Retooling the Digital Experience with NYPL

A select crew of New York Public Library's Digital Experience team played host to about 20 METRO members this morning for a METRO-coordinated site visit. Barbara Taranto was our guide and took us on a two-part tour of their digitization shop that was equal parts humbling and inspiring. I'll get to each of those emotions in a bit.

We started out in the Digital Imaging Unit where Taranto introduced us to Saskia Scheffer and we learned a bit about the equipment (flatbed scanners, Phase One Digital Back), production processes, and challenges the unit faces when trying to accommodate digitization requests from an institution as large and diverse as NYPL. I could spend the rest of this post going into specs employed by the DI Unit when digitizing maps, photos, and the like, but I think the real takeaway from this portion of our tour is that workflow is critical to any digitization project. Taranto and Scheffer agreed that one of the biggest challenges they face is reducing unanticipated interruptions in the workflow -- which they accomplish by having back-up strategies for when "Workflow Plan A" runs into a snag. Taranto recommended adopting multiple streams for workflows that can be turned up or down as needed based on priorities, deadlines, and other obstacles that the crew might run into.

After our brief visit with the DI Unit, we headed over to NYPL's offices on 34th Street where we had the opportunity to listen to a couple of the folks who are getting their hands dirty in the Digital Experience. Under Taranto's charge after some recent restructuring of the library, the NYPL Labs group is charged with multiple aspects of the users' interaction with NYPL resources; and here's where the morning visit was both humbling and inspiring. The folks we met this morning (web developers, metadata specialists, programmers, oh my!) represented just a sample of an institutional commitment toward infusing the "digital experience" into virtually all aspects of librarianship. And it was easy to feel a little humbled and envious of an institution that can devote that much people-power toward the really critical work of serving up resources in as many ways as there are users looking to find them. As many smaller institutions spend a lot of time building our digital collections, we're often left with little leftover to focus on the user experience when all is said and done. The potential for other libraries to learn from NYPL's work is where I think we can draw some inspiration. 

Another part of what's inspiring about the work that NYPL is doing is their commitment to radical transparency as they go about revolutionizing the way NYPL approaches digital collections and the business of librarianship as a whole. The NYPL Labs blog is a perfect example of this. In documenting their best practices and (best gaffes), they hope to help other institutions learn from both successes they have had and mistakes that they have made. This commitment to transparency doesn't just stop with letting people peek inside the windows, but it rolls over into NYPL being an active participant in conversations about how our libraries are going to look and feel in the future. From their implementation of Drupal for content management to utilizing Omeka to allow users to repurpose resources for presentations or special exhibits, NYPL is adding their own institutional experiences to an already vibrant open source community.

Quite frankly, I could have spent the entire day there picking everyone's brains, and I'm grateful for the time we did have to learn from them. Big thanks to Barbara, Saskia, Joe, Mark, Kris, Janet, and Michelle for talking with us all today.

Tags: techMETRO