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The Value of the NDSR: Residents and Mentors Weigh In

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The following is a guest post by Vicky Steeves, National Digital Stewardship Resident at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. This is the first in a series of posts by the residents from NDSR class of 2014-2015.

I wanted to take this opportunity, as the first 2014-2015 resident to post on The Signal, to discuss how valuable the National Digital Stewardship Residency program is. Among many things, it has given me the opportunity to work at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, surveying scientific research data and recommending preservation strategies. Nowhere else could I have gotten this opportunity. In this post I will look at the value of NDSR, showing that the NDSR is an innovative and important program for furthering the field of library and information science.

Current 2014-2015 NDSR-NY Cohort (left to right): Vicky Steeves, Peggy Griesinger, Karl Blumenthal, Shira Peltzman, and Julia Kim.Photo by Alan Barnett.
Current 2014-2015 NDSR-NY Cohort (left to right): Vicky Steeves, Peggy Griesinger, Karl Blumenthal, Shira Peltzman, and Julia Kim. Photo by Alan Barnett.

The National Digital Stewardship Residency participants (hosts and residents) have demonstrated how this residency fulfills the need for emerging professionals to be placed in important institutions. Here, residents’ skills have the space to expand. This allows for the growth of the field in two ways: residents contribute to the growing body of research in digital preservation and gain skills which they can use throughout their careers as they continue to advance the field. For host institutions, the ability to bring in additional, knowledgeable staff at little or no cost is transformative.

When evaluating the NDSR program, it’s important to look at both simple numbers and testimonials. In terms of the quantitative, 100% of  the residents from the 2013-2014 team in Washington DC have found relevant positions upon completion of the residency. (See previous posts on that subject, parts one and two.) I sought out this first class of residents, and asked them how important they feel NDSR has been for them:

Vicky Steeves: Why did you apply to the NDSR program?

Margo Padilla, (Strategic Programs Manager at Metropolitan New York Library Council): “It seemed like a great way to meet and collaborate with people doing critical work in the field. I was also excited about all the projects and knew that even though I was the resident at only one location, I would learn a lot from the other residents and projects.”

Molly Schwartz, (Fulbright Scholar, Aalto University and the National Library of Finland): “As a new graduate I knew that I needed more hands-on experience and I wasn’t sure exactly what type of institution would be the right professional fit for me. NDSR seemed like a great option for many reasons: I would get more experience, come out of it with a completed project, I would learn what it is like to work at a small non-profit institution (ARL), and I would have the freedom to dive into digital information research full-time, both working on my own project and attending conferences and meetings where I could collaborate with others in the field.”

Julia Blase, (Project Manager, Field Book Project, Smithsonian Libraries): “I was very interested in working on the digital side of libraries and archives after graduate school, but knew that it could be difficult to find entry-level positions in the field, particularly those that would provide practical, complex experience in multiple aspects of the field and train me for the next step in my career. NDSR seemed to offer that chance.”

Vicky Steeves: Why do you think it’s important (or not) for the library science field to have programs like this?

Margo Padilla:  “I think programs like this are important because it helps new graduates grow into the field, discover their niche, and contribute to a larger body of research. Recent graduates lend a fresh perspective to work already being done. It is also a chance for them to learn, make mistakes, and test what works and what doesn’t.”

Molly Schwartz: “The digital information field, especially from the information steward perspective, is at a point where we need to retain and cultivate professionals who have the desire to work in a fast-paced environment and have the skill sets to get employed elsewhere. It is crucial that we provide opportunities for these types of people to develop within the field and get exposed to all the cool work they can do, work that will have real impact, if we are to tackle the challenges facing the profession.”

Julia Blase: “It is very difficult, in my experience and in the experiences of my friends, for a young professional to make the jump from an entry-level or paraprofessional position to a mid-level position, which may begin to incorporate more complex projects, strategic planning, and perhaps even the management of a project, program or other staff members. Programs like the Residency offer that in-between path, supporting and training their graduates so that they are prepared and qualified for that first mid-level position after the program, advancing both the individual careers and also, by providing motivated and prepared staff, the quality of the profession as a whole.”

Heidi Elaine Dowding, (Ph.D. Research Fellow at the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, Huygens ING Institute): “I think paid fellowships like this are really important, especially for students who can’t afford to accept unpaid internships to forward their career. They even the playing field in some ways, and help build really strong networks of practitioners.”

These testimonials demonstrate how impactful the NDSR curriculum is to professional development and career opportunities for postgraduates. The current resident at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, Peggy Griesinger, remarked, “I applied to NDSR because I wanted the opportunity to contribute to how cultural heritage institutions are developing long-term digital preservation practices.”  The ability to “test drive” a career and preferred setting (public institution, private, non-profit, etc.) while accumulating and refining skills in digital preservation is an invaluable part of the program. Residents also had the opportunity to network and establish relationships with mentors who have invaluable experience in the field, which often led to gainful employment.

Additionally, having diverse institutions buy into this program affirms the value of NDSR. While these institutions are getting a resident at little or no cost to them, it takes a lot of trust to give an incubating project to an outside professional, especially one fresh from their master’s degree. In this way, NDSR takes an important step in public trust for digital archives. I reached out to a few mentors from the 2013-2014 Washington D.C. host institutions, to get their take on the value of the NDSR program.

Vicky Steeves: How useful was the program for you and your institution in hindsight? Are you using the results from the project that your resident worked on?

Shalimar White, (Manager of the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection): “One of the benefits of the NDSR program was the ability to bring in someone like Heidi [Dowding] who could evaluate a complex organization like Dumbarton Oaks from an external perspective. Heidi’s report was delivered to our new Manager of Information Technology. As recommended in the report, the IT Manager is currently developing DO’s general technical infrastructure and building out the operations of the new IT department. In the future, when the IT Manager is able to turn her attention to more strategic planning, she has indicated that the report will be a helpful guide for developing the systems and operational procedures necessary for long-term digital asset management at Dumbarton Oaks. We expect that Heidi’s work will continue to be useful and valuable in the long-term.”

Vickie Allen, (Director of the Media Library at the Public Broadcasting Service): “Having a skilled NDSR fellow at our organization for an extended period of time was critical in getting the necessary focus, interest and leadership support for our efforts to launch a complex digitization initiative. As a direct result of the quality and scope of our resident’s work, we were allocated internal funds during the final month of the residency to begin digitization. The completed project plan and associated documentation were invaluable in filling critical knowledge gaps, allowing us to move forward quickly and confidently with our digitization initiative. We plan to use these guidelines long into the future as we continue our digitization efforts, as well as translate findings into strengthening digital media management policy for our born digital content.”

Christie Moffatt, (Manager of the Digital Manuscripts Program at the National Library of Medicine): “The NDSR program was a valuable experience for the National Library of Medicine, both in terms of project accomplishments with the addition of a new thematic Web archive collection, and our participation the NDSR community. Maureen [McCormick Harlow] shared her experiences wrestling with the technical and intellectual challenges of scoping out and creating a new collection with NLM staff involved in Web collecting, which enabled us all to learn together and apply lessons learned throughout the duration of the project. The collection Maureen developed, “Disorders of the Developing and Aging Brain: Autism and Alzheimer’s on the Web,” serves as a model for thematic Web collecting at the Library, and the workflows that she helped to develop are now being implemented in our current Ebola Outbreak web collecting initiative announced earlier this month.  NLM’s web collecting efforts have and will continue to benefit from this experience.”

These host institutions have not only used their resident’s work, but will continue to use their project deliverables, recommendations and associated documentation as digital initiatives are further developed. In this way, residents are contributing to the future developments at their host institutions. This ability to impact the present and future of host institutions is what makes NDSR such an advantage. As one of the newest members of the NDSR program, I can say that the opportunities granted to me have been phenomenal. As a resident, you truly have endless possibilities in this program.


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