Interview with a Practitioner: Mary Molinaro
Interviewed by Vicky Garnett (TCD)
Mary Molinaro, Associate Dean for Library Technologies at the University of Kentucky, began her career in digital preservation after graduating from her degree in Art and taking a job in librarianship. “I love books!” she says, having made her choice while looking through a college prospectus for a new career challenge. “It was just lucky, just pure luck that I loved it from day one”. Mary worked hard to establish herself as a reference librarian and became more and more engaged in computer technology as digital tools became more prominent in library science.
Mary is a strong advocate for her field, as she delivered in her presentation “Extending the Reach of Digital Preservation Practice” at the DigCurV ‘Framing the Digital Curation Curriculum” conference in May 2013. The importance of digital curation and preservation is at the forefront of her mind. Without digital curation, Mary argues, how will we have a record of what our culture is like? It is easy to think of our culture in books on a shelf in a library, and how easy they are to take down and read. But, as Mary points out, much of our cultural and social information has been produced digitally in recent years. “We now have to make that shift to this digital world and protect those assets in exactly the same manner or even more so because it's more vulnerable and more fragile than the print materials.”
So how does Mary suggest we make sure the importance of digital curation is highlighted to everyone, not just librarians and curators? After all, it’s not just museums and libraries creating this information, it’s anybody with a computer.
“It's easy for people to remember that because who among us have ever changed a computer and not lost data?” Who indeed? Mary suggests aligning the importance of the curation of big data with that of data of the individual. “I often talk to people about personal digital archiving. People now have their wedding photos, their babies photos, everything is digital. You could set up an analogy between our culture heritage information and then that personal kind of information. They don't want to lose that and they also don't want to lose this other, big amount of data that we've spent a tremendous amount of resources creating, selecting, protecting - hopefully protecting, that underscores the value of funding this activity. "
Trying to ensure that the message reaches the wider public is just one of the challenges faced by digital curators and preservationists. Mary continues that simply staying ahead of the curve is one of the biggest challenges. She warns against getting too complacent because "there's always something new, it's changing so rapidly… (there's) always something new, and picking and choosing which things are going to persist and which things are not going to persist, there is an art to it. I think there is a danger if you just get tired or just don't pay attention". So how should digital curationists prevent this?
"Just paying attention" says Mary. She also strongly recommends networking. The ability to meet regularly with colleagues opens up opportunities for collaboration. The relatively recent ability to network virtually through video conferencing, Mary urges, has had a huge impact on the ease with which we can do this: "You know a lot of my meetings I do online now, webinars. I can get a lot of information at a webinar that I couldn't get, say, five years ago". That said, Mary still believes that a face-to-face meeting has more value for building these kinds of collaborative relationships that she feels are so important to the digital curator:
"If I want to work on a grant I need a partner, I know who to call because I've talked to them already, I know who they are, I know what they are working on and it just makes that collaboration much more productive and quicker."
Of course, the DigCurV Final Conference is one such ideal location for face-to-face discourse. Having attended and presented at the conference, does Mary feel the timing was right for this kind of event?
"I think so. I think it is the right time for a conference in that people's attention is peaked. The amount of content that we are creating in our institutions is constantly increasing. The problems become more and more apparent that without some care it just becomes completely unsustainable. You can't save everything and that's where the careful selection has to come in. You need to determine what you are going to save, and how you're going to save it? Are you going to save just for access, or just for migration? Those choices are the ones that are in front of us now and I think the more we get together and communicate about those the better. And this exchange of information is so valuable to people in the community - apparently worldwide because we have a worldwide interest this."
Mary puts this into the context of a recent study conducted by the Library of Congress. The results of this survey in the US were almost identical to those conducted in Europe. The same issues were presented there, particularly with regards to training and lifelong learning:
"I thought that it was fascinating that there is a need and that people are expressing that need for additional training, and training in very specific areas," says Mary. With the need for training highlighted, what does Mary think of the DigCurV Curriculum Framework?
"This DigCurV framework I think is so applicable for so many kinds of situations. I can see it being used to develop training, to inform our own development of training, to inform our own practice. I think it 's very interesting. I think it would be an interesting application and an easy application for practitioners particularly."
Mary has concerns, however, about how easy it might be to sell the usefulness of the framework to the potential users with different levels of expertise. She continues, "if we can inform ourselves on how that training will go forward and how we can get people of all levels to embrace this activity, I think the DigCurV Framework is going to be very, very important".
The underlying message, however, is to ensure the importance of digital curation is paramount, and the training is handled accordingly. Librarians and curators have long held expertise in the preservation of the materials and information under their care. But with an increasing amount of 'born digital' data being created, the importance in the shift to digital tools for preservation purposes also needs to be paid more than just lip-service. We leave the final word to Mary:
"We now have to make that shift to this digital world and protect those assets in exactly the same manner or even more so because it's more vulnerable and more fragile than the print materials."