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Oya Rieger - Learning Resources

Oya Rieger
Associate University Librarian for Digital Scholarship and Preservation Services, Cornell University Library
Interviewed 7/3/2012

Oya Rieger encourages us to recognize that digitization projects have a life. They are living projects that need extension, assessment and a clear understanding of how they are being used by faculty and researchers. They need to connect with the academic learning-teaching-research environment. Rieger also shares the challenges of organizationally mainstreaming projects, preventing projects from being orphaned and integrating standards into practice.

Life-cycle management: “Whatever we do in libraries, especially with digitization programs, it is not about stating up, it’s about sustaining and maintaining and developing and phasing.”

Libraries are creating knowledge and information
In the past: Libraries used to focus on organizing and delivering information and supporting the use of information.

In the present: In the last ten years, libraries have been actively participating in the creation of information and especially working with faculty and other researchers as they are creating knowledge, transforming knowledge into information, publishing, etc.

Projects need to be based on targeted faculty needs
Libraries are most effective when they work on programs that are targeted and specifically based on what the faculty is selecting, i.e. creating digital repositories, managing the content that the faculty is creating or digitizing content to support the faculty’s teaching and learning.

The purposes of digitization
In the beginning, digitization had two purposes:
1) To protect the originals: the digital copy reduces wear and tear on the original by acting as an intermediary
2) To provide global access to core historical materials

Digitization is “a way to unify, in a way distribute primary collections that are historically important, that form the canon of any given discipline.”

Perpetual anxiety
Librarians always seem to have a kind of “perpetual anxiety about the future and the role of libraries.”

The evolving role of librarians within the Digitization and Preservation Research Unit at Cornell
Digitization gave libraries a new role to digitize historic collections in order to make them more accessible to the world and to help connect the world. This new role elevated and rebranded librarians as technologists who knew not only how to scan images but the detailed technical specifications of colors and bits. As technologists, librarians were seen as “pioneering and trying to, in a way, move the library’s agenda into an innovative area.” However, a gap developed between the “traditional librarians and now this new age digital librarian.”

This new and innovative Digitization and Preservation Research Unit was seen as “a new shop” or “a new operation” with its own team that immediately went into production. The Digitization Unit was not organizationally mainstreamed into the library. This turned out to be an impediment since it took years to integrate this stand-alone group into the library. It would be advisable instead to approach digitization as research and development work that would be explored, understood and with the goal to be mainstreamed. Organizational mainstreaming would involve:
- Moving the responsibilities of metadata librarians within cataloging
- Moving the maintenance of image databases to the IT unit
- Not solely relying on soft money and grants
- Developing a sustainable infrastructure

Share what you have learned
You will gain expertise in developing your digital collections. Consider sharing your knowledge with the greater library and cultural heritage community via webinars, hands-on workshops, etc.

Orphaned projects
Many libraries are facing the same challenge where “we start an experiment, we get money, but then they are kind of orphaned and we move on.”

This applies to digitization and other types of projects. Organizationally mainstreaming projects and creating an infrastructure for them will help projects become more sustainable.

Standardization takes years
Standardization is usually a broad international collaboration that is based on groupthink and requires consensus-building.

“It takes a very, very long time to come up with standards, and that—also I think maybe what makes standards work well is that they are tedious and they are detail-oriented.”

The challenge becomes, after these standards are developed, how to integrate them into practice and the fast-paced, low-resourced work front.

Look at your digital project holistically
From an organizational perspective, look at your digitization projects more holistically. The program can then be foundational rather than an add-on.

Connecting digital collections with the learning-teaching-research environment
In the past, the prevailing attitude was “libraries manage information, you give it to the faculty, they consume it.” Today, we need to “establish very strong partnerships with faculty and researchers so that they are enduring relationships.” We need to be more embedded in research, learning and teaching and ask if we can do anything innovative that would help faculty with their research activities. Libraries need to be more collaborative and connect their projects with the learning-teaching-research environment of the faculty and researchers.

Digitization: the life-cycle management of a living project
Digitization programs are about “sustaining and maintaining and developing and phasing.”
Recognize that digitization projects “have a life and that we need to attend to it.”
“You select, you digitize, create metadata, provide access—you digitize more, you add, you change the interface”
“You should see it as a living project that needs extension, assessment, understanding how it’s being used.”