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John Wilkin - Learning Resources

John Wilkin
Associate University Librarian for Library Information Technology at the University of Michigan and Executive Director of Hathi Trust
Interviewed 6/1/2012

John Wilkin discusses his roles with the Digital Library Production service at the University of Michigan and the Making of America Project; developing skills from working on large multi-institutional projects; and current librarian skills and trends.

“It was really friendships and a recognition of the way that our different experiences can come together around this one problem.”

In any project, there will be “an ebb and flow of systems and materials.” You will need to plan for sustaining an enterprise and system due to “turnover and staff and intersections with other systems.”

Workflow versus agility
In some projects, designing a formal workflow could be “more cumbersome than the value it contributed.” Strive for a balance between a workflow and “the freedom to operate in more improvisational ways.” Improvising contributes to agility, flexibility and figuring out new ways of looking at things.

Build modules for constant systems
Building in modularity allows you to “build the code around modules that were constant and worked for all the systems and that what we did for each new one would be unique for—would be the unique piece for that.”

Using unique identifiers
“Semantically rich identifiers are stupid” since they are not scalable and are not that helpful. Unique identifiers need to be automated and be able to be validated. Barcodes are a very successful use of unique identifiers.

Working together on multi-institution projects
Working on the large multi-institution projects was about friendship and sharing experiences and strategies. The participants worked on determining efficient ways to develop scalable and sustainable architectures. They did this by recognizing that different experiences can come together to solve issues, by bringing together resources, and sharing when best practices and standards were or weren’t appropriate. “Doing things in a shared space rather than in our own institutional spaces and then knitting them together” was more efficient.

Hot topic: Ambiguity
Ambiguity is where a census of the digital materials is unavailable. U.S. government documents lack “a comprehensive corpus” since large regional depositories are not cataloged comprehensively at the item level. This affects how to determine the contents and quantity of the inventory and how to determine copyright renewal.

LIS Education: Strategies, methodologies and skills
Because skills are going to change, your education should be about strategies and methodologies rather than about specific skills. Due to the rapid change in skills and formats, you need to know about frameworks, strategies, and applying them. Know some key formats. But more importantly, “know why those formats are meaningful and how to extrapolate things.”

Going through a list of the last fifteen librarians that the University of Michigan’s library had hired, Wilkin discovered that none of them were catalogers or reference librarians. Instead, the list included positions for copyright specialist, user interface specialist, programmer, or someone with specific skills that can be applied to particular types of problems, i.e. project management. “Picking an area of usability or user experience or HCI and figuring out strategies is more effective than learning this framework for that thing” because “it’s not about the tools, it’s about the way you use things.”