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Roy Tennant - Learning Resources

Roy Tennant
Senior Program Officer, Research Division of OCLC
Interviewed 6/2012

Roy Tennant emphasizes the complete dependence of digital preservation on commitment, even of just one person. Tennant describes the value of reaching out to the community when they embarked on The Jack London Online Collection. In discussing eScholarship, Tennant shares the benefits of creating a prototype to help stakeholders see your vision and the secrets to getting faculty research into your institutional repository.

“Preservation is about commitment”
“The single most important aspect of digital preservation is commitment. That’s it. Commitment. It’s not what the bits are on, it’s not any of that stuff. It’s simply committing to be there to keep that stuff around.”

Include the wider community’s items in your collection
The Jack London Online Collection became one the first virtual libraries where the digitized materials were not housed in any one physical location. When planning for a digital collection, reach out to the wider community and include items from collections that are not owned by the library.

For example, while working on digitizing The Jack London Online Collection that began at the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library (, Tennant’s project reached out to the Jack London community and included items that were not part of Bancroft’s collection including photographs of Jack London’s family from a private collection. They also contacted both Dr. Clarisse Staz at the Sonoma State University and the California State Parks System. Sonoma State University Library now manages the collection.

“Preservation is about commitment”
•“The single most important aspect of digital preservation is commitment. That’s it. Commitment. It’s not what the bits are on, it’s not any of that stuff. It’s simply committing to be there to keep that stuff around.”
•When the project lacks commitment, you may eventually need to supply it yourself.

The library needs to care about your project
When managing a project, sometimes you may be fortunate enough to have free reign on how to run the project. However, the down side is that your project runs the risk of becoming too disconnected from the library. It is critical to 1) make an effort to promote your project as part of the library and 2) make your project a part of the regular processes of the library. Your goal is to have the stakeholders care about your project.

Projects as launching pads and playgrounds
Use current projects as launching pads for future projects. Projects can be playgrounds for experimenting, building on and creating new things. Projects can act as building blocks for larger projects. For example, while working on the Librarian’s Index to the Internet, Tennant found that he “could provide an infrastructure and capability and technical ability to take that project to the next big step.”

Share your expertise and your findings
You will develop expertise in various technical areas as your project progresses. Experiment and report your findings back to the community so that others can benefit. For example, Tennant and his team held a five-day boot camp help educate librarians on the digitization process.

Start a technology-learning program at your library
Tennant and about half a dozen library staff started Library Technology Watch, where they each watched out for specific technologies, wrote about them and held brown bag sessions to teach the other staff about the various technologies. Although now defunct, Library Technology Watch eventually became the Information Systems Instruction and Support (ISIS) that both educated staff on new technologies and served as a help desk.

Have the courage to go on a different path and have the courage to move on if it does not work out
You may have a powerful idea. However, no one else may believe in it. If no one else is excited about your project, the lack of support in staff, staff time and funding will adversely affect your project.

“One of my lessons from all of this that there are going to be times when you have exactly the right idea but it’s the wrong time or the wrong place, or whatever, and you have to let it go and move on. If you can’t make it real within that particular context or that situation, then go be successful in something else.”

“Prototypes are worth a million words”
Build prototypes to tell the story of your project. People need to see what you are asking them to support. Prototypes illustrate your vision of what is possible – the purpose and the “why” of the project. Someone else can manage the “how” and actually build it in the way it needs to be built.

“I am a huge fan of prototypes. You know, if you want to make your case to someone about doing something, build it, even if it’s just smoke and mirrors. I mean, literally it could be as little as an HTML page, you hit a button which links to another page, you hit a button which leads to another page, and that’s all it is. That could be a prototype. It doesn’t even have—actually have to work, you just have to be able to tell the story that that is telling you.”

Lessons from the eScholarship Repository:
Tennant was instrumental in “pioneering an infrastructure” that powers this journal-publishing platform.

From the eScholarship website: “eScholarship provides a suite of open access, scholarly publishing services and research tools that enable departments, research units, publishing programs, and individual scholars associated with the University of California to have direct control over the creation and dissemination of the full range of their scholarship.”

A simple upload interface
Despite heavily promoting the benefits of eScholarship, the faculty members did not use it. Tennant and his project staff were then inspired by an economist at the Berkeley Electronic Press who had built an easy-to-use platform that helped to encourage people to deposit their works. This inspired Tennant and staff to marry that simple upload interface on the front-end that the faculty was more open to using, with the full-featured journal-publishing platform on the back-end.

Focus on training the departmental support to upload faculty work
When Tennant made the departmental administrative assistant the contact and trained them on how to use eScholarship, then the faculty’s works were deposited in the repository. It was the administrative staff and graduate students who consistently uploaded the documents for the entire department, not the faculty.

Keep learning: “Keep the juices flowing and keep your ear to the ground”
Understand the ways you naturally learn best and use those different methods to constantly keep learning.

•“The biggest thing you have to realize is that you don’t leave school and stop learning, you leave school and you just keep learning because the world shifts underneath your feet on a daily basis.”

•“The profession, and really probably any profession these days, is just one of constant learning.”

•“Try to find people whose work might be a good bell weather to what’s coming down the road who you can kind of watch and see what they’re looking at.”

•Use a “tiered model of current awareness”: “So it’s a variety of different things. It might be anywhere from blogs that you might want to monitor to Twitter feeds to, you know, individuals to, you know, Fast Company Magazine, I mean, whatever it might be that just kind of keeps the juices flowing and keeps your ear to the ground.”

Every librarian needs programming skills
Learn basic programming skills.
“Knowledge of structured text and how to manipulate those, so for example, XML and XSLT, that’s a solid skill which I don’t see going away anytime soon.”
“Basic programming skills and I’m not saying you need to be a programmer, but at this point I think every librarian needs to understand enough about programming to understand what it does, how it can be useful, to be able to spot a problem that a program won’t solve, and have a rough idea on how long it would take for someone to write that—that’s a key skill.”

Know how to parse metadata
You should be able to parse and effectively work with metadata from different formats such as Dublin Core, MARC, etc.

Have mentors
As young professionals, having mentors is an important and effective way to “get some assistance, to get a leg up, to get going, to get out there in a way that is hard to do when you’re first starting out.”
•“Coming from someone who has had many mentors in his life, I suggest you try to find someone who you’d like to have mentor you and attach yourself to them. And by that I mean, you know, ask them. Just come out and say, I’m really interested in your work, I’m a young professional, I could use some help in terms of meeting other people I need to know, some advice just on, you know, career direction, you know, blah blah blah, could we have dinner at ALA some time?”
•“There are plenty of older professionals like me out there who would be perfectly happy to help young professionals get started.”

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