Information Organization and Digital Preservation: An ATG Hot Topic

by | Jan 6, 2019 | 0 comments

Courtney McAllister

By Courtney McAllister

Although stereotypical depictions of libraries might cast them as bastions of tradition or realms ruled by archaic practices, there’s actually quite a bit of adaptability and responsiveness embedded in the work many libraries, archives, and museums undertake. One of my favorite things about working in libraries is watching new services and initiatives emerge and blossom. A quasi-recent development that I especially admire is library involvement with institutional repositories (IRs). It’s one of those rare endeavors that overlaps with some key needs and opportunities and seems to cause all boats to rise.

Having a platform or system for faculty publications can, among other things, enhance the discoverability of faculty scholarship and bolster its visibility. In an age where author impact factor can have wide ranging consequences for future research, publication, and promotion opportunities, part of being a successful academic involves promoting one’s work and “brand.” Library-supported institutional repositories can streamline that process, while also facilitating access to important works of scholarship at local and global levels.

The presence of an IR can also help faculty and researchers organize their portfolios and make meaningful use of the self-archiving rights many academic journals grant through Green OA. Making these pre-prints more widely available can benefit the authors or contributors, colleagues and students at the author’s institution, as well as those beyond its walls. When I worked in resource sharing, IRs were a vital way to track down theses, dissertations, and verify citations for journal articles. Even in circumstances where full-text access was restricted to those with institutional affiliation, abstracts and other information about the work could be incredibly beneficial during the search process.

Thinking more broadly, IRs are an important part of the evolving Scholarly Communication landscape. They contribute to digital preservation, can be introduced and maintained at a wide range of institutions, and can even enhance the visibility or impact of faculty and student research. I think IRs are a great example of how libraries strive to support many different needs by organizing information and facilitating its retrieval.

The art of information organization is, I feel, one of those often overlooked aspects of the LIS skillset. We tend to talk about controlled vocabularies and metadata as though these are natural features of the information lifecycle that just materialize when needed. In reality, it takes a tremendous amount of expertise and vision to utilize these anchor points to organize information in a meaningful and useful way.


On a Personal Note

When I was an MLIS graduate student, I was captivated by the nuances of information behavior. Although I worked in libraries for many years before enrolling in an MLIS program, I had been relatively oblivious to the dizzying array of variables that can shape how an individual interacts with information – from query design, search refinement, and source evaluation, to actual engagement and storage. In my work as a librarian, many of my responsibilities revolve around some iteration of information organization, whether it involves internal documentation, cataloging standards and resource record management, or more outward facing aspects like resource discovery. It feels like second nature to adopt and sustain best practices for information organization in these roles. However, I have noticed that my adherence to information organization falters when it comes to my personal information management behaviors. I have an embarrassing tendency to save all files on my desktop, and I employ an insane variety of storage devices and accounts for my files. I hoard emails in my inbox. My folder and file naming conventions are idiosyncratic, to put it nicely, and if I create yet another folder entitled “projects,” someone needs to come and slap my hand away from the keyboard.

I realize this discrepancy between professional knowledge and personal practice could cause preventable problems. When I lapse into shameful information handling practices, I tend to excuse it with an off-handed, “it only impacts me” sentiment. But digital preservation blurs the lines between self and others, and between present and future. Just as an IR needs to be systematically organized and maintained to benefit current and future scholars or researchers, our personal digital detritus needs to be somewhat structured and organized. My personal files don’t need metadata, per se, but I should try and anticipate future needs, and even consider users beyond myself. If a collaborator eventually needs to track down my early draft of a co-authored chapter, it shouldn’t be a dead end just because I might not be around to personally deliver the file. Digital inheritance might be primarily associated with online banking information and social media accounts, but even seemingly mundane documents could be significant later on. Of course, who will be able to sift the wheat from the chaff if your successors inherit 250 desktop files with unhelpful names like “Project 1,” “Project 2,” “Project 3,” etc.?

Thankfully, a new year is upon us, and one’s thoughts invariably turn to future goals and self-improvement. This year, I will strive to put an end to this shameful cognitive dissonance between my professional information management skills and how I organize my own information on a daily basis. Hopefully, in a year’s time, I will be reflecting on how infrequent my “where did I save that?!” crises have become.

Am I the only one who struggles to apply information management practices to my daily life?

What professional skills are the most beneficial to our personal lives?

Do you have any LIS-related goals or resolutions for the new year?

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