Patrick Hadley: Hello and welcome to another University of Utah GradAttack podcast, and today we’re talking with Kinza Masood, who’s currently head of digital operations at the University of Utah’s Marriott Library, and she’s also pursuing an MS in Information Systems at the Eccles School of Business. So, Kinza, you reached out to me as something of an evangelist – if you’ll forgive the term – for digital libraries and all the potential that they have. So in the interest of having your message reach a somewhat larger audience, can you tell us what it is that you do in your current position in digital operations at the Marriott Library, and why it’s important?
Kinza Masood: Sure. So, I have worked in the digital library discipline for almost 14 years now, and digital operations under the umbrella of digital libraries at the Marriott Library. I am truly sold on the relevance of digital libraries in today’s age, and I don’t know about converting people, but I do strongly believe in the ideology of digital libraries, and in our efforts in pioneering and posting digital content and providing it to our end users. In general, I believe in creativity – I think I’m a creative person – but I believe that creativity needs technology as its catalyst in today’s age to carry ideas and concepts and visions forward. So this field of digital libraries has allowed me to be creative while offering a service that is useful and helpful to our patrons. I think that the digital library is the perfect marriage between creativity and the use of technology: you’re dealing with the delivery of formats and the experience with user interfaces between content and the users of that content. In short, we are sharing information with the world, and I think serving our users is important and we are doing that through this discipline, be it for their research or just to quench the general thirst for general.
PH: Okay. Anyone in the world can absolutely sympathize with the idea of quenching the general thirst for knowledge. So when you’re going out to do that, especially here at the University of Utah in our library system, what general strengths and weaknesses do you think that they have going for or – respectfully – against them, especially in terms of digital collections. I guess what I’m asking is, What do you see yourself working to improve upon in the libraries here, and what assets are you working with that you wouldn’t have elsewhere?
KM: We at the Marriott Library have been doing this for a very long time.
PH: Doing digital stuff?
KM: Digital stuff, digital collection building, digital library work, for about a decade and a half almost, so in digital library years, that makes us pretty mature and very seasoned. And we know what it takes to build a digital library. We are comfortable with the creation and administration aspect of it. I would see our experience as a great strength for us. We have talented people at the library who know what it takes to create content, technicians who know the technical requirements for the creation of digital objects and how to manipulate foreign digital content, and we have metadata librarians who can expertly tag digital objects with useful information so that it makes it easy to discover these in a digital library or through even google. We have specialists who know about the long-term preservation needs or archival needs for long-term access of those digital objects. So I think that right now is where we feel comfortable, and that is our expertise and our years of experience. Our systems are a bit of a weak point for us, especially for access purposes. We have been using a vendor-based solution for access for many years and we feel that it no longer does what we need for the continual growth of our digital library. We’re kind of bursting at the seams. We have almost 4 million digital objects in our digital library right now, and the search interface isn’t as good as we hope for it to be. +
PH: Can you explain briefly what you mean by “vendor-based”?
KM: The name of the system that we’re using for access is Contentdm, and it’s a product of this company called OCLC. And it’s great – it served the purpose very well in the first decade or so. But on the backend it’s not a true database, either. It’s a system of flat files and folders, so the searching, for that reason, becomes slow as we grow. Also, the user interface is sort of clunky on that system. So we’ve looked at the environment and we’ve looked at other vendor systems that are out there and we’ve decided that, for the future, we probably need to build something ourselves if we want to continue to be progressive in this field. And also we realized that we will continue to have a digital library that will house not just a handful of formats but a multitude of formats. So we need something that will help us down that road. For the future we realize that we will need to provide a creative user interface, and, of course, vendor solutions – a lot of them are kind of clunky, but there’s also the high cost that comes into play for something more custom. And it would have to be something not just for serving flat files, like a .pdf or a .jpeg, but a combination of data bundles that require experiences –
PH: Can you give me an example of this, the combination of data bundles with various formats? How might I have experienced that as a researcher?
KM: So you may experience a hosted digital object that would be a .pdf and an image or .jpeg file and it may have a hyperlink and it may have an audio clip or a video clip. With the delivery of that type of a data bundle, the user interface becomes kind of tricky, as does building that kind of experience and connecting your users to that data bundle – or content bundle, I should say. So what we are doing today is we are in the process of building a homegrown system, and we are positioning ourselves for faster search results and immersive end-user experiences with the ability to continue to grow, but one of the things that we’re running into is that we don’t have a lot of resources when it comes to the development side. SO we’re trying to navigate the waters, keeping in mind what we’re good at, where we want to go, and where our resources are limited today.
PH: I think most people – obviously there’s a lot of this terminology that is fairly new to me – but I think most people are broadly aware of some of the bigger trends changing information science today. Every undergrad in the world has used Jstor at least once or twice, and things like that, you know, digital databases and ebooks. So, from someone working on the inside, what kind of developments and struggles are those of us on the outside, researchers or students, not aware of? What one of these is kind of the most major or uncelebrated change that you wish people using libraries and their services were a little more aware of?
KM: We’ve touched upon this a little bit, but one of the bigger challenges for stewards of online digital libraries – as I see myself, as the steward – is, How do we make the patron of the digital library feel a closeness to a digital object without actually being close to it? And how doe we build those connections? Like you said, there are definitely shifts or changes in the trends in which users want to access or interact with a digital object. The traditional monograph – and I love reading books – even though the traditional monograph is still important, it is becoming les and less popular, specifically within a certain demographic. The ebook, like you said, is definitely here, it’s here to stay. User behaviors are changing, web access is everywhere, there’s a need to be connected constantly to information, and so there’s also a need to have an immersive experience for these reasons, and flexible content with multimedia is becoming more popular. There’s more demand for that type of immersive experience between users and their content. So these shifts and trends of course come with their own unique challenges. The questions about building a system with limited development for us in state libraries, I’ve talked about that earlier, comes into play. How do we support the creation of the type of system and the creation of the type of user interface that allows for such flexibility with limited development for us or limited programmers? How do we deal with the accurate access and preservation and even the copyright needs for these unique content bundles, as I mentioned. And these content bundles arise from the need to have these immersive user experiences. So those are some of the challenges that we’re facing today in digital libraries.
PH: Okay. You’re also here, of course – this is the GradAttack podcast – so you’re also here, and perhaps primarily here in your capacity as a graduate student pursuing a MS in Information Systems here at the Eccles School of Business. So can you give us some idea of how your research and your coursework in that program fits in with the work you do, and how you intend to use it going forward.
KM: Yes. In fact, how I chose the degree that I was going to pursue for my graduate studies – it took a lot of time and a lot of deliberation on how I could give back to this discipline of digital libraries. I’m very passionate about our digital library and the potential for further growth opportunities. And of course we would have to make smart decisions about systems. I see the strategic growth of our digital library as a key goal of mine, and the strategic choices and decision making are often a challenge for most library leaders, I feel, and there’s certainly a shift towards digital humanities, as well, which involves research and teaching at the intersection of computing. There’s definitely a shift in the way we learn today as students, and as we teach, as teachers, and as a result of this shift, interesting but complex content is being generated, and there’s a need for the support in the form of hosting, sharing, and preservation of this unique content. And, of course, there’s a question about systems for preservation, for access, and making smart decisions about those systems and positioning ourselves for the future. So choosing options and alternatives for how we choose what digital library solutions best fit not only our library but also our community and campuses and partners and patrons – these decisions require time and focus and collaboration with other like institutions, and my curriculum in the MSIS program was chosen strategically to help me make these decisions, or be armed with knowledge in order to make better decisions. So in order to position myself in a way where I can help the library guide and make these decisions, this program was chosen. For example, this curriculum has been so interesting and has taught me so much about emerging trends in technology, and also about databases – how should systems work in the backend? And there was one class I specifically really enjoyed. It was a cloud computing class, and it helped me think of systems in a different light. We’re forever dealing with the growth, of course, and with the support for big data bundles, and we’re also now starting to deal with datasets, and we sometimes need to shift to larger storage spaces without any downtime, and how do we do that? And the good thing about cloud architecture – I’m not saying that we’re moving to it, but it’s definitely something that we need to be aware of – some of the principles are encapsulation, where the complexity is hidden by the user, and also –
PH: Sorry, when you say “the complexity is hidden by the user”, what do you mean by that?
KM: The user may not realize, even an internal user, if we want to add additional storage space with the click of a button, and we have that, and we also don’t need to accurately project our storage needs for the future. And that’s sometimes really hard to do because, for one year, you may be working with 10 terabytes of data per month, and the next year you you may be dealing with five terabytes per month, for whatever reason – it depends on the future of the projects that you’re working. So if you’re going with vendor solutions, we have to know those projections pretty accurately. And if we’re going with our internal systems we have to still have the projection to be accurately positioned. So with cloud technology some of those decisions don’t need to be accurately made at the time, nor the projections. So, with cloud – I’m not saying, of course, that that’s the direction we’re headed towards, but just being aware of those kinds of technologies. So the curriculum in my program has really helped me look very closely at the emerging trends, as I mentioned, and the technologies, and it’s helped me orient myself further, and how I feel about the future and the support and the administration of digital libraries and the systems overall, in general.
PH: Okay. Now, I want to come back to something you said a little while ago. Just very briefly, you mentioned digital archives and the archival needs of storing things long-term digitally. I’m curious about that because at the U. we have things like the American West Center, with its archives. So how would something like that become digitally archived so that people could examine something like 19th-century newsprint from Utah or Deseret or things like that, or would that be on a different kind of plane?
KM: In fact it’s interesting that you mention the American West Center, because we’re actually hosting content for them on our digital library. There’s a difference between access and archive/preservation when we talk about digital objects. For access we’re providing smaller jpeg files that are easy to deliver over the web, and we’re not spending a lot of time trying to open up the file, also the general public isn’t able to steal the larger files, which they could maybe use in newsletters or postings, where there are copyright restrictions that come into play. And, of course, our access files are backed up on our server, but if they’re not archived or digitally preserved, that means that we don’t have a high-resolution version of those access files in our preservation system, so with our preservation system we’re talking about much larger file sizes – TIFFs as compared to JPEG files; we’re talking about fixity checks, where the system will check to make sure the bits and bytes haven’t changed as time has gone on. So that’s your main difference, and also, the preservation system is not open to the general public. Only collection managers will have access to that.
PH: I see. Very interesting. So, Kinza, do you have any final advice for anyone about to do any digital research up at the U., as many students are with the semester coming to an end?
KM: They should definitely come and check us out. They should go to our main page, which is lib.utah.edu, and they go to the “collections” tab, and then “digital library”, and they will find our great hostings online. Like I mentioned, we have almost 4 million digital objects, between our newspapers content and the non-newspapers content, and we have great collections all the way from the stories about the early pioneers that came to this part of the world, to the explorations of a Japanese tourist guide in Japan who’s also a professor here in the Art History Department. We just have really good content. I would encourage anyone to come and check us out.
PH: Okay. Thank you very much, Kinza Masood. Good luck with your graduate studies.
KM: Thank you very much!