money for the additional prizes and ASIS&T kicked in the rest of the funds. So there is money available for people who want to propose specific projects. And that’s probably something else that would be good to advertise through this; if you want to come and propose a new program, or a small event or something that may cost a little money, then we (as SIGs) can approach ASIS&T for funding and support, that way.

And then I also find that, as SIG officers, myself and the other officers, we definitely get tapped to do peer review for the ASIS&T journal (JASIS&T), and for different events and awards; so we have the SIG Member of the Year award that there’s a jury for, and the SIG of the Year award, and the various awards and prizes that are given out at the Annual Meeting. So in addition to SIG-specific events, we all get to participate in the larger community of SIGs within ASIS&T.

Adam: Do you ever work with Student or Regional Chapters in any way, or is it mostly working with other SIGs and with ASIS&T as a whole?

Kevin: You know, I don’t think we did last year, but the first year I was involved we did have a couple of activities with a Regional—I think they revolved around the RDAP conference. So yes, definitely, we don’t have anything lined up for this year yet, but we definitely have had projects with the Regional Chapters previously.

Love, Yet Hate

Adam: OK, so just one final question as we come to the end here: Who do digital librarians both love and hate the most? Vannevar Bush, Tim Berners-Lee, or Larry Page? [all laugh] They’ve all done some really awesome stuff for digital libraries, but at the same time they’ve given you a lot of headaches, right?

Kevin: Yes!

Ginnie: Great question! I would think any digital librarian would feel obligated for at least a shout-out to Tim Berners-Lee as having a huge impact regardless on the field at large, as I can’t imagine my work without his groundwork being set.

Kevin: I think for myself, Vannevar Bush is one of my favorites [slight laugh]. If I was going to say there’s something I love about Vannevar Bush, is that he was very forward thinking about making information and content available to individuals. And I thought that, he was really involved with microfilm and microfiche for so many years. I’m thinking about, he designed a home microfilm reader and had a whole series of articles he wrote about how, by 2010 every home will be equipped with a home microfilm reader, so they’ll have a library of every printed book in their home. So I think, I love his forward thinking, but probably hate the fact that he wasn’t forward thinking enough [laughs] in some areas.

And then Tim Berners-Lee, I think, would be somebody else that we love because he invented the Internet and—the World Wide Web, I mean—

Adam: [laugh] I could have named Al Gore but I didn’t!

Kevin: [laugh] Right, I know! And then, the thing we hate about him [Berners-Lee] is that he didn’t make any special provisions for libraries when he invented the World Wide Web, or any real way of monetizing our participation in it as cultural and social institutions. So that might be something that we hate about him.

Ginnie: Larry Page would be my pick for the love/hate choice, though I think libraries grudgingly had to adapt to a Google world. Working in academic libraries for the past seven years, and being someone who may have called myself somewhat anti-Google in the early days [slight laughter], I have found it interesting how public services have become more Google-y over time within the library, for better or for worse. I work on how to connect resources and users, and I think it has been imperative for me to understand user search behavior and how users best connect with our content. In an earlier position I had looked into how users get to our content, be that searching or browsing from our digital library’s homepage or via an outside source, and I realized over 85% were coming from single Google searches. It was eye-opening to our staff, at the time, to see this figure. But I think it also points to the inevitable fact that Google is a force that is here to stay.

Adam: Sure, well thank you! Is there anything else that you wanted to add before we finish?

Kevin: No, I think we’ve covered it. We really appreciate the opportunity!

Ginnie: Yes, thanks again for the invite to do this!

Thanks again to SIG DL and to Kevin and Ginnie for being willing to take part in this interview! If this post has raised your interest in SIG DL, its benefits for members and volunteers, and its activities at and beyond the ASIS&T Annual Meeting, we encourage you to engage with us in the comment section below; to check out their web site and social media venues (linked above and on their site); or to e-mail Kevin for details on volunteering and getting involved. We also welcome your feedback and thoughts on our “Get To Know” series via the comments. Our next interview feature will be with one of ASIS&T’s most successful Student Chapters, so look out for that post coming soon!