In our latest 2015 In-Depth Interview with Library Journal Movers & Shakers from academic libraries, sponsored by SAGE, we spoke with Jenna Nolt, digital initiatives librarian at Kenyon College, Gambier, OH. After a stint digitizing rare books for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Nolt moved to Kenyon’s Olin Library in 2014. In her short time there she has transformed Digital Kenyon, the college’s institutional repository, into a viable and robust resource for both students and faculty.
LJ: You wear a lot of hats as digital initiatives librarian. Can you describe some of your different roles?
Jenna Nolt: I’m the administrator for the institutional repository, and we have a digital commons from bepress, so I oversee all the collections in that. I also oversee SelectedWorks Profiles, which is a piece of software that connects to it and has profiles for all of our faculty, and hopefully, eventually, a lot of our students—it links their publications into the repository.
I work with individual faculty members, usually with grant-funded projects. As soon as they have an idea for any kind of project involving digital scholarship I help them through the grant process, writing the proposal. I’ll help them with the technical elements, visualizing how their collection is going to look once it’s finished. And then, of course, the process of actually creating the metadata and uploading whatever files that are associated with that.
I do a lot of overseeing student workers and assisting faculty with training their student workers. I oversee the digitization lab here in the library, and I’m creating an audiovisual lab. Oral history has been really big at our college recently—in the past couple of years, we have had several oral history projects—so I’m working on setting up some audiovisual stations and soundproof recording booths. They should be ready for the spring semester.
How has Digital Kenyon changed since you’ve been overseeing it?
When we got the digital commons my predecessor, who’s now the archivist here at the college, did the migration from our old system right before I was hired. She had migrated a couple of collections, but it was basically an empty repository when I took it over. I started working with the faculty members immediately to see how this software would work for their collections. I started here August 4th , and since then I’ve basically been working on trying to catch up with what people had already started before I came. We had a lot of files sitting on servers, a lot of partially completed projects, things that were complete and nobody knew who they belonged to anymore. So [I’ve been] finding them homes, things like that.
One of the first things that I worked on was getting the faculty publications in. We’re small enough, fortunately, that I was able to work with my student intern and train him to look up the copyright [information] for all of our publications for all faculty members. We put whatever we could [as] full text into the repository, and we linked out to the publishers’ sites if we couldn’t. That was the main priority. I’m mostly caught up on the grant projects, but there’s a lot of diverse material that we’ve been working with, and I want the institutional repository to include a variety of things. I don’t want to interpret it narrowly—I want to try to make it evolve to fit the needs of our community.
We’ve got a number of collections that involve audio and video files. We’ve got one collection we finished over the summer that is raw archaeological data. I want to try to get as many different kinds of collections in as we can, based on whatever our community needs. Also, I’m hoping in the next or so to start working with some student-created materials, because that’s something we don’t have in there yet and I know there’s some interest in a couple of areas. If students wanted to start online journals—Digital Kenyon was originally created as a publishing platform, so they’ve got some really good features for that— I’m hoping we could take advantage of that at some point.
I’m curious about your work with USGS. What was the path that took you from there to Kenyon?
I have an MLS from the University of Tennessee. When I got my degree, I took any classes related to technology, online research, or graphic design—the whole spectrum—but I really wanted to concentrate on what I saw as the growing needs in libraries. Interestingly, I went in wanting to be an academic librarian, then felt like that was an unrealistic goal and thought I would just concentrate on technology, and here I am an academic librarian.
I worked for a private company part-time while I was in graduate school, doing online data compilation for them. Once I graduated, I got a contract position with the USGS. They basically hired me to overhaul their interlibrary loan software. Well—I say software, but the thing was, there was no software. It was basically someone trying to manually keep track of everything through email. So I did an analysis of their processes and recommended that they purchase Iliad, which eventually they did.
I was kind of bouncing around and trying to find whatever niche I needed to fill, wherever there was room for me, and then through analyzing the interlibrary loan process I started working with the scanning software. We had a scanner in the basement of the USGS that was a very, very nice book scanner that nobody could get to actually work and had been sitting there for six months. I said, “Is it okay if I mess with it? Maybe I could make it work.” And I did, and that evolved into a full blown digitization program from there, not for interlibrary loan but for online access to the USGS publications.
They have an incredibly large and unique collection of material. I don’t remember the statistics now, but…because it’s all geology-related, it had a lot of materials that only one or two libraries in the world had, or the only copies. The earliest book that I digitized from the Rare Book Room was from 1502. I had no idea when I went there that they had this incredible collection. I really hope that at some point they can get the funding to put it all online because a lot of it is out of copyright, either by date or because it was a government publication in the first place.
Was the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) part of the digitization initiative?
Yes. We had an arrangement with the local high school to bring in students to do some digitization and teach them job skills, and have them work with some of our materials. We would have students come in a couple of hours a week and we’d have someone work with them. We used Adobe Photoshop to process the images once we’d scan them, and so we taught them some basic Photoshop skills.
Personally, that was the most rewarding part of working at the USGS—working with those kids. Because they would come in and they’d be so intimidated. You know, I was intimidated the first time I walked into the USGS. It’s this huge building, it’s a federal agency, there’s security. But to bring them in there and then get them comfortable with it, and show them that they could work with these old materials, these unique materials, and to watch their confidence start to blossom, that was really rewarding.
It sounds like you came in to a lot of support at Kenyon. Do you feel that the administration is on board with the library’s mission, and your work there?
I bought a house ten months after starting here— I’m very confident I like it. Yes, I feel like there’s a really supportive community here. I think working for a small institution has some inherent advantages. You have a lot more flexibility, you don’t have to deal with all the bureaucracy and existing rules. [Although] you have to be careful with that—what can be an upside or a downside is that you are expected to wear a lot of different hats. And you’re expected to know and take care of your areas. But I think that that’s a huge advantage. One of the reasons that I went into this field was that I did not want to do the same thing all the time every day. And this job has given me so many opportunities—I’m constantly learning new things.
I do think, particularly, the culture of Kenyon is very supportive. If you have an idea and you write a proposal and present it well, people will listen to you. They’re interested. They’re engaged. I think the library as a whole is very much trying to work with the larger college and listen to the college’s needs. Because libraries are changing so much right now, I think we’re all challenged by that. But I think it’s a great challenge, and I think everyone here really appreciates that. It’s a wonderful environment. The only real challenge is wanting to do more things than you really have time to do.
What are you working on right now?
I am currently working on a new visual design for Digital Kenyon. We’ve had the same design since they launched it and that was based on a few questions from the hosting company.
We do have some more oral history projects. I’m part of a group that has applied for a Great Lakes College Association Grant we’re hoping to get funded. If we did get funded, my role would be to work out the processes and recommendations for software for different institutions to get their oral histories online. This would be for really small colleges that may not have an institutional repository, and larger colleges, to give them some options.
I am very interested in Maker spaces, and I want to expand that, but I want to do so in a way that really supports the needs of our users. My hope is over the next couple of years to develop some sort of innovation Maker space, and definitely incorporate some 3-D technologies into that.
If you had to give three tips to someone starting out in an academic library who’s interested in becoming a leader and getting to the point where they can implement their own projects, what would you tell them?
- Find wherever you’re needed in the library—fill in the needs. Don’t come in with your own idea of the way you want things to be. Come in asking a lot of questions. Come in trying to understand everybody’s perspective. And then you can sort of build from there.
- Always, always document your work. Because you’re going to refer back to it, even when you don’t think you will, and it’s so much easier to pull in things you’ve already done than to go back and redo them.
- Don’t underestimate the power of student workers, and the knowledge they have and the expertise they can bring. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re trying to juggle too much, and you feel like you need to be an expert in everything and you don’t know how to do that, talk to your students. More broadly, always take advantage of the knowledge sources around you.