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Innovation from the University of Pennsylvania Libraries

Last Wednesday, I had lunch with Delphine Khanna, Digital Projects Librarian at the University of Pennsylvania, in the Information Technology & Digital Development (ITaDD) Department. Delphine filled me in on an innovative approach her library is using to involve library staff members outside of ITaDD in digital library projects. I first heard about this a couple of months ago and thought that many of you might be interested in these ideas.

By way of background, Delphine mentioned that her team has spent the last few years developing their Digital Library Architecture (DLA) in order to have a stable delivery mechanism for any and all content, across the entire library. Their goal was to get away from “one-off” solutions for each proposed digital collection that came along. They achieved this with the DLA, but the bright ideas didn’t stop there. In addition to avoiding individualized delivery platforms, they also realized that the workflows involved in moving a collection from the physical to the digital ran across the entire library, and they involved staff from virtually every library department.

This presented an opportunity to expose a wide variety of library staff to the process of digital projects development, and to start having digital library efforts perceived as a library-wide endeavor. It also offered a chance for individual staff members to pick up new skills and grow professionally.

Here’s how they took advantage of those opportunities.

They established 4 digital library project teams by format: image collections, page turning collections, catalog collections, and non-catalog collections. Each team has 4 permanent members: 1 from ITaDD, 1 web manager, 1 public services librarian, and 1 technical services librarian. Teams also have guest members, who are typically collection owners, rotating in as projects pass through the team’s workload. The public and technical services members of the teams focus primarily on tasks such as such as data mapping, gathering requirements, writing specifications and documentation, and leading meetings, and they also gain a familiarity with the ITaDD methodology of project management.

In this way, Delphine estimates that over 50 people from the library have had direct experience with the DLA and with digital library projects in the past 3 years. And some of these people have had extended and extensive experience. This is changing their effective skill set.

She has recently gotten approval for a pilot project to invite a few of the permanent members to enter into a mentoring relationship and learn the basic technical skills needed to do digital ingest. This takes things to the next level, as she says, and has the potential both for staff development and also for increasing the library’s capacity for handling new projects.

Could this model be adapted for use in your environment? What differences might it make?