The Interview as a Candidate Assessment Tool

We’ve luckily been able to do a good bit of hiring over the last year or so, both in the Greenhouse Studios and in the digital repository and the archives.  Of course one of the difficulties of the hiring process is that you typically have to make what amounts to a long-term investment decision based on what turns out to be a relatively small amount of information and in a compressed timeline.  (This reminds me very much of the process of buying a house, where you spend far more money than you have based on walking though a building for 20 minutes.)

In recent searches, we have been moving away from the traditional inquisitional interview approach where a panel of people asks questions designed to elicit from the candidate some indication of how they would actually perform on the job. This approach tends to weed out the obviously inferior candidates who are not able to discern what the “right answer” was to a particular quesiton, even if it had nothing to do with their approach to working.   Moving from what is the right answer questions to more hypothetical approaches was only somewhat more valuable since again, a reasonably intelligent candidate could figure out the correct answer to a question that went something like “How would you deal with a colleague who you felt was preventing progress?”  would not be “I’d adopt passive-aggressive tactics to make their lives miserable until they quit.”

In recent searches we adopted a combination of conversational discussions about a certain relevant topic and experiential interviewing techniques.  Experiential interviewing means placing the candidate in a situation similar to the work they would actually do, and seeing how they performed.  For example, consensus building skills and the ability to assess the skills and interests of others was a big part of the work of the Greenhouse Studios coordinator. As part of the interview process, we had the candidates engage with a relatively random set of individuals and come up with a potential GS project that they could all agree on and contribute to. This was essentially simulating exactly what they would be doing as part of the position. We were surprised on more than one occasion when the person who we expected to perform well (or badly) based on our more traditionally structured video interviews performed much differently in the “real word” test.

We’ve continued to use the experiential interview approach for searches going forward and have been pleased with how quickly it shows, at least for our particular application, who has the capacity to collaborate and build a consensus, and who struggles with that.


Out of the Bubble

I was driving to my soccer game yesterday morning and listening to “On Being” on my local PBS station (that’s Boston’s WGBH). This was a show I was not familiar with, but since I had nothing else to do but drive, I listened in to an interview with Lisa Randall, the Harvard theoretical physicist who recently (2015) wrote a book called “Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs” which examines the interconnectedness between astronomy, biology, and paleontology.  I had also not heard of her before either.

It was my good fortune to have 30 minutes to spend with no distractions–I was alone in the car–and to have an opportunity to hear most of the conversation between the show’s host Krista Trippet and Professor Randall.  Of all the interesting things I heard during the drive, I’ll relay one comment from Prof. Randall’s book that was quoted in the story: “We often fail to notice things that we are not expecting.”

It was a minor part of a much larger discussion on the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate disciplines, but I think it summarizes what I like to say, that it is important to get out of the bubble of your local community and get a fresh perspective on yourself and your work as often as you can.

There is a lot we can learn from other intellectual or academic disciplines. I’ve been very happy that my current work enables me to talk to people who spend their days considering how to teach and learn Early Modern Irish, or Child Labor and Rights, or 19th century portraiture, or Medieval coronation music, or , … well you get the picture. It certainly makes it easier and more interesting for me to consider how to create and deliver digital libraries and cultural heritage.

People are More Than Their Job Description

RugMark inspected factory workers in Nepal, U Roberto Romano Papers, UConn

As we bring together new teams for the next cohort of projects in the Greenhouse Studios, a central question we ask is why should this or that person be included in a project team. This decision speaks to the core of the Greenhouse Studios mission.  The idea of the Greenhouse Studios is both idealistic and realistic. We feel that we should be able to bring a group of intelligent people together around a common idea (what we call a prompt), and from that collaboration will come a story of some type, in some form, that is both scholarly and interesting. That’s the idealistic part. The realistic part is that to increase the odds of success, it is a good idea to seed the groups with people who have certain skills, knowledge or interests, that will insure that we cover the bases of technology knowledge, subject knowledge, organizational knowledge, for example, needed to produce some output at the end of the process.

To ensure that the process actually progresses, a facilitator is assigned from the GS staff. This facilitator’s role is to keep the process moving, and not to lead the development in any direction.

But the tricky part of team building remains with inviting participants. If we are too idealistic, we put the projects at risk, too prescriptive, and we invalidate the central thesis of Greenhouse Studios.  We try to be guided by a sense that, as one colleague in the Working Group said, “People are more than their job description” and are expected and encouraged to think of themselves as more than an archivist, or web developer, or professor. Team members bring their entire selves to the table, and it makes all the difference when they do.


A Brief Aside …

The quantum theory of archives is validated by events! (Image: Brian Westin from Flickr)

As I continue to work on the next installment of Analyzing the Lifecycle on Practical Terms, I wanted to toss in a quick aside about another idea that I am very keen on: managing data at the “quantum” or smallest practical level. We are in the midst of re-architecting our repository infrastructure with our consultants. In our discussions, we are discovering that the opportunities that exist for us to leverage repository content both within and outside of our repository system have expanded significantly since we first developed the system. This means that since we made good decisions in the beginning about atomizing our data into small (or quantum) units in the repository, our data is ready and able to be leveraged in new ways that go beyond simple search result lists.

It is a nice feeling when decisions are validated by later events.

Analyzing the Lifecycle in Practical Terms: Part I: Definitions

Continuing our research in thinking about all collections objects as sets of data, we are applying some theoretical constructs to the real world, both to understand the nature and needs of data objects, and the capabilities of management, presentation and discovery systems.

Today we start by looking at a set of characteristics of data that will eventually become criteria for determining how and where to manage and deliver our data collections. These characteristics are sometimes inherent in the objects themselves, applied by the holding institution to the objects, or created when the objects are ingested into a repository or other management or presentation system.

Characteristics of Integrity

These characteristics are inherent in the data no matter how the institution is seeking to use or manage them.  They are core to the definition of a preservable digital object, and were defined at the very beginning of the digital library age. See: “Preserving Digital Information” (1996)

  • Content: Stuctured bits
  • Fixity: frozen as discrete objects
  • Reference: having a predictable location
  • Provenance: with a documented chain of custody
  • Context: linked to related objects

If a digital object lacks a particular characteristic of integrity, it is not preservable, but that does not mean that we don’t manage it in some system or another.

Characteristics of the Curation Lifecycle

The digital curation lifecycle models how institutions mange their data over time. Rather than being inherent in the data itself, these characteristics are dependent upon the collection development goals of the institution,  and subject to review and alteration. The characteristics below are related to digital preservation activities. This is exhaustively explained in the “Reference Model for and Open Archival Information System”

  • Review
  • Bitstream maintenance
  • Backup/Disaster recovery
  • Format normalization
  • Format migration
  • Redundancy
  • Audit trail
  • Error checking

Characteristics of Usability

Some of the characteristics of usability are effectively inherent, others are definable by the institution. The characteristics of Intellectual Openness, while not inherent in the data itself, are typically externally determined. The institution does not generally have the ability to alter this characteristic unilaterally. The characteristics of Interoperability and Reusability are inherent in the data when it is acquired, but may be changed by creating derivatives or though normalization, based on level of Intellectual Openness. The ideas of Interoperabilty and Reusability in digital libraries come from: A Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections, 3rd ed.

  • Intellectual Openness
    • Open
    • Restricted-by license or intellectual property
  • Interoperability-the ability of one standards-based object to be used in another standards based system
  • Reusability-The ability to re-use, alter, or modify the object, or any part of that object to create new information or knowledge. Reusability makes scholarship possible.

Next time we will examine how these characteristics relate to digital objects, and then after that, how those characteristics, along with institutional mission,  help determine the systems and platforms that we could use to manage, preserve,  and make available digital content from our repositories.


Using the Hammer, Having the Nails

Connecticut Historical Society

We all know the old saying that when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. I’ve been “nailing” pretty much everything around here with my social network tool, including in one case even a social network visualization. It is all part of experimenting with different tools that can leverage digital content. I’m sure soon we will find another tool that we can leverage for our content and start hammering everything with that. While it is a lot of fun, and we are going to make some more permanent visualizations with this particular tool, this exposes an important idea behind digital repositories. In order to use, reuse, and otherwise “re-present” content, it has to have certain characteristics which I call:  Reusability, Interoperability, and Openness. These characteristics insure that any new lightweight tool that comes out will be able to leverage content in the repository in more or less automated ways.

Open content and metadata that exists in an environment where it can be manipulated, remade, and shared is important. Equally important for scholarship and the historical record is the persistence of that source data in predictable locations no matter where or how it is ultimately used. This “cite-ability” is a foundational principle of history and scholarship, and is the only way we can determine the validity of the content we see.

All the lightweight visualization, presentation, discovery, etc. tools are less useful if we don’t have reliable source material. Or, if we are to follow the opening metaphor, “A hammer is useless if there are no nails.”

Putting the Archives Where the People Are

Archives on the radio at UConn

We are continually looking for more effective ways to connect people to archives and help them understand the value of archives to a modern society and culture, I want to pass along an idea that an archivist here at UConn implemented in conjunction with the student radio station. “D’Archive” is a weekly show featuring conversation, commentary, interaction with primary sources, and more.

Graham Stinnett, Outreach Archivist, at the Archives and Special Collections, hosts and coordinates the content and guests, which will include archivists, researchers, and the general community. If you are interested in hearing the live version of d’Archive, air time is 10am on Thursdays  at 91.7 FM if you are in the Northeastern Connecticut area, or streaming live at from anywhere in the world.

And, in case you missed it, the first episode is available in streaming form from the WHUS website:

That  episode focuses on the Connecticut Punk scene of the 1980s—What? You didn’t KNOW that there was a Punk culture in Connecticut?  Well, now you can learn all about it.

Visualizing Data Sets

A curious circle of interest around 1943 in a search for 1925.

I’ve been continuing to experiment with the Kumu social networking application, seeing how I can use it to visualize all sorts of data. I’ve gotten better at manipulating the display to make the maps easier to use.

My current experiment is to take a search result set from the Connecticut Digital Archive do some minimal manipulation on it, and put it into a Google sheet that I link to the visualization app. The result is running on a test server, and is quite interesting I think.

For this basic test, I did a simple search in the repository for “1925” not specifying  any metadata field, but just looking for it somewhere in a record, expecting that most results would have 1925 in the date. But, that wasn’t always the case, and the outliers proved to be more interesting that the expected results.

Using the tool, you can arrange content by date, owning institution, or creator. When I arranged by “Date” I got this interesting circle around 1943. Not understanding why that would happen, I took a closer look and discovered that all of the photos were taken in 1943 as worker identification photos for the Post boatyard in Mystic Connectcut. In the description, each worker was identified by his name and birthdate. These 20 or so men (out of more than 200 of these images in the repository) were all born in 1925.  I wonder if they knew that?

I think tools like this can make it interesting and informative to do “sloppy” or simple searches, and find hidden relationships that come out of the data.

What to Create the Future Together?

We are hiring a new Head of Archives and Special Collections at the UConn Library.   We are looking for a creative, progressive and forward thinking leader to build and present research collections that support scholarship and community engagement; who is committed to new directions for modern special collections; and who is highly knowledgeable about emerging information technologies.

You would lead a staff of five professional archivists, one full time paraprofessional services staff member, and an ever-changing cast of project and grant funded staff, who develop, prepare, and manage archival and unique collections and create innovative programs to connect them with students, scholars, and the citizens of Connecticut and the world. This is an opportunity for an individual interested in providing leadership in a fast moving, highly collaborative work environment.

Find out more about the Archives at: and if you want to apply, you can read the official–and somewhat boring– job description at: UConn Jobs, (please reference Job ID 2018047)

Hope to hear from you soon!

Collections As Data

The purpose of digital projects has changed over time.

A lot of the talk here at Digital Directions is about thinking of your digital collections as data. One definition  I like is “information that has been translated into a form that is efficient for movement or processing.” This idea that the purpose of building digital collections  is no longer to create a faithful representation of a physical object, but to provide a resource that transcends the original purpose of form of the object is becoming more common.  I used a new slide in my management presentation this year to show how I believe the original purpose of digital projects has been upended.

It used to be that the primary purpose of digitization projects was to provide a digital representation or copy of the original analog object, with as much fidelity to the original as possible.  At the time, that was something of a tall order. Nowadays, while we still do that, we also make it possible, through both technology and creative commons licensing, for people to manipulate the content in ways not part of the original purpose of the digital original.

We have stood the old model on its head and are getting closer to the envisioned future of the potential of digital archives.