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Joyce Ray - Learning Resources

Joyce Ray
Former Associate Deputy Director for Library Services at the US Institute of Museum and Library Services (1997 to 2011)
Interviewed 3/4/2010

Note: Joyce Ray left IMLS in August 2011. She is now Visiting Professor, Information Studies at University College London

Summary: IMLS was the first and is the only funding agency in Washington with a statute authority to fund digitization. Joyce Ray was there when IMLS was established in 1997. Ray discusses the beginnings of the WebWise Conference as a place to bring together people from different types of libraries, archives and museums who had an interest in digitization and technology. Ray urges us to shift to thinking of “innovation” from using content to connecting with, building and making a difference in a community.

Quote: What does it mean to be “innovative”?
“It’s not always complex technology, sometimes it is more about community building, like working with a new or different community. And bringing different groups of people together…using the content in innovative ways.”

New projects: short on how-to but filled with excitement
Take advantage of opportunities to work in a new agency or on a new project. You many not know exactly what you are doing and you may have to make things up as you go along, but it is very exciting.

IMLS and the statute on digitization
IMLS was the first and only funding agency in Washington that has written into its statute the authority to fund digitization.

On Digitization
IMLS initially did not know how to help people prepare for a digitization project.
− “There was a real lack of knowledge about how to do it—how to do it right.”

This prompted IMLS to launch the WebWise Conference as:
− A place to bring together all those interested in digitization and technology
− A place to present models and share on how to prepare for a digitization project
− A place for collaboration to bring together people from different types of libraries, archives and museums

Digitization for long-term preservation
People tend to think of digitization primarily in terms of access. But it has a large role for the future long-term preservation of physical collections, which are subject to being damaged or lost.
− “People think of it primarily for access, and, you know, that’s certainly an important part of it. But there are so many examples where physical collections have been lost—through fires and floods and earthquakes and thefts and—destruction that—knowing that you have a good digital surrogate as a good backup is really an important part of that—that picture.”

Funding “innovative model projects”
In terms of funding digitization projects, IMLS has always focused on funding “innovative model projects.” Initially, IMLS funded projects that developed criteria, guidance and workflows. As those projects turned into established best practices, the focus evolved to innovative projects such as
statewide collaboratives, aggregation projects for metadata harvesting, tool development and the interaction of tools with content.

Yet unknown uses for your digitized collection
IMLS used to require digitization projects to determine their audience and show demand for the content. However, they learned that these were often unknowns and that “our imagination about who’s going to use content has been greatly expanded just by doing it and putting it out there.”
− “So you have collections that used to only be available to a few, scholars and people had no idea that when they put this stuff online that there would be so much interest from people that they never imagined, like school children, homeschoolers, scholars, you know, around the world. And that’s been very gratifying and eye-opening.”

IMLS also used to require projects to interact with an audience, evaluate actual use, be tied to learning outcomes, show impact, etc. However, IMLS also realized that they were sometimes requiring grantees “to do too much in one project” within the three-year project period; that is, focusing on the technical issues of “a really cutting-edge technology project should be enough in itself.”

What does it mean to be innovative?
It means using content in innovative ways in order to:
− Connect with a community
− Make a difference in a community
− Bring people together and build a community

− “For a lot of people it really means getting connected to a community. So that means going to conferences, even if it’s local conferences, and finding out what the state-of-the-art is so they can figure out how they can make a difference in their community.”
− “And it’s not always complex technology, sometimes it is more about community building, like working with a new or different community. And bringing different groups of people together. So using the content—can be using the content in innovative ways.”

Persistence pays off
When you apply for a grant for the first time and you are not successful, don’t get discouraged. Learn from the comments and advice of the reviewers. Then, apply again.
− “We also have seen—applicants that are not successful the first time they apply for a grant, if they really listen to the reviewers’ comments and take them to heart—I feel that our reviewers are very sensitive and try to give really helpful advice. And we have seen people make very good use of that and come back with a successful project.”

Private versus public funding
There are issues with private sector money for projects, including:
− Funding often goes to “cherry-picked” projects that satisfy an immediate demand
− It is more difficult for smaller institutions with less exciting yet high value projects to get funded
− Access to the content may be controlled, limited or “locked”

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