A day in the life of a program officer

March 18th, 2009 by Merrilee

I came into the office today and discovered it’s the Day in the Life of the Digital Humanities. Now, I used to fancy myself a digital humanities type — I’ve marked up my share of oral histories in P3 (using emacs, of course), pondered the deeper mysteries of xlink, and written a perl script or two to move text from here to there. It was mostly in a support role — I worked in the library, but was working in an area that enabled digital humanities types. I went to Digital Resources for the Humanities, attended the bootcamp at the Center for Electronic Text in the Humanities, subscribed to Humanist, went to ACH-ALLC… The web is littered with my papers, emails, and presentations from those days.

That was so 1990s.I’ve moved on. I realize that while I used to refer to myself as a refashioned historian, I now think of myself as a refashioned digital humanities person. Life goes on. Now I’m a program officer working in OCLC Research. I still think of myself as working in support of the digital humanities, and spend a lot of time thinking about the shifting landscape, so while I can’t actually bring you a day in the life of the digital humanist, I can bring you a view on my day as a program officer.

Wednesday 18 March 2009

9:00 am On the days I come into the office, I generally get into around 9:00. Today is an in-the-office day. Unless I have a meeting that starts right away, the usual order of business is: check email, Twitter, Facebook, and Google Reader (my blog reader). In that order. I’ve been doing email forever, of course, and following blogs for about four years. Facebook is new — I think I started that about 18 months ago, and Twitter is the newest kid on the block. A lot of my life, and I suspect a lot of the life of my colleagues, revolves around monitoring issues — copyright, special collections issues, digitization, and the ever shifting quicksand that generally comprises our collection. Carole Palmer gave a presentation where she talked about “reading avoidance” — scanning and skimming enough to get a sense of what a publication is about (because who has time to actually read anything). Sometimes I feel like that with my TwitMailReadBook ensemble — skimming just enough to stay abreast of issues, and rarely dipping in to drink deeply. Sometimes this seems like a smart strategy, sometimes it seems like cheating. I find that Twitter and Facebook allow me to plug into the people that power my work in a deeper way, which allows me to engage with them as people in a way I have not been able to previously. I value this. I’m a social person for whom social media works well.

Wednesday are big meeting days around here. The group that supports the RLG Partnership has a weekly meeting via video, to include John MacColl (although Jackie and Stu call in, along with whoever is on the road), and then every other week we have a video conference that includes the Research Scientists. Once a month we have a meeting that includes all of OCLC Research, usually with a presentation on some topic. Today, we have a Program Officers meeting and a Program Officers/Research Scientists meeting. This will take up a good portion of the day.

I skim my calendar for other meetings, not only today but also later in the week. I have two working groups right now, and preparations for these meetings can take up some time. Right now, the Barriers to EAD group is keeping me on my toes. This group is a well-oiled machine, very effective at communication via email, divvying up the work, sticking to deadlines, and churning out content. We had a phone call yesterday, I have my marching orders! We have pulled all of our drafts for a report into Google Docs (a new experience for a few of us) and are aiming to have a draft for circulation in two weeks. We are at a stage with the work where the members of the working group have all contributed quite a bit, and now in order to stick with our deadline, I have a fair bit of work to do. I have scheduled “meetings” so that the time to work on the report is blocked out in my calendar.

A second working group, looking at what it means to manage archival collections, is at a more formative stage. We’ll probably issue a report, at some stage, but right now we’re looking at methodologies and reviewing literature (such as it is). We have a phone call tomorrow, and I send out information for the call, and also a note on what I think we’ll be doing in two weeks.

There is also administrivia: I renew my membership in ALA/ACRL/RMBS (I renewed my SAA membership last week, and it’s horrifying to see the bills for these professional organizations come rolling in all at once). ALA has implemented an express checkout, which makes the process swifter. I also submit a receipt for reimbursement. PeopleSoft, for better or for worse, is one of the tools of the trade. Jennifer, Constance and I went to UC Berkeley last week, and followed up our meetings with lunch with a few colleagues. It’s meetings with colleagues in the RLG Partnership that feeds our work in a real way, and I’m always grateful for the opportunities for feedback and discussion. Certainly worth a few moments of PeopleSoft induced pain.

11:15 am Our Program Officers meeting and our combined Program Officers / Research Scientists meeting were very productive. The Program Officer meeting was short — a few announcements from the group about items of pressing importance, and one very bad pirate joke from Ricky (we count on her for that).

The discussion for the combined meeting was led by Constance and centered around what we termed “retail” value for collections. In the Shared Print program, there is tension around what (and how) to keep, what (and how) to share, and how to move forward. It’s a fascinating area, and great to have input from Brian Lavoie, Ed O’Neill, Ralph LeVan, Lynn Connaway, and Jeff Young in the conversation. I always feel that with such a variety of expertise and input (and from so many smart people), we are a strong group. John MacColl is such a trooper on these calls — I know it’s way past his bedtime by the time we end.

Back to skimming and sorting email and other forms of communication. I’m the main person that manages our blog, and I notice that we have a piece of errant spam. We have pretty good spam controls, but I wind up having to zap one or two a week. I resent spam, and everytime I kill one, it feels great. A Twitter posting reminds me that I have not yet encountered Twitter spam. Like many people (it seems) I hate the new Facebook interface.

2:00 Already wrapping up for the day in the office. I need to drive to an eye exam, so I wrap up a few in-office chores, grab some food, my laptop and some reading, and I’m off. G√ľnter reminds me of (another) undone task. Later! Not sure if I’m working in or out of the office tomorrow, so I make sure I have what I need for conference calls, etc.

4:00 pm Sitting in the Faculty Club at UC Berkeley, and catching up on some reading (I squirrel away actual reading for planes and appointments). The American Archivist and the California Digital Library 2008 Profile are in the stack.

5:00 pm One advantage of an appointment at UC Berkeley is that I can meet post work with colleagues. This time around, James Eason and Terry Boom. I told them about a Day in the Life… They are ambivalent about the experiment and the opportunity to be documented.

8:30 pm at home, wrapped up domestic chores. Ideas about blog postings for other days, having wrapped up another round of TwitMailReadBook.

I should say that something like this exercise — the opportunity to engage with something on short notice (at the request of a colleague, or at my own discretion) is something that happens frequently. As with this exercise, it’s an opportunity to stretch (sometimes beyond my own comfort zone and ahead of my own schedule) is also part of a day in the life.

[a version of this blog posting can also be found here]

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2 Responses to “A day in the life of a program officer”

  1. Martin Says:

    I didn’t see coffee/tea or any food in that day. How do you survive? ;-)

  2. G√ľnter Waibel Says:

    Merrilee actually is infamous for having a stash of chocolate at her desk which serves as “emergency energy” for those in the office. While I don’t see her dip into it all that often, there are those who are frequent visitors (and shall remain nameless.)