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Nancy Allen - Learning Resources

Nancy Allen
Dean, Penrose Library, University of Denver
Interviewed 11/30/2009

Nancy Allen discusses the Colorado Digitization Project (CDP) and working collaboratively with other cultural heritage institutions and creating an infrastructure for sharing digital content, which became a model for digitization projects nationwide.

“Information flow rather than archival management needs to be ported out to the cultural heritage world.”

A shared vision
Nancy Allen and Nancy Bolt (former Colorado State Librarian) shared the vision for CDP: “Nancy and I were talking about how it was too bad that there was no state infrastructure to share the knowledge that they [DPL’s Western History collections] had gained organizationally about digitization.” Many of the projects discussed by the Digital Pioneers began with one, two or a few people with a shared vision. It was often a vision of creating improved access.

Sharing knowledge
Your goal is to be able to share institutional knowledge and systems that you are creating. You are creating knowledge. Therefore, in designing the process and while undergoing the process, build in a way to document and share it.

User adoption is key
Adoption by others is key since the value of a project is in its ability to be duplicated and re-purposed.

The larger purpose of information
What is the purpose of information? Information has value to users when it serves their purposes. You are creating value by allowing others to duplicate and repurpose data and information.

Repurposing grants
When applying for grants, think big and consider using the same application for a larger grant in the future to further facilitate your grant’s goals. Build into the grant a way of creating a system for documenting the process and sharing the knowledge so that others can adopt and benefit from the same grant.

Focus on collaboration between libraries and cultural heritage institutions, not just the technology
Technology is the tool to help you achieve your goals. Therefore, you need to focus not just the technology but on the goal on what to do with the information and the data.

Expect many challenges
Anticipate many challenges and build them into your grant: plan both how to anticipate them and how to deal with them. These include challenges in collaboration, standards, best practices and technology. There may not be standards in place so you may be the one to develop them. Keep this in mind as it will influence your project design. There are many benefits to having the standards that you create to meet not just the needs of libraries but museum and other cultural heritage institutions. The CDP had the goal of sharing infrastructure with libraries and cultural heritage institutions like museums, archives and historical societies.

Collaborative challenges: Project collaborators must share a common purpose
Project collaborators must have common ground with shared professional understandings, goals and purpose for the work. Lacking shared purpose will cause problems later in the process.

An effective Executive Director with vision and drive
You will need an Executive Director who can drive the growth and vision of the project. They will need to be well-connected so that they can network beyond libraries and create collaborative organizational relationships and partnerships.

A board with grand vision
It is important to have a high-level, big-thinking and visionary board.

Have a massive vision of infrastructure elements
A grant will make you come up with a plan. Build a vision very practically. A first grant can be the gateway to much larger grants. Additional grants can add to the infrastructure. Creating an adaptable and adoptable infrastructure will allow you to make a difference nationwide.

Visualize your vision
Storyboard your vision so that you can visualize the elements needed to achieve your goals.

Provide best practices and guidelines to collaborators
Provide best practices and guidelines to collaborators for greater efficiency and effectiveness in implementation. Provide the same equipment, metadata, software to all partners. Make teaching, training and workshops available to all partners. Have practical use rules agreed upon by partners.

The biggest challenge of the CDP digitization collaborative was sustainability. You need to develop a sustainability model from the very beginning. You must plan for both funding and leadership sustainability.

Funding sustainability
You cannot depend on always getting your grants. There is a need to build a sustainable model from the beginning and create more diverse revenue streams, creative ways to fundraise for infrastructure, upgrades, new policies, travel funding and unanticipated costs. Strive to generate funding sources that will have minimal disruptions.

Leadership sustainability
Leadership and staff will change during the course of projects. Strive to minimize the impact of leadership and staff turnover. Plan for the institutional transfer of information. Combine leadership expertise by having leaders with varying strengths. It is critical to maintain your commitments to members through changes in leadership, staff, operations and grants.

Information Flow in a collaborative world
“Information flow rather than archival management needs to be ported out to the cultural heritage world.” Other cultural institutions need to switch their view from traditional archival management to the movement of information from repositories to users.

Digitization projects bridge the gap
Digitization projects bridge the gap between libraries and cultural heritage institutions since digitizing collections connects users to archived materials. We must work to systematically bridge the knowledge gap between the developers in libraries and archives, and other cultural heritage organizations.

Collaboration and partnerships with cultural heritage institutions
Collaborative is hard work but it is worth it. It is better for society. It is deep and lasting work.

Do outreach
Libraries need to do outreach to museums, galleries and school teachers.