June 18, 2018

Kristina Spurgin | Movers & Shakers 2018 – Digital Developers

Kristina Spurgin


Library Data Strategist, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries


MLS, SUNY Albany, 2003


When not wrangling data, Spurgin trains cats and goats at the Tuxedo Menagerie Circus.


@kspurgin on Twitter; kspurgin on GitHub; Kristina Spurgin on LinkedIn

Photo by Aleah Michelle Howell


Data Magician

“In middle school,” says Kristina Spurgin, “I taught myself to code in BASIC and repurposed the Address Book application that came with our Tandy Radio Shack 1000 EX to subject index my parents’ National Geographic collection—for fun. Now I have a spreadsheet that tells me when to start making bread, given the time I want to eat the bread and whether it’s chilly, neutral, or warm inside.” Unsurprisingly, Spurgin is meticulous in describing how initiatives she leads on the job improve upon existing processes and enable work that was previously impossible.

While Spurgin’s title at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill Libraries is library data strategist, Judy Panitch, director of library communications, calls her a “data magician.”

“Kristina wrote a Ruby script that pulls invoice payment data for serials reviews. A process that used to require massive spreadsheets and Excel database functions running overnight now takes literally seconds,” says Spurgin’s supervisor Christine Stachowicz. The Ebook Access Checker developed by Spurgin, which automates the process of ensuring that the library receives from vendors what it has paid for, has been adopted by libraries around the country.

More recently, Spurgin “performed a miracle,” says UNC archivist Laura Hart, with metadata relating to oral history interviews conducted by UNC’s Southern Oral History Program (SOHP). Access records for the 6,000 interviews were brittle, inconsistent, and difficult to use, problems Spurgin tackled by interviewing archivists at the institution and examining the notes and documents of SOHP field scholars, historians, and staff.

“The archivists were stymied by the scope of the problem,” says Panitch. “[Moreover], the SOHP staff were subject experts, not metadata experts. And the data points associated with each interview were numerous and incredibly complex.” Spurgin standardized what Hart calls a “metadata patchwork” and developed an input system that allows researchers to enter data in a natural-language form going forward.

“Kristina sees possibility where others see chaos,” says Panitch. Hart envisions applying the system that Spurgin created to other collections at UNC and eventually on a broader stage.

“Try not to be daunted,” Spurgin advises librarians who seek to follow in her footsteps. “We are all moving in ridiculously complex and busy information environments dealing with way more input than our brains have yet evolved to process.” That certainly has not stopped Spurgin from creating magic.

This article was published in Library Journal's March 15, 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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