ScienceOnline2010 - interview with Dorothea Salo

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years' interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.

Today, I asked my SciBling Dorothea Salo to answer a few questions.

Here are the questions. No rush. Remember that you are free to add, delete, fuse, split or edit the questions:

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?

Thanks, Bora; this is a privilege.

i-a8a1b6ba8346a819abdfc75998dcc32d-Dorothea Salo pic.jpgI live and work in Madison, Wisconsin, which in my not-at-all-unbiased opinion is one of the best cities anywhere. My apartment is a little way south of Monona Bay, so on my walk to work I am lucky to walk past marvelous examples of urban fauna, coyotes and rabbits and loons and herons and several different sorts of duck, and even in winter the wild ice-fisherman in his natural habitat.

Philosophically, I am a devotee of electronic text; I love its flexibility and adaptability, and I want there to be much more of it, much better arranged and designed. I am also an ardent but grounded-in-reality open-access, open-data, and open-science advocate.

Scientific background? I have none. The closest I get to science is philology. My educational background, library degree aside, is in literature and linguistics, with particular expertise in Spanish. My parents are anthropologists, if that helps? I used to help my dad chase down journal articles in the library when I was a wee sprat. Obviously something stuck.

Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

I've been a librarian since 2005. Before that, I've been a little bit of a lot of things -- typesetter, SGML/XML specialist, census data-entry grunt, ebook standards wonk, database programmer, other odds and ends. I've been a blogger since 2002, and I became a SciBling last year with Book of Trogool.

What I do in libraries is run what's called (rather horribly) an "institutional repository," which is generally intended to be a digital archive for the born-digital research (and sometimes teaching) output of the university. I am notorious in library circles for questioning outright the ideological, technical, and organizational assumptions on which IRs were founded, but here I am still running one -- you can take the scholar out of the study of the Spanish Golden
Age, but you can't take the Don Quixote out of the ex-scholar, it seems!

Running an IR means being at the intersection of a lot of library specialties heretofore considered separate: outreach and marketing, collection development (because materials don't just magically appear!), metadata, systems and technology, copyright management and education, scholarly-communication advocacy, digital preservation, and so on. I don't do all those things equally well; in fact, I'm rather bad at several of them. But this new specialty requires people who can be jacks-of-all-trades without going mad, and that's me in a nutshell.

I also teach in library school now; I've done a course twice introducing proto-librarians to computer-based technologies in libraries, and I'm currently teaching a collection-development seminar online for the University of Illinois.

What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?

Well, in not too long I shall be an institutional-repository manager without an institutional repository! Our digital library and IR are planning to merge atop a brand-new technology stack, and so I am kept hopping working out how
to migrate materials from the old platforms, as well as helping elucidate requirements and design content models and work processes for the new system.

I'm quite excited about this! We're moving from a very siloed, inflexible set of systems to a platform with almost infinite flexibility. With great flexibility comes great responsibility, of course, so in a way we've let ourselves in for a lot more work -- but it's work that will vastly improve the services and user-experience we
provide, as well as position our technology better for the future, so it's absolutely worth the effort.

The work I do crosses a lot of library and institutional processes, as I said, so I have plenty of service work to keep me occupied as well: helping plan for electronic thesis and dissertation programs on several Wisconsin campuses, serving on a library scholarly-communication committee, being a voice for research-data preservation, keeping an eye on plans for a campus multimedia clearinghouse, answering the occasional copyright question as best I can (not being a lawyer), whatever crosses my desk.

Last year I published an article about author-name metadata in IRs. I'm thinking about following that up with an article on metadata processes generally, and how they differ from processes in the MARC cataloging that librarians are used to. I think what I have to say may inform how research libraries approach getting cataloging staff involved with digital projects such as IRs, digitization, and research-data conservation.

(I don't have a journal nailed down for this article yet, so if anyone would be interested in it... of course, any journal that doesn't allow postprint self-archiving need not apply. That means you, Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, even though this idea sprang from one of your CFPs.)

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

Preservation, definitely. The way scientists work on the Web right now is very much "follow the shiny and let $DEITY sort all the information out later." This kind of experimentation is absolutely necessary, of course, and I would never discourage it -- but from the point of view of the scientific record, it's terrifying. How much scientifically-useful material vanished during the death of Geocities or ma.gnol.ia? What happens to a research-project wiki when the project is over? What happens to grant-funded datastores when the grants end? Google started a research-data project and then abandoned it, while Microsoft has just announced a similar one; I'm not taking any bets about its longevity. So what happens to important data on a commercial service that folds?

In print, we have evolved an entire ecosystem consisting of authors, reviewers, publishers, and libraries so that we don't forget what we've learned from research. We don't have that ecosystem for digital research materials yet, especially when we get beyond the published book and article. I expect to spend most or all of my career helping build such an ecosystem.

It's not easy to think about. Grant agencies don't have a long-term perspective. Government isn't necessarily the answer; the UK killed the Arts and Humanities Data Service, and the US did its best to kill the education database ERIC. Publishers as a class (and with exceptions) won't do anything that doesn't make them money, and digital data looks like a money-loser. Research libraries haven't yet stepped up to the plate, for the most part (and with exceptions). Institutional administrators tend to live in cloud-cuckooland with respect to the scientific record, and campus IT is too beset with short-term priorities to give this problem the broad perspective and ongoing funding it needs.

Wait, wait... you were expecting me to answer "open access," right? Sorry. That's not a use of the open Web in most of science. It should be, but it's not. Scientists just go right on handing over their birthright to big-pig publishers for a horrendously expensive mess of pottage. I've given up believing they'll change that without external demands. No, my open-access hopes are pinned on research funders: grant agencies and institutions. (I did say I was notorious for this
kind of thinking...)

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

I was informed last year that my previous blog was causing some of my work colleagues such serious distress that they were hesitant to work with me. That obviously wasn't a situation I could allow to continue, so I shut the blog down after seven years, weeded its archive, did some hard but necessary thinking, and started over at ScienceBlogs with a somewhat more focused and buttoned-down effort. I keep much more of a firewall now between my job and my blog, and that seems to be working out better so far.

I have several Twitter presences and am active on FriendFeed, and I find both networks invaluable for current awareness, for keeping up with my professional friends, and for getting to know innovative researchers and thinkers. I do not have a Facebook presence because I do not trust Facebook to do the right thing with my personal and social-network information. (I have Google Buzz turned off for similar reasons.)

Even considering the trouble it's gotten me into, which has been quite serious, I do believe that online interaction has been a net positive for my career. I've not even been a librarian for five years yet, and my h-index is pathetic 8212; yet I'm a fairly prominent name in my field, and here I am being interviewed by the eminent Bora Zivkovic! You can't tell me all that would have happened without the (old) blog. The idea is ludicrous.

Even more than that, though, online interaction allows me a broad perspective on what's going on in libraries and in the research enterprise that would be painfully difficult, perhaps impossible, to acquire any other way. Publication is slow, and getting hold of published literature is often an exercise in frustration. With RSS, Twitter, and FriendFeed, much of what I need to know comes right to me.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

Oh, gosh. Um... I've been reading blogs even longer than I've been writing them, so I honestly can't recall which science blog was the first I ever read. I started out with techblogs, mostly, but the blogosphere has diversified and so has my blog reading.

Effect Measure is probably my favorite science blog; I love it for the intersection between science and public policy, which is another piece of the puzzle I work on as an open-access advocate. I don't know why ScienceBlogs hasn't recruited Cameron Neylon's Science in the Open yet, and I'm also a devoted reader of Michael Nielsen, even when the math goes right over my head (which is less often than it might do; Michael is a gifted explainer). I can't wait for his book to come out!

I've picked up subscriptions to Dr. Isis and Janet Stemwedel because of their presence at Science Online. And I must of course mention the other members of ScienceBlogs's information posse: Christina Pikas, whose wry brilliance is always great to read, and the affable and knowledgeable John Dupuis, whom I finally got to meet at the conference.

For popular-science news, Ars Technica's Nobel Intent is my go-to spot. I met John Timmer briefly at Science Online, and wish we'd had more time to talk. I am a tremendous fan of everything Ars Technica is doing, and the class and intelligence with which they do it. (I do wish they'd make more of an effort to reduce the kyriarchy in their comments, because I find many of their comment streams so unreadable that I hardly ever open them... but I understand why they don't.)

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you? Any suggestions for next year? Is there anything that happened at this Conference - a session, something someone said or did or wrote - that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

I met so many wonderful people! That's always the best part of a conference. I also did some impromptu consultations about data management, during which I was able to point some people in good directions and make connections between people that mightn't have happened otherwise. I am "pathologically helpful," as a librarian friend of mine says about librarians, so being able to help, right there mid-conference, was fantastic.

As I said over on Trogool, my biggest takeaway from the conference was my stark realization of how remote scientists feel from the librarians who serve them, and how dangerous that is for science librarianship. That realization is informing my work on research-data management at my workplace, and I have a feeling it will make a substantial difference to where I spend my outreach and interaction energy, online and face-to-face, in the future.

It was so nice to meet you and thank you for the interview. I hope to see you again next January.


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Thank you for doing this interview! I've been reading Dorothea's blog for a couple of years now and followed her over to ScienceBlogs. My job is starting to look a little bit like hers and boy howdy, is there a lot to learn. Reading her blog has been very helpful.

Actually, Dr. Isis, I am more than slightly bitter to the taste, but thanks anyway!

Soon-to-be Dr. Lee, I would love to meet you. When are you coming to the Frozen North?