Four Questions with Bethany

Last week, we welcomed Bethany Nowviskie on her first day as director of the Digital Library Federation. Bethany answered a few questions posed by CLIR’s Kathlin Smith. The following is re-posted from CLIR Issues number 104. Look for regular updates from Bethany and messages to DLF members here soon! 

Q: Why do we need a DLF? 

It’s a tricky time for libraries and other data-sharing and cultural heritage organizations. At the same moment that we’re realizing unprecedented opportunities for integrating and opening up our collections — making them interoperable, accessible to new audiences, and ready for new uses — we also face political and economic forces that can work against those goals. Austerity says: think small, focus on your local, paying customers and on short-term returns on investment. DLF is here to say: think expansively, work for the very long term, and above all, work together.

Q: What attracted you most about the position, and what do you want to achieve?

That last answer may have said it all! It was the chance to take DLF ever farther as a vector for our member organizations and their staff to work inter-institutionally and at scale. But I was also reminded at last year’s Forum how much I love the pragmatic, dedicated community of practitioners, themselves, who come together through DLF:  just the overall mindset — these are people who get things done — and the honesty, collaborative ethos, and serious, deep expertise on display at the Forum. If I can help them use DLF to its absolute fullest capacity to achieve the things they want to do, I’ll be very happy.

Q: How do you think the DLF community will change in the next few years?

Membership in DLF grew past all expectation under my fantastic predecessor, Rachel Frick, and is continuing with the hard work of Louisa Kwasigroch (thanks, Rachel and Louisa!).

With so much fresh energy, it’s been particularly exciting to see whole new subsets of the community come into focus—as with the huge upsurge in members from liberal arts colleges, who will be holding a pre-conference this year before the Forum in Vancouver. (They’ve invited me to emcee a kind of “game show” they’re planning for one afternoon session, so I’m suddenly in the market for hair gel and a shiny suit.) Both the Taiga Forum and CLIR postdoctoral fellows have been timing their meetings to get together at DLF, and there were more participants from museums and digital humanities labs and centers at last year’s Forum, too.

DLF now stands at 115 member institutions, with active interest groups in areas like e-research, project management, and new ways of assessing the value of digital libraries. I predict we’ll see more of these community-led working groups and initiatives forming, with good, public, shared outcomes from them all.

Q: You’ve been on the job for four days. Any surprises? 

It’s the sheer breadth and interconnectedness of CLIR’s and DLF’s programs! I thought I had a pretty good handle on the contributions CLIR makes to libraries, cultural institutions, and higher ed, and I thought I knew what DLF was up to, on behalf of its members. But I’m finding both that there’s far more work of great value going on than I realized—lots of new initiatives that will bear fruit in the coming years—and that everything happening through CLIR and DLF is very smartly integrated and interdependent.

We’ve long said that DLF is, for CLIR, “the place where strategy informs practice.”  Well, that’s a two-way street—and even more, it’s clear to me that this will be ongoing, rich, collaborative work.