Librarians on the Rise

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According to experts in the field, 90 percent of the world’s data has been generated in the past two years. To ensure digital literacy — the ability to use cognitive and technical skills to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information — in New York State, two Colgate University librarians, Jesi Buell and Joshua Finnell, seek to expand the skills of regional librarians.

They are members of a team of librarians from four upstate institutions that has been awarded an $82,688 Planning Grant by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program to pilot a skill-sharing program. IMLS is a federal agency that funds museums and libraries nationwide.

Buell, instructional design and web librarian, and Finnell, head of research and instruction, will create the New York Data Carpentries Library Consortium (NYDCLC), composed of Colgate, Cornell University, Syracuse University, and the University of Rochester. The grant allows teams from these institutions to complete a one-year pilot project to address needs within the library community.

With new technologies emerging, the data growth will likely accelerate — leaving librarians with the responsibility of managing visual information, governmental and legal records, and statistical files. “The generation of data is outpacing the development of infrastructure and training adequate to support its findability, accessibility, analysis, and reproducibility,” Finnell says. “That’s at the heart of our grant.”

Buell and Finnell will first conduct an institutional environmental scan of Colgate to determine its data literacy and digital needs. Next, they will create a larger steering committee including representatives from NYDCLC, as well as representatives of surrounding public libraries. The steering committee will run a broader environmental scan, which allows for a comprehensive needs analysis across the regional library councils.

“By identifying and understanding the specific needs of the community in central and upstate N.Y., we can tailor our workshops accordingly,” Finnell says. NYDCLC members have previously led workshops using the programming languages Python and R for web scraping, topic modeling, and microdata. 

NYDCLC implements the train-the-trainer model, adopted from The Carpentries, which provides education and training programs to increase the knowledge and expertise of librarians who will in turn, be able to facilitate their patrons’ learning of data literacy skills.

Buell and Finnell will attend workshops led by a trainer from the New England Library Carpentry Consortium, which also uses this model. “We’re going to learn about different software and pedagogical methodologies,” Buell says. “Then, we’ll relay these skills to librarians in regional public libraries and public schools. This way, they can choose their own lesson plans and create workshops for their respective communities.”

Expanding the train-the-trainer model and integrating librarians from surrounding communities, NYDCLC fosters collaborations to address issues of shared concern around patron support and learning. “We need to establish trust with the regional libraries that we’re working with,” Finnell says. “That is crucial for our success.”

Buell and Finnell plan on hosting a workshop at Colgate in 2020.