by Spencer Goodwin
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jefferson Bailey, the Strategic Initiatives Manager at Metropolitan New York Library Council, and National Digital Stewardship Residency in New York Principal Investigator. We talked about why you should be excited for the NDSR program, and he provides some great tips for all new grads, whether they end up in the residency or not. We close up by learning a little about Jefferson’s professional organizations. Links throughout
Spencer: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today! Can you briefly describe the NDSR program?
Jefferson: Thank you for the invitation to talk all things NDSR! The NDSR (National Digital Stewardship Residency) program aims to foster the development of the next generation of digital stewardship professionals by funding postgraduate residencies working in host institutions on specific projects managing and preserving digital content. These practical, hands-on residencies are intended to build the skills of new professionals in a way not possible or not available in graduate school. In addition, the program has its own curricular and training elements intended to expand upon academic work. There are other program goals too, like building a peer network of early professionals via a cohort model and, obviously, expanding capacity for digital stewardship within the host institutions.
For background, the NDSR was jointly developed by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and Library of Congress with the first group of NDSR residencies taking place in Washington D.C. starting in September 2013. The program was then expanded to New York and Boston, with generous funding from IMLS via the Laura Bush 21st Century Library Program, and the New York and Boston residencies will begin in September 2014.
Speaking as a NDSR-NY program rep, I can also say our host institutions and projects were recently announced and they are awesome.
And because I know people are probably asking themselves, at this point, what the hell is digital stewardship, I’ll add that it is meant to be an inclusive term that covers the appraisal, selection, description, management, accessibility, and preservation of digital content. It includes things like digital libraries/archives, data curation, digital preservation, data management, etc. For more background, see this blog post: http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/2011/08/digital-preservation-digital-curation-digital-stewardship-what%E2%80%99s-in-some-names/
S: Who should apply to the NDSR program? Do you have to be an archivist?
J: First, I’ll note that applications are now being accepted for the NYC and Boston programs. Apply now! The deadline is May 30, 2014.
No, you do not have to be an archivist to apply. To be eligible for the program, you must have received a Master’s degree or higher within the last two years and be interested in a career in digital stewardship. That said, given the program’s origins and funding sources, the program is very much oriented towards archivists and librarians and, in my opinion, archivists are well trained and prepared for the challenge of selecting, preserving, and making accessible digital materials. However, I (and all the program administrators, I’d say — though I don’t presume to speak for everyone) have been adamant about the eligibility and program relevance of other disciplines, such as computer science, research data management, digital humanities, and other non-MLS degrees. We are much more interested in work, experience, and interest in digital stewardship and much less with what words are on someone’s degree.
What is the reasoning behind a creative and non-traditional application process? Advice for someone nervous about the video portion of the application?
I wouldn’t say the application process is too non-traditional. All the usual suspects — resume, cover letter, references — are required. The one different element is the inclusion of a video or online project (note, for NYC & Boston, the possibilities are broader than just a video). Given that the program is for new professionals in the field, we don’t assume applicants will have extensive hands-on experience with digital preservation prior to applying. The video/online project gives applicants a chance to demonstrate their interest in a career in digital stewardship in a fashion that may be difficult to evidence in traditional application materials. I have no real advice other than be creative, be yourself, and remember that the intent is to let applicants tell reviewers about their interest in digital preservation as a career and why they are a good candidate for this program.
What skills should candidates have before the program? Are there skills transferrable into digital preservation? What skills can residents expect to have after the program?
I hesitate to opine on what skills candidates should have before applying, lest I appear too proscriptive. Digital stewardship is a broad term so there are many different activities and skill sets that will be valuable to demonstrate in an application. As far as after the program, much work has been put in by program staff and host institutions to make sure the residency projects entail many parts of the digital content lifecycle. These are not busy work or rote internship-style work, but substantive, hands-on projects with well-defined timeframes and specific outcomes completed by the resident. Many of the projects are in innovative and cutting-edge areas of work or research and all projects require deliverables from the residents. So after the program, residents will have both a broad exposure to, and demonstrable work in, multiple aspects of digital stewardship as well as documentation, writing, presentations, and tangible project outcomes they can point to in their resume and professional portfolio.
We see the first class of NDSR residents wrapping up their experiences in the next couple months. Do you have an idea of what doors have been opened up for them through this program?
The first group of residents have done an amazing job of documenting and promoting their work and getting out into the professional community. Serious props to them! They have written a ton of blog posts, presented at multiple national conferences including ALA, CNI, and WebWise, participated in local groups like DCHDC, and been involved in their institutions even beyond their residencies. A number of residents have already transitioned into other jobs or had their residency extended by their host institution. I have been impressed that the current residents have taken advantage of every opportunity to involve themselves in the professional community and I think that has opened the doors to job opportunities.
In your class, Preserving Digital Culture (which I highly recommend), we discussed developing a community of practice in digital preservation. Can you speak a little about the benefits of a healthy community of practice?
Thanks for the props about the class! It is a fun class to help teach with Alison Langmead and I’m glad you enjoyed it. (For those not familiar, the syllabus is online). I do talk in class a bit about how the community of practice (or peer group or whatever you want to call it) in digital preservation is so vital. Innumerable times I have heard tips, advice, knowledge shared over lunch or drinks or seen problems and questions answered over online forums or twitter or what not. Technology changes quickly and that means practices and processes will continually need to adapt to keep current, often at a speed that challenges the evolution of more formalized learning methods like curricula or workshops or conferences. The informal mechanisms of knowledge exchange have become crucial to sharing information and practices in this field. Being involved in those seems, to me, essential to keeping abreast of new developments, even if sometimes, like all of us, you may feel you have little to contribute at times. Point being, I guess, be active, get out there in the community, listen, participate, and contribute.
Where do you see the NDSR program fitting into this community of practice?
As mentioned, NDSR is organized around a cohort model. So the (in NDSR-NY & NDSR-Boston’s case) five residents will go through the program together, including a week-long group workshop at the beginning of the program, frequent group meetings, site visits to colleague’s host institutions, presenting at conferences together, and working together outside their host institutions on group projects, like the “Emerging Trends in Digital Stewardship” conference that the D.C. cohort jointly put together. In saying above that a networked peer group of colleagues and friends is important in working in digital preservation, the NDSR aspires to help develop that network by building those connections early in new professionals career and by making residents part of a national initiative and getting them involved with many institutions, colleagues, and communities.
Any advice or suggestions to new grads?
Gosh, that’s a tough one. I guess my two points of advice would be to stay open-minded about career paths and always be vigilant for unforeseen opportunities and take advantage of them when they appear. On the first point, I feel like a lot of people come out of grad school with a rigidly pre-conceived (and often very specific) idea of what they want to do or where they want to work. I’ve always argued for the value of an archives-specific education to jobs/careers outsides archives. You don’t need to fondle old documents all day to support preservation and access of historical, cultural, or whatever type of records. There is also a lot of potential for disappointment if you have a very specific ideal job/employer — not only is the job market tough, obviously, but you can also get that dream job and then discover it totally sucks. So don’t underestimate the relevance and utility of your degree outside traditional library/archives work. Second, I’ve heard so many stories from people who were presented with a situation where nobody in their office wanted to do something or to take on a project or to launch a new initiative, but this person saw the potential and took it on and it was a success and in some cases this random opportunity totally changed their entire career path or area of interest. Keep an eye out for hidden opportunities and never underestimate adventurism.
That’s great advice, thank you! What organizations are you a member of?
Locally, I’m a member of Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York and NYC-DH, regionally MARAC, and nationally, NDSA, SAA, and ALA/ACRL, though my membership in the latter may be overdue for renewal. There are other informalized groups like Code4Lib NYC and various meetups that I also take part in.
What journals/blogs do you read?
Anything not behind a paywall!
What conferences are your favorites? Any good stories?
I have some favorites, but mostly due to reasons too idiosyncratic to be useful here. I’d suggest that people attend a wide variety until they find a community or group of colleagues that they like hanging out with and learning from. Most of the good conference stuff happens outside the conference anyway.
Nope. But thanks for the chance to talk NDSR and other stuff!