My students are their own people; what makes them amazing comes from them, not me. I see them for two or three semesters at most. Still they enrich my life considerably, and when I manage to enrich theirs in return, I’m happy.
With the “Librarians Abroad” series, I’d like to introduce Library Journal readers to various information professionals who were once my students. I’m intentionally choosing professionals who work either entirely outside libraries and archives, or who hold somewhat less traditional positions inside libraries and archives. I don’t believe all the doom-and-gloom talk about libraries, librarians, and the MLS; I prefer to demonstrate the expanded and still-expanding horizons of the information professions.
(If I once taught you, and you fit this rubric, drop me a line! I’d be pleased to interview you.)
It is my honor and my pleasure, then, to introduce Lynn Yarmey, who bravely took a chance on my first-time “topics in collection development” course at the University of Illinois.
What do you do, Lynn?
I am currently working at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, CO, as the Senior Data Curator for the NSF-funded Advanced Cooperative Arctic Data and Information Service (ACADIS) project. My role is really a blend of data work and a heavy dose of project management. ACADIS is made up of many moving parts; a good chunk of my job is keeping the lines of communication open while watching out for emerging dependencies and opportunities.
What do you enjoy about what you do?
I love that I get to do a little bit of everything! I am involved with two Agile development teams, user interface and design work, refining dataflows, scoping and implementing metadata profile updates, data management education, defining new projects and products in support of Arctic scientists, and tying all of these together in presentations, papers, and proposals. Arctic science is diverse and the data are fascinating; we have data from satellites discoverable alongside studies looking at reindeer droppings. My role is almost as diverse as the data. Every day I am bridging between so many different groups of fantastic people to promote understanding across the project horizontals, and then vertically mapping the detailed daily operations with the project vision. I am a jack-of-all-trades type of person much more than a deep specialist; my work allows me to use and celebrate that quality.
What originally attracted you to library school? Did it meet your expectations?
I was lucky enough to have been brought into data work early on by my mentor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography where I started as a Programmer/Analyst. After realizing that scientific data was my niche though, I struggled to turn my passion into a career. The traditional academic hierarchy in the sciences doesn’t currently include a track for data professionals, nor is the role really recognized in many domains (yet!). Scientists saw me as a programmer, programmers saw me as a scientist, and I didn’t see myself fitting into either of those realms. I was excited to meet a number of librarians at one of my first data conferences and knew it was a path I wanted to follow.
The Data Curation specialization at the Univ. of Illinois Urbana Champaign Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) was a great fit for me. The program offered strong theoretical underpinnings and brought my practical experience into a much broader context. The LEEP distance option meant I could keep working in the labs while learning about the theory, a perfect balance for my data work.
How did (and didn’t) library school prepare you for what you’re doing now?
One of the biggest benefits of library school for me was the confidence I gained when I got the opportunity to realize that the skills I had learned in my little bubble of very local, lab-based work really did apply to the broader world in real and important ways. GSLIS offered me the chance to place myself and my work in the huge landscape of information science, and, critically, pointed out a career path.
That said, every day in my current position, I fall back on my earlier experience in oceanography and data management. Metadata as a conceptual framework for information and knowledge is very different from the application of metadata to meet specific functional, social, organizational, and scientific needs, for instance. Not all of the sacred principles of librarianship necessarily apply once you get deep into the realities of data management and curation.
What advice would you have for library-school students interested in your area of work?
In my experience, librarians and library-school students tend to be empathetic and engaged listeners as a whole. I would encourage students to recognize and nurture those skills in addition to their regular curriculum. Translating between different points of view is a huge part of data curation, as is recognizing the interplay of various social and technical components and knowing how and when to address each. To me, the easiest way to get and/or practice these skills is to physically be in as many different environments talking to people with as many different roles as possible. I would recommend that students interested in scientific data curation spend time doing field work with researchers, get to know the intricacies of libraries as functioning organizations, and participate in development teams where design work and implementation come together.
What advice do you have for library schools wanting to do right by people like you?
I think many of the library schools with data programs are moving in the right direction. I am seeing broader course offerings, more emphasis on internships, and schools generally looking to put coursework into a practical context. Especially for the data curation field (such as it is) right now, opportunities for project management, proposal-writing, and program-development education are so important for students. I would ask schools to continue offering credit for courses taken through domain and computer science departments, and also to leverage common interests by partnering with business schools and MBA programs.