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Anne Kenney - Learning Resources

Anne Kenney
University Librarian at Cornell University
Interviewed 8/1/2012

Summary: Imagine capturing the detail in a one-millimeter high character in Bodoni Italic font. Anne Kenney discusses how the Great Collections Microfilming Brittle Books Program, which was focused on preserving our national and international heritage, led to standards for benchmarking digital imaging that were eventually adopted by JSTOR and Google. Kenney also shares why she thinks Special Collections is “an area where there’ll be some heavy mining for digitization” and why libraries put themselves at risk when they limit access to Special Collections and fail to meet “our traditional time-bound responsibilities to promote scholarship and learning.”

“I think you don’t want to be on the bloody cutting edge very often. It is much better to be a clever adapter, to take things from different places and build something than to try to be an innovator all the time.”

Talk about your project
Discuss the projects you are working on with others. You never know who might either be involved with or knows someone who is involved with a related project. Be open to others not just in the library world, but to those in companies, non-profits, and other industries.

Digitizing files
Focus on the highest image quality and the broadest range of use.
− “You want to create rich enough files to support a multiple range of uses because you may not be able to go back and scan again.”

How much metadata is enough? Switch to thinking from the maximum to the minimum essential level that you can efficiently collect.
− “I think in the metadata realm—I was more interested in not how much we could collect, but how little we could collect to meet our needs. And so there were some fairly elaborate standards for preservation and—and other descriptive metadata that are—that are pristine and beautiful but—but probably aren’t going to be fully implemented because of the overhead associated with them.”
− “The RFP that we developed—in looking for a vendor had both the standards for the imaging process and the quality control but also the essential metadata.”

Grants are a blessing and a curse
Outside funding comes with great and lasting responsibility. You own the responsibility to mainstream and sustain your digital projects. This responsibility will last long after the life of the grant.
− “It was easy to get funds to do imaging projects. It’s—it’s become obviously tougher over time. But—you know, it’s a blessing and a curse, to have—outside funds to do such work. Because ultimately the issue of mainstreaming and creating sustainable paths for—for keeping such materials haunts you.”

Integrate your projects with your institution’s mission
Outside funding allows you to do research and development. However, this is often done in parallel, instead of as an integral part of your institution’s mission and goals. Sustaining a project long-term requires institutional anchoring and commitment. Your project needs to be integrated into your library’s day-to-day operations.
- “So—once a project is done, you’re—you are then left holding something that hasn’t been well integrated into the—the mission and goals and processes that an institution may have. It’s done in parallel. And that is highly problematic.”

Don’t mix up research and production grants
Research and development grants are smaller grants where you do research and there is flexibility to change course as you learn more. Production grants are focused on output, the end product(s) and quality.
- “You can either do research and stop to admire what you’re doing and sort of change course as you learn more, or you can do a production grant, where, you know, throughput is the big deal. Quality and throughput and reliability. But mixing and matching the two is—is problematic.”

Think before you buy
Invest the time into determining what the problem is before immediately deciding on a technical solution and buying equipment than does not actually solve your problem.
− “Buying equipment and then determining what you want to do with it is—an all too common occurrence.”
− “Oh, we’re going to do rare books so we bought a flatbed scanner. Well, you know, how are you really going to capture those rare books? Because you’re not going to disbind them.”

Don’t be so enamored with the money: Think before you apply
Ask yourself “what is it that’s critical for my institution moving forward?” Will receiving the grant actually detract you from your institution’s mission and goals?
− “I can get a grant to do this. It’s going to be a hard sell back home, but man, there’s a lot of money there that might be really cool to have!”
− “You understand and not be—distracted from, first and foremost, is this good for the institution, does it support its mission, is it—is it a priority that means that funds will be diverted from somewhere else?”

Be “a clever adapter”
Don’t try to be an innovator all the time. Innovation = high risk. Failure can be very expensive. Instead, think broadly and efficiently about how you can inexpensively build on others’ innovations.
- “I think you don’t want to be on the bloody—cutting edge very often. It is much better to be a clever adapter, to take things from different places and build something than to try to be an innovator all the time.”
− “Because innovation has such a high risk element associated with it for—for failure. And—and failure in the digital access realm is quite dismal to everybody else. So—and a lot of time and effort can be spent in that.”

Beware of gifts
Gifts may often cost you much more than the value of the gift itself.
− “So you’ll often start with something that seems like a really—great thing and then end up paying over and over and over for—for those kinds of gifts that come through.”

Meeting the service expectations of “uppity users” from all over the world
When you make a collection available on the internet, you are committing to servicing that collection. Expect to serve users from all over the world with different needs and demands.
− “In fact, when you put something out there and you provide it freely accessible, it’s naïve not to think that you are serving a much broader community, which can have very different needs for what they’re doing. So uppity users of the world, unite.”
− “The amount of service expectation that came with all of these customers and all of these users around the world was phenomenal. And we had to not only to provide technical support for them but also to provide a lot of reference support for them.”

Letting Special Collections be mined for digitization
Libraries have the responsibility to make materials available, including Special Collections. However, libraries have been held back by fears of litigation. Limiting access to Special Collections actually puts libraries at risk. Libraries need to “meet our traditional time-bound responsibilities to promote scholarship and learning.”
− “I think special collections is—an area where there’ll be some heavy mining for digitization.”
− “That the focus has been for so long now on avoiding risks of litigation. And by doing so, we have curtailed what have been traditional roles that libraries have played in society, which is to make material available for use and new knowledge and creative expression.”
− “We have to be very mindful of privacy rights, of donor rights, of expectations for users. And not be so fearful of asserting fair use rights.”
− “I think that—institutions—given the pressure from external forces, have been relatively timid about—supporting risk-taking in terms of providing access to materials. And I think we are—putting our institutions at risk by being so timid about doing that.”

Don’t be a one-trick pony
Think broadly, deeply and holistically about your skill sets. Your job description will change over the next two years.
− “So broader thinking as well as deeper—appreciation of some areas of specialization. But not so narrowly defining yourself that—you know, you don’t want to be a one-trick pony in terms of what the needs are.”
- “It’s a constant cycle of reinventing, relearning, appreciating new things”
- “That you not box yourselves in—oh, yeah, that’s our—that’s our imaging person.
- “That you have a holistic understanding of the full scope of what it means to fulfill missions in a really changing environment.”
− “I think most staff at Cornell have different jobs than they did two years ago. Even though—you know, it’s a constant cycle of reinventing, relearning, appreciating new—new things that come down—the pike. But don’t lose the enthusiasm.”

Get mentored up and down
Cornell has an effective mentoring program where the staff is “mentored up and down.” Find mentors up and down staff ranks. Everyone has different skills and talents that they can share with others.
− “Being mentored up and down I think is absolutely—absolutely key.”