Reflecting on 2017: Moving and Being Moved

I’ve made it a habit to reflect on each year and post about it here.

You can see my reflections at the end of 2015,  20142013, and 2012 . I didn’t do that last year.

The end of 2016 was hard. I half- wrote that post. I tried to tell an optimistic story about where I’d been and where I was going but it just wasn’t happening. Instead, I ended up recording an album with my own original compositions that was largely about processing the end of 2016. So Before You Rememberwill count as the post for last year.

The world is not really a better place today. But I refuse to be overcome by events and I am here to recount some of the good in this life well lived just inside the beltway. Despite the state of the world, Marjee and I, along with Bowser and Zelda have carved out our niches in this mad world and we are loving the lives we are building together.

So to that end, I return to my regularly scheduled programing of sharing out about various and sundry things that have come to pass in the last year of my research, writing, and work.

The three jobs: Niche building inside the beltway

In early 2017 I was hitting my stride as a manager, leading the team of program staff running the National Digital Platform initiative at the Institute of Museum and Library Services. In the middle of the year I found myself as the Acting Associate Deputy Director for Libraries at the Institute of Museum and Library Services. As an aside, “Acting Associate Deputy Director” is such an amazingly federal government name for a job. In particular,  such a 2017 federal government title for a job. I loved working at IMLS, but a chance came to return to the Library of Congress that was just too good to pass up.

At some point across those shifting gigs, I may also have done the rounds on the whole job-talk-campus-visit-thing for being the Digital AUL at an ARL library. I haven’t talked about this much and I won’t talk about it further. I will say, it was a great opportunity to see our lives and work through a different lens. To see how we and how others would see us in the academy. We ended up reaffirming our love and commitment to our lives here just inside the capital beltway.

For us, 2017 ended up being a year for finding and building the context that we want to live in, for this world we find ourselves in. I’m feeling like I’ve found a niche that I really love. A place where I can do good things. A place where I can be the kind of person I want to be. A place where I can grow. A place where I can support others in learning and growing.  I’m thinking a lot about maintenance, repair, emotional intelligence, and cultivating an ethic of care and I aspire for 2018 to be a year where I bring more and more of that thinking into the practice of both my work and my life outside of work.

The National Digital Platform turns three

I devoted three years of my professional life to helping bring about the National Digital Platform for libraries. Looking back at it, I feel extremely proud of the results. In May, I gave a talk Maura had been slated to give at the Digital Initiatives Symposium in San Diego.  That talk, Digital Infrastructures that Embody Library Principles, was a presentation based on a (still) forthcoming chapter in an ACRL book that the NDP team wrote on the role that library values play in the design, development, and implementation of technology in libraries.

By the end of my time at IMLS, I had had a hand in investing  more than $33 million in 100+ projects in support of a vision of a National Digital Platform. It is something that I will be forever proud of. The ability to work part of my public service career for the IMLS was truly a gift. It’s an amazing place with an amazing mission and I will treasure that I was able to chart a part of the institution (and the field’s) course. In 2017 we were also able to put out a whole special issue of D-Lib focused on various NDP projects.

Before I left IMLS, I was working on the start of planning NDP@3, a report and  summit reflecting on the first three years of the National Digital Platform initiative at IMLS and a look toward to it’s future. I’d left a few months before the summit, which I will note was expertly managed and run by the IMLS NDP team. I was lucky to get the chance to participate in the event. I was able to get my copy of the report signed by the team as pictured to the right.

Visiting the place you were, just for a day, and seeing everyone doing it all without you feels complicated. You miss it all. At the same time, you get to see others step up and take things in their own directions. I was so proud to see the team that I had had a hand in building running with what Maura and I had worked to establish.

The Book Cometh

Amidst all the professional changes, 2017 is also the year I wrote The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation. The preprint has been downloaded more than 1300 times from the Library and Information Science archive times since I posted it in July .

Starting in February, I posted drafts of sections of the book. By June, I delivered it to the press. In the fall I got back reader reports, and at this point I’ve sent the revised manuscript back to the press to move into the next phase of the process. I anticipate it will come out late in 2018.

In rereading the draft for this final hand-off  to the publisher, I feel like this is the most authentically “me” of anything I’ve ever written. At some moments, pithy, at others fiery. Sometimes completely eschewing “fancy writing” conventions. At points nerding out about wonky aspects of media theory or the structure of digital information.  Sometimes saying something smart. Generally at my best when I’m talking about the smart work that other people have done.  I see so many of the places and the people that I know, that I’ve learned from, evident in the stories I share in it. It’s still got the semi-breathless run-on-sentence-hedging that is part of conversations where I get caught-up in thoughts and ideas. It’s hard to express how affirming, revealing, and disarming it is to return to a piece of writing that you feel like exposes many of your quirks and vulnerabilities in it, but that you see people responding so positively to.

Building a Digital Content Managment Team

The last quarter of the year has found me back at the Library of Congress. When I started at the end of August I kept running into colleagues in the tunnels that connect the three buildings on capitol hill who would say things like “Hey Trevor, good to see you! It’s been a while. What have you been up to?” To which I would say something like, “Yes, it has! I worked for another federal agency for the last three years.”

The Library of Congress is a big place, the kind of place where you could really have not seen someone for three years. It’s also the kind of place where three years can seem like a blip of time. Library time really is a different kind of time. Being back now there are moments where I feel like I never left. I’m back with many of the same people talking about many of the same things. At the same time so much has changed for the better. I find myself having a chance to help support the development and implementation of a vision for the digital present and future of the institution and it’s extremely exciting.

My first run at all of this has been a really amazing experience. The idea of building out a team of staff for the digital content management section around the web archiving team has been really exciting. Part of my new job involves hiring ten people to round out the new section I’m setting up. In keeping with the nature of the federal hiring process, this ended up involving conducting more than fifty hour long structured interviews from a pool of hundreds of candidates for these positions. It’s a challenging privilege to be present and and supportive for people putting themselves out there in interviews. As the year closes, and this process inches closer to completion I’m excited about the prospect of transitioning from being a planner and hiring manager for this new section to being a coach and a mentor in supporting this team do great work on behalf of the public.

When Going back is Going Forward: On Returning to the LC

I am overjoyed to announce that I will serve as the first Head of Digital Content Management in Library Services at the Library of Congress.

For the first time in my career I’m going to be an official librarian. In Gov speak, this job is a 1410, I’ve previously been a “information technology specialist (2210) and most recently the most government sounding thing imaginable “miscellaneous administration” (0301). Of the many things I am excited about regarding the position, one is that after more than a decade of working with and supporting libraries I will now be, according to the United States federal government, a practicing librarian.

It’s been hard for me to imagine something that could call me away from the work I get to do at the Institute of Museum and Library Services. But then this came along. This post provides some context on 1) why I’m generally excited to go back 2) why I’m specifically excited to go back and 3) why it’s also so very hard to leave.

A great time to be at the LC

IMLS staff settling in to watch and cheer on Dr. Carla Hayden during her swearing in as the Library of Congress. I’m over in the right corner. Photo Credit Emily Reynolds.

Like librarians around the country, I cheered when Dr. Carla Hayden was nominated to be our Librarian of Congress. I cheered even louder when she was confirmed. I’ve been watching from the sidelines and talking with many of my friends at LC about exciting changes she is bringing to the institution.

It’s clearly a great time to work for the Library of Congress. I’m excited to be a part of that.

I will point out a few top-of-mind examples of exciting work afoot. Kate Zwaard and her team are charting a course for supporting the use and reuse of digital collections. Joe Puccio and his team have established and advanced a smart and bold vision for digital collecting. It’s invigorating to see the Library of Congress so clearly engaging as a partner and a leader in the national community of libraries and librarians. The friendships that came from my previous stint at LC have stuck with me and it is great to see many of those smart, thoughtful, and hardworking friends moving into positions that are enabling them to take the institution to exciting new places.

So that’s some context on general LC things that get me excited, but it’s the particulars of this job that pull me back.

What does being the Head of Digital Content Management entail?

Screenshot from the Library of Congress FY 17 budget justification which explains concepts behind the launch of the Digital Collections Management Section. Note: This document was drafted a good while ago and as such the particulars of the organizational structure and roles in this is likely a bit different than what is outlined here.

Before getting into this, I should kick off by saying that what follows is 1) my personal reading of 2) public information about 3) a job I’ve yet to start at 4) an organization that has changed a lot since I left it three years ago. Further, as is always the case, things on my blog are a) personal reflections b ) not in any way official in regards to any connection with organizations I am now or have ever been associated with and c) last but not least, in no way statements on behalf of the gov. Back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

For some context on where this new Head of Digital Content Management role comes from, I recommend pages 48-49 of the Library of Congress 2017 budget justification. As a general side note, the hefty budget justification tomes are chock full of great info on the institution.

Given that most readers will likely not be cracking open that particular volume, I’m happy to walk through it a bit. On page 48 you can find a description of a request for resources to meet the need for the “establishment of a new digital content management unit … that will be responsible for collecting and managing content for the Library’s collections in digital formats.” There is a bit more context there about what exactly this entails, “The unit will codify and communicate digital content best practices, provide training to staff throughout the Library, and work with Office of the Chief Information Officer to develop the Library’s technical capacity to collect, preserve, and deliver digital collections.” Furthermore, the division “will focus on expanding the Library’s 

acquisition, management, and preservation of digital collections” and “assume responsibility for key born digital acquisitions programs and digital materials not supported elsewhere in the Library, including web archiving.

In short, this involves developing, building out, and supporting a team focused on building capacity for the Library of Congress to collect, manage, and provide access to digital content. It also involves supporting the existing web archiving program, which (IMHO) is a) world class digital collecting program and b) one of the most exciting, dynamic, and growing programs at the Library of Congress.

In short, this is my jam.

If you want evidence of my passion for long term access to digital information look no further than the tattoo on my right arm

This feels like what I have been thinking about and writing about for close to a decade.

Subject matter aside, I’ve also become increasingly passionate about good management and administration. When I moved into a management role at IMLS I delved deep into reading, thinking, and practicing work on organizational culture, emotional intelligence, organizational design and theory, and creating effective teams. The idea of helping build out a unit of the Library of Congress anchored in an ethic of care is (irrespective of the subject) exciting in its own right.

Even more information about digital content management!

But wait… there’s more.

The job posting has, in between standard government-job-speak, some thoughtfully crafted info on how this work is being designed. Again, I’m not on the inside yet. I don’t know exactly how the lived experience of these aspects are developing and coming together. With that noted, the way this job (and the resulting organizational structure it implies) are being described and articulated makes a lot of sense me. I’ve pasted the duties below for context. The thing I want to highlight in these is the connections between this new Digital Content Management Section as three different kinds of things;

  • A custodial unit that manages a set of collecting programs and content;
  • A platform for increasing capacity for digital collecting in units across the Library; and
  • A team that can share out what it learns more broadly in LC and with the field.

In my mind, these seem like three concentric circles nested in each other that can facilitate and support change in both the institution and the field. Below is the exact language from the position listing where you can see these different themes weave in and out. I’ve gone ahead and bolded some parts that connect with those three points I’ve mentioned. I like to stick to my sources and my texts, so here we go.

The Head of Digital Content Management…

  • Coordinates, determines, and manages projects within the section. Serves as a technical expert in the planning, management, and execution of digital collections projects and activities within the scope of the section. Applying broad knowledge of digital libraries and technical solutions provides expert analysis and advice and develops solutions to solve complex issues and problems associated with digital lifecycle management. Identifies and applies new analytical techniques to address situations that are unique or not previously encountered.
  • Oversees the development of requirements related to the management of digital content under care of the section. Directs studies and testing of digital library best practices and standards. Develops cost estimates and IT investment packages to support digital content acquisition and curation programs. Serves as advisor and liaison to the Chief of Digital Collection Management & Services Division (TBD) on matters pertaining to digital collections lifecycle activities. Establishes and maintains effective working relationships with Library staff at multiple levels and across service unit lines on digital collections management.
  • Coordinates digital workflow activities with specialists in curatorial units throughout Library Services, the Law Library, and the Office of Chief Information Officer. Provides training and presentations to staff in stakeholder and curatorial units. Communicates orally and in writing to both technical and non-technical staff concerning digital collections activities.
  • Attends conferences/meetings to make presentations or for professional development to keep abreast of current trends in technology. Works collaboratively inside and outside the section to facilitate and encourage the development and implementation of institution-wide and national best practices and standards.
  • Performs the administrative and human resource management functions related to the staff supervised. Establishes guidelines and performance expectations for staff, which are clearly communicated through the formal employee performance management system. Responsible for advancing the objectives of equal employment opportunity (EEO) by taking positive steps to adhere to nondiscriminatory employment practices in regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability.

But now… the feels

The last few weeks I’ve felt a lot like No Face (pictured above) batted about by waves of feels.

It is really hard to leave IMLS. I love this place. I love the mission. I love the work. But far and above all of that, I love the people. No one outside the organization can ever really understand what it’s like.

The team I have been able to work with has been a gift. My colleagues and staff in the Office of Library Services are amazing. Each of them is brilliant and talented in different ways and together they are incredibly effective and sharp. It’s also a group of thoughtful and supportive people. I like to think everyone in the team knows that they are respected and they are cared for. At least that is how I know I’ve felt. It’s also something I’ve tried to communicate. So much work goes on behind the scenes with very few people. The small but mighty staff of the Office of Library Services, supported by an assortment of other great tiny offices, are who make all of it happen.

Many of the Office of Library Services team at the opening of ALA 2016

Beyond the direct team, the folks in the Office of Museum Services are a pleasure to work with and the various supporting offices are all filled with dedicated people who work to make rules and regulations designed for federal agencies with thousands of people work for one that has a tiny fraction of a fraction of that. I can honestly say I’ve never worked as hard as I’ve worked at IMLS, but the work has always been deeply rewarding. To my IMLS colleagues, I see the work you do and I understand and appreciate it. I’m going to be less than a mile away and I would love to drop just about anything to get coffee and talk whenever. I hope you’ll all still keep me in the loop re: happy hours.

OLS staff sporting their team jerseys. I’m in the back with a Zotero t-shirt on.

It’s hard to leave all that. However, as various people have come and gone in my time at IMLS, I’ve been aware of just how temporary and fleeting places and communities like this are. Reflecting on changes in the time I’ve been there I can clearly count a range of different eras and moments. We never walk into the same river twice and part of what makes the stratigraphy of our lives special and poignant in our memories requires a perpetual moving and shifting around. With all of that said, I’m joining the IMLS alumni network:  a crew of friends I already know quite well.

I am incredibly proud of the work I’ve been involved in. I count myself lucky to have the chance to develop Maura’s vision in the national digital platform framework.  Along with that, I am thrilled that the calls for proposals for FY 2018 continue to support national digital platform projects. I leave in place a team of some of the smartest and most talented people working on these issues in the country. I can’t wait to see all the amazing work that they will support. I also leave with the hope that my understanding of the functions and missions of IMLS and the Library of Congress can support future connections and collaborations between these unique institutions.

I end where I often find myself, humbled and inspired by the opportunities I have been presented with to serve, and hopeful that I can, to whatever extent possible, pay forward what has been given to me by my mentors and colleagues. As we Wisconsinites say, Forward!