Your First 90 Days as a Data Librarian

It’s been almost eight months since I was hired as FSU Libraries’ first Data Research Librarian. Like my old PE coach use to say after dodgeball, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” Now, the end of my first fall semester has me reflecting on the successes and challenges of working as a new data librarian. Personally, I think much of the success in this fall semester had to do with the work that I put in during the summer, in a mad dash to establish a professional reputation and let people outside of the FSU Libraries know what we were working on.

90 Days: A Guiding Framework

As I was preparing to come back to Florida State in April (I worked there before in other capacities), I really wanted to read Michael Watkins’ book The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders. I never read the full thing, but I got the gist of what the whole 90 day thing was all about.

Basically, you have a limited amount of time where you have strong influence in a new job. I think of it as that “new librarian smell”: I needed to start building my network right away before this wore off. My theory was, I’m brand new on campus and I work in a brand new position, so who wouldn’t want to know what I was up to? More importantly, who wouldn’t want to be a part of it?

And I was right. One thing I wanted to work on right out of the gate was establishing services for research data management, and specifically in data management planning. Luckily for me, our Digital Scholarship Coordinator was already paving the way before I arrived, by making some contacts on campus and creating a research guide on data management. He became my partner from day one, and suggested that I work with other stakeholders on campus to get a feel for who would partner with us. As a data librarian, I found it was important to start building connections right away.

As a data librarian, I found it was important to start building connections right away.

As we anticipated, folks over at our Research Computing Center (link) and the Office of Proposal Development (link) were excited that the Libraries were tackling data management at the campus level. We set up a foundation over the summer, and began centralizing research data management efforts on campus during the fall semester.

Another thing I wanted to do during the summer was to check out the ICPSR workshop on providing social science data services at University of Michigan. This was a capstone for my summer of data preparation. If you’re a new data librarian, I would highly encourage you to see if it’s possible to attend this workshop. It is a fantastic way to meet other data librarians and establish a framework for providing data services in a library setting.

Results of the 90-day Focus

In addition to being a data librarian, I’m also a social sciences subject specialist for Geography, Economics and Urban Planning. The focus on my first year was to establish data services in the social sciences, so once fall semester started up, these liaison responsibilities provided instant feedback on data services. Faculty members in my subject areas were excited about the libraries’ goal of spearheading data management and helping researchers to create data management plans (DMPs).

Data storage - old and new by Ian, on Flickr
Data storage, old and new

I’ve never been a fan of the “Field of Dreams” approach to public service, where building alone results in success. Instead, I find that relationships provide a platform for development. It creates a two-way street: students and faculty will be more receptive to new services if they are tailored to their research needs. Maintaining this active feedback loop is the best way to ensure that new ideas aren’t being developed in a vacuum.

Maintaining an active feedback loop is the best way to ensure that new ideas aren’t being developed in a vacuum.

In sum, I found that my first 90 days on the job was mostly about researching and networking. As a result, we’ve laid a solid foundation for data services at FSU. We gave several talks on best practices in research data management, that led faculty members to ask me for assistance in writing data management plans. And we used relationships to build and promote these programs. Working on relationships and building a presence was a key part of setting up data services on our campus. What about you?

Follow @renaino on twitter or check out his blog, Confessions of a Rookie Data Librarian, for more!


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