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Sayeed Choudhury - Learning Resources

Sayeed Choudhury
Associate Dean, Library Digital Programs, Johns Hopkins University
Interviewed 11/4/2009

Sayeed Choudhoury discusses his role in establishing the R&D Group that applied engineering principles to building the Lester S. Levy Collection of sheet music and the Roman de la Rose Digital Library of medieval manuscripts. Choudhoury discusses the critical role of the Digital Humanist or Digital Scientist as intermediaries between scholars and technologists.

“More than anything, how do you take data that was created for a particular purpose and repurpose it for other uses?”

Large projects require systems
Handling large collections with hundreds of thousands of pieces (i.e. developing a digital collection for 130,000 sheets of music of the Lester S. Levy Collection) requires developing a workflow in order to handle the materials in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

Delineate roles: human versus machine
When scaling up, determine the tasks or materials that either machines or humans can handle more efficiently. Can a task be automated via hardware, software or robot? Large amounts of material can often be handled more efficiently through automation. That automation can also often be outsourced to a commercial vendor.

Each institution does not have to do every part of the project. It may be more efficient to outsource parts of the project to a vendor, consortium or another library.

Requesting funding
When requesting funding for a proposal, you will need to be able to articulate the answers to these questions:
1. How much do you need?
2. What do you need it for?
3. What are the long-term implications of what you are proposing to do?

Institutional support
Institutional support often determines sustainability and can be the difference between a project and a program. When you have a committed institution, then your project can become a program that is part of the institution’s long-term strategy.

Aligning your grant and project with the library’s priorities
“Because the best sustainability plan quite frankly is to align internal library priorities with the grant or the proposal priorities. If they’re out of alignment, I don’t think you’re ever going to be able to get them back in alignment, even if you’re successful with the project itself.”

A Library R&D Group
An R&D Group within a library broadens perspectives and introduces new viewpoints within the library.

Applying engineering principles to projects
Engineering principles such as integrated workflows and efficient practices can be applied to projects.
“It’s about a whole new way of approaching how people interact with this content.” – Sayeed Choudhoury

Ask yourself what the potential uses are for the data:
•How can the data for and/or from the project be applied more broadly?
•What kinds of analysis can you run on this data?
•How can the data be repurposed?

Yet unimagined uses for the data
If you digitize content for one project or create a repository infrastructure for born-digital data, ask yourself, “what can you do with it that they did not imagine?”

“More than anything, how do you take data that was created for a particular purpose and repurpose it for other uses?” – Sayeed Choudhoury

Projects are not self-contained
Although researchers may have individual digital projects that seem to have unique needs and require new hardware and technology to support specific research needs, ask yourself what other types of projects could you use the same hardware and technology for in your digital program? Gain a sense of “moving from the mindset of individual projects to these are common pieces of infrastructure we will use across our digital programs.”

For example, the success of the Roman de la Rose Digital Library caused other researchers to ask about digitizing other manuscripts. The same infrastructure that supported the Roman de la Rose Digital Library could work with other manuscripts.

Engage the scholars early in the process
Identifying faculty champions early in the process can help make your proposals stronger.

Find champions for your project
Find faculty, post-docs and grad students who can be champions for your project. These are the people that will talk about how to use the content and data. Tenured faculty members tend to be more willing to experiment since they have more security.

Data Humanist or Data Scientist
“So just as there are these technology interfaces that exist between what scholars do and what we build, there are human interfaces that are really important.”
Data Humanists have expertise in particular scholarly disciplines and act as intermediaries between the scholars with the needs and the technologists building the software or hardware to meet the needs. Data Humanists have a unique perspective on how the technologists can better meet the scholars’ needs.

The library as partner, not service provider
When the library and faculty work together to secure funding and the library is either a PI or co-PI on the project, then the library is viewed more as a partner rather than as a service provider.

Finding a sense of community at conferences
Conferences are opportunities to gain a sense of community with others engaging in similar research and share lessons, tips, and standards.

The next big technical challenge
“One of the other things I’ve learned about technology is there’s always the next big technical challenge.”