NDSR 2015 Begins with Conference, Workshops

The 2015 class of the NDSR Residents, from left: Jessica Tieman, Jaime Mears, Nicole Contaxis, Valerie Collins and John Caldwell.  Photo by Shawn Miller.

The 2015 class of the NDSR Residents, from left: Jessica Tieman, Jaime Mears, Nicole Contaxis, Valerie Collins and John Caldwell. Photo by Shawn Miller.

The 2015 NDSR residents have arrived! The launching of this next class of the NDSR Washington, D.C. residency program (the inaugural class was in 2013-14) began with a week-long orientation for the residents. The centerpiece event was the Opening Conference on June 10th, which took place in one of the historic rooms of the Jefferson Building, providing an auspicious backdrop for the official start of the residency.

The Opening Conference featured remarks from prior program participants as well as speeches by invited experts from the field. George Coulbourne, Program Officer at the Library of Congress, began the event by introducing the 2015 residents and their host organization:

  • John Caldwell, U.S. Senate, Historical Office
  • Valerie Collins, American Institute of Architects
  • Nicole Contaxis, National Library of Medicine
  • Jaime Mears, D.C. Public Library
  • Jessica Tieman, Government Publishing Office
Chief of Staff Robert Newlen delivers welcoming remarks. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Chief of Staff Robert Newlen delivers welcoming remarks. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Library of Congress Chief of Staff Robert Newlen gave the official Library welcome, noting the impressive qualifications of all the residents. Trevor Owens, formerly a Digital Archivist at the Library, is now a Senior Program Officer at the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and gave some remarks on that agency’s behalf. Owens pointed out one of the big advantages of the NDSR – all the former residents now have jobs. His advice for the current residents was to connect with these former residents and continue building a community of practice. On a more practical note, he also advised them to figure out how to best navigate through their organization in order to get things done.

The first keynote speaker was Dan Russell, Google’s Uber Tech Lead for Search Quality and User Happiness, or as he described it, “I am a cyber-tribal-techno-cognitive-anthropologist.” In his talk, “The Future of Asking and Answering Questions” he stated that he is most interested in how people use tools and information to best understand their world, and that “we can build the future by understanding the past.”   Russell stressed the importance of being able to find and recognize credible information, as well as cultivating an understanding of the “new language” (such as acronyms, emoticons) and multi-national information. He noted all these things have “changed the informational landscape.”

His parting thoughts were, “learn to ask the right questions, and learn what tools exist to answer those questions.”

Allison Druin, Chief Futurist at the University of Maryland, was the next keynote speaker with her talk,  “Information 2020: The Future of Information.”   She began with a demonstration – she took a selfie, and posed the question, “What is this all about? It’s about the now”.   She wanted to emphasize the “near” future, and noted that her role as Futurist is “not to predict the future, but to help you prepare for the future.”   She emphasized that “our information future HAS to include the needs of people”.   Noting some key informational challenges, she then asked “how can we turn these into opportunities?” Her answers included mentorship and being resourceful with limited funding, which leads to creative partnership programs – such as the NDSR.

The next speaker was Jaime McCurry, former NDSR resident from the inaugural class, and now employed as Digital Assets Librarian at Hillwood Estate and Museum in Washington, D.C.   She said “it’s surreal to stand here before the next group of residents.” In reminiscing about her time as a resident for that inaugural class, she said there is lots of “newness” to the experience; working with new people, organizations, projects and even perhaps a new city. Addressing the residents directly, she offered some advice from her perspective, including the need to be integrated into their organization as much as possible. “You may be surprised at how much the digital world touches every part of the organization’s activities,” she said. Noting her favorite parts of the residency, she said the best one was networking and sharing experiences with her fellow cohorts.

Prue Adler, Associate Executive Director for the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) then provided remarks from a former host institution perspective, from the inaugural year of the program. At ARL they encouraged complete participation in all aspects of the project – attendance at a wide range of meetings, and networking with as many people as possible. In describing the program overall she noted that a strong cohort is key to the program being a huge success. Many talented applicants resulted in very highly qualified residents. Adler emphasized that the success of the NDSR has a direct bearing on the growth of the profession as a whole.

In the closing remarks, Kris Nelson, Program Management Specialist at The Library of Congress, noted some additional advantages of the program. He discussed some of the positive outcomes of the pilot NDSR program, as highlighted in the professional assessment. Specifically, he noted how previous residents had accomplished what he referred to as “silo-busting” within each of their organizations. That is, residents had the ability to work across organizational programs, and break down perceived organizational barriers.

Residents and mentors at workshop.  Photo by Kris Nelson.

Residents and mentors at the digital lifecycle workshop. Photo by Kris Nelson.

This opening event was followed by a brainstorming session for the residents led by Dan and Allison later that same day, followed by two days of intensive digital preservation workshops. The workshops were led by Library of Congress staff Abbey Potter, Phil Michel, Kathleen O’Neill, Andrew Cassidy-Amstutz, Erin Engle and Barrie Howard, as well as Lynne Thomas from Northern Illinois University.   Five topic areas were chosen to provide some initial training and preparation for the organizational challenges ahead:

  • The Digital Lifecycle
  • Levels of Digital Preservation
  • The POWRR project and tools discussion
  • Organizational and Sustainability Issues
  • Project Management

Each of these subject areas included a presentation, suggested advanced reading, and a specific activity designed to encourage a deeper experience with the subject matter.   At the end of each of these sections, there was further discussion among the group at large. All of this was designed to create an interactive experience, encourage further thought into these areas, and in the end, help John, Valerie, Nicole, Jaime and Jessica to be prepared for their residency journey.

Starting this week, residents are beginning the real work on their projects at their designated host institutions. Stay tuned to The Signal over the coming months, as project updates will be posted from each of the residents.

For another perspective on the Opening Conference, see the recent post on the subject by the University of Maryland, Future of Information Alliance.

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