A professional colleague and I were discussing a new initiative they were seeking funding for and, in the course of the conversation, I asked if they were including another department in that colleague’s library. The answer I got boiled down to “they’d never be interested in X” –which surprised me, because I know people in that department and that seemed distinctly untrue.

It’s a fallacy I’ve run into before, particularly in the data librarian / data management community. Nearly three years have passed since I gave a rather controversial presentation at RDAP, calling out peers who scoffed at “regular” library work and whose approach to working with non-data librarians was to march in and demand introductions, time, effort, and enthusiasm. I continue to see it in other “new initiative” things in libraries, where someone may be hired in as a solo unicorn.

My response to that colleague was essentially that they didn’t know which thing they were dealing with: a lack of interest, a lack of willingness, or a lack of opportunity. I deeply suspected the latter. While I may not have been able to change that colleague’s mind for that particular initiative or library, it did begin to shape what would become my planned approach for myself.

BTW…I’ve recently become the Data Management Coordinator at UIC. It’s a 2 year, half time position that I’m undertaking to determine our capacity, our opportunities for education and research collaborations, and to identify where the Library can lead.

So in my presentation when I was doing the full day internal interview for this, I had the chance to tell my current coworkers about how I saw the need to build engagement and what I needed to determine from them. That broke out into Interest/Willingness/Opportunities — and potentially the most important one: Support.

Interest: How interested is someone in a topic or new initiative or “added duty” like data management? Is it something they’ve been told they have to learn because of their discipline? Is it something they are actually curious about. This is the individual’s interest, not a department level or administrator level. What this doesn’t measure it someone’s activity level or the time they’ll spend on it. We all have “interests” that always get pushed to the bottom of the pile.

Willingness: This suggests someone’s time and it’s frequently on the individual. What is someone willing to do? They may not be particularly interested in something, but see the importance and are willing to learn enough to meet 101 needs and to refer to someone else. They may be wholly unwilling to engage, and that too tells one much. Asking an individual how much time they could commit can indicate a level of willingness. Maybe they are willing during the Spring but not the Fall. Maybe they can give you a block of time in June. Perhaps they want to do something every week.

Opportunity: Here I think is where many initiatives fall down. One person is given the opportunity and whether others are interested or willing doesn’t matter. There may be territory issues by the person with the title or someone may feel slighted– why should they engage when interesting opportunities will never be given to them (see above re: “they aren’t interested”)? Providing opportunities is something I see as my role as the DM person. If someone is at all interested or willing, I need to help them identify the correct opportunities for them. This could be a liaison who wants to do a deep dive into disciplinary data resources; it could be building educational capacity. Fortunately, Megan and I wrote that Data Engagement Opportunities poster and I can use that to start these conversations.

Support: This may come in many ways– time, money, resources, but here I’m focusing more on the managerial support to engage in these efforts. Hearkening back to that presentation three years ago, I told a room of data librarians that if my manage says X is not a priority, it is infinitely harder for me to spend time on it. I have 1249 other things to do and emails dinging constantly. My role as the Data Management Coordinator is to sort out whether or not the managers are on board, gain their support and use that to help facilitate opportunities — turning interest and willingness into tangible outcomes. This also means that if there is managerial support, if someone is not meeting expectations, I have someone to loop back to for support for me.

As you can see, each of these could exist on a wide spectrum throughout the library on any given area– including Information Literacy, Systematic Reviews, Collection Development, and all the other traditional and new things coming along.

How this will play out is slow going yet, but the coworkers I spoke to about it seemed encouraged by this framework. If it would serve your library or initiative, I hope you’ll use it too. And I hope, next time there’s a grant opportunity or new shininess, it may prompt a question of who else might be interested or willing to be involved and how do we give these opportunities and support beyond the usual suspects.