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.


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.

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!

5 Ways the iPhone Revolutionized Archives

As the 10th anniversary of the iPhone comes and goes, there have been a spate of articles about how the iPhone irreversibly changed this or that. We have the more limited “How the iPhone Revolutionized Photography” and the more expansive:  “5 ways the iPhone changed the world” to the even more expansive “10 ways the iPhone changed the world”.

I’m sure that the iPhone changed the world in as many ways as there are people to write about it. But, I haven’t yet seen anyone write about how iPhone revolutionized archives.  So, here and now, I’m going to take a stab at a short list of suggestions about how the iPhone altered the landscape of archives. Interestingly most of these relate to the iPhone as a camera, rather than a phone, but hey, lots of folks don’t really use it as a phone anyway.

Five Ways the iPhone Revolutionized Archives

  1. The end of the photocopier
  2. Geospatial and time/date precision in resource description
  3. The end of family snapshots on film
  4. Video becomes the snapshot of the current era
  5. The end of the paper scrapbook, the challenge of social media

First some easy ones.

The End of the Photocopier

Smartphones enabled reading room users to make reference copies of documents without subjecting them to the stress of photocopying. As reading rooms embraced the self service aspect of personal reproductions and even required it, the ubiquitous photocopier, with the copyright disclaimer sometimes attached to the copybed, disappeared from reading rooms. The loss of all those $0.05 charges was more than offset by the reduction in work and effort to maintain, run, and manage the photocopier. Although photocopier statistics were used to justify existences, archivists soon found other better things to do than make copies.

Geospatial and time/date precision in resource description

iPhones know where and when they are, and they attach this information to everything the handle.  This makes it possible to get driving directions, and it also makes it possible to know, with very little doubt, exactly where a photo was taken.

Possibly, this search result will be a thing of the past

No longer do we have to confront the words “possibly” or “unknown” in place or time metadata fields, at least in photos taken with smartphones. On the flip side, integrated and cloud photo management tools, simultaneously make it easier for people to manage their photos, and harder for archivists to get their hands on them later.  More on that below. 


The end of family snapshots on film

The family snapshot was being replaced by digital photography before the smartphone, but many cameras, and printers came with a means to directly output digital photo files to print. The iPhone, and the accompanying photo management tools pretty much ended that practice. Slideshow apps on televisions and computer screens replaced the framed photo, and photo sharing apps obviated the need to make prints. Even grandmothers show off photos of the grandkids by pulling out their phones and not their wallets.

Video becomes the snapshot of a new generation

Seven years ago I wrote a post about video being the new snapshot. In the intervening years I have seen that trend accelerate. No only do grandmothers pull out their phone to show off their grandkids, but they will just as likely show you a video of the young tyke as they will a still photo. With social media becoming more video friendly (Facebook especially) the moving image is becoming the recording medium of choice. Why do we care? In some senses we don’t, file size is not the issue it once was, and so many management and presentation systems can deal with moving image files that it really isn’t a big deal in a technical sense. It is harder to describe time-based media than still images, but the challenges of description are not inherent to video.

Now the hard part:

The end of the scrapbook, and the challenge of social media

While “scrapbooking”  is alive and well as a  craft activity, the more mundane practice of saving photos in albums with black pages that you write on with white ink is pretty much over for the general population. The modern form of casual life documentation is, wait for it….Facebook.

Although, according to Facebook “you own all of the content and information you post,” most people would be hard-pressed to figure out how to extract any of it.  And although it can be done relatively easily most people would never think to do it. If you die before you do it, it becomes almost impossible for anyone to gain access to the account or to its contents except through the Facebook interface unless you have designated in advance of your death (or in a will I suppose) someone called a legacy contact. This legacy contact must be a friend of yours on Facebook and then will have permission to download your content. That’s not quite the same as your grandchildren going through the attic and deciding what to do with a bunch of stuff up there, because you have to think of it ahead of time.

All of this is directly related to the way that the smartphone integrates itself into your information world and directs your activities without you even noticing. This is a real and significant result of the iPhone.

These things are not, in and of themselves bad, they just make the archivist’s job harder, and makes us understand even more that while so much of our work in the digital age is just like our work in the analog age, there is so much of our work that is different. The most significant point I’ve been seeing is that we have to make archival decisions at the point of creation, because when the records become inactive, it may be too late.


The Quantum Archivist Returns

I can’t believe it has been so long since I posted anything to the blog. Much of my time has been taken up with two really big projects.

The CT Digital Archive serves non-profit memory institutions in Connecticut

The first, the Connecticut Digital Archive, is a state-wide digital preservation repository build on open source software (Fedora/Islandora/Drupal) that opened in 2013 with 23,000 digital assets and now holds more than 500,000 digital assets from 40 institutions in as many digital formats as you can imagine. I expect to be talking a good bit about the trials, tribulations, opportunities, and rewards related to preserving culture for the future.


The other  initiative, Greenhouse Studios is a “transdisciplinary collective” that according to our website “reframes the practices, pathways and products of scholarly communications through design-based, inquiry-driven, collaboration-first approaches to the creation and expression of knowledge.” What that means is we are working with scholars, technologists, librarians, archivists and others to collectively create new means of telling stories that leverage the technological tools and methods available to the modern researcher. More

Greenhouse Studios, a scholarly and intellectual experiment

posts on the Greenhouse Studios will be forthcoming. My interest specifically is to understand how preservation, archives, and digital libraries influence the creation of scholarly works.  As archivists, we have always said that having a seat at the table at the creation of records was important. Well, now we are sitting at at least one table, we will see what that means.