Guest Blog: Data Managers Find New Pandemic Tools

Stones on the shore of Lake Superior
Stones on the shore of Lake Superior
Like pebbles on a beach, projects pile up. The pandemic was a storm that helped library scholars clear the rubble.

The pandemic’s impacts on our campus research ecosystem are many and varied. In her guest blog, librarian Annelise Doll shares a tool that the pandemic made available.

I work as a scholarly communications librarian at the Van Pelt and Opie Library and I am the repository administrator for Digital Commons @ Michigan Tech, the University’s institutional repository. The repository exists as a way to highlight the incredible research happening at Michigan Tech and increase access to the University community’s scholarly output. During the pandemic, I was able to alpha test and fully implement a crucial new feature of the repository in a way I’m not sure would have been possible under normal circumstances.

Challenge: Cats and Data

When Michigan shut down in March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of my biggest challenges was figuring out how to appropriately shift my priorities. Since a good chunk of my work with Digital Commons @ Michigan Tech is done in front of a computer in a cloud environment, I didn’t expect the work itself to change that much. Where I was doing it was certainly different (at home in Hancock on my dining room table), as was who I was with (my partner, also banished from his office, was working in the spare bedroom, and a few feline companions argued regularly over whose turn it was to occupy my lap).

A cat lies on Annelise Doll's lap while she works on the computer

But unlike so many people, these changes clearly weren’t hardships. Stemming from the isolation of remote work, for me the hardest aspect of the pandemic was figuring out how I could innovate my work to continue supporting and highlighting the incredible research happening at Michigan Tech amid so much global uncertainty. Luckily, a few factors were working in my favor.

Solution: Grow the Repository

My colleague Kari Bellin-Sloat, who assists with the routine process of adding scholarly publications to Digital Commons @ Michigan Tech, didn’t have much other work she could complete while working remotely away from the library building. This meant she was able to dedicate significantly more time than usual to growing the repository.

For several years we’d worked with a sizable backlog of citations for recently published Michigan Tech works. Each citation in this backlog had to be reviewed for copyright status and manually entered into Digital Commons. But when she began working from home, Kari and I were able to plow through this backlog with a speed I had never even dared to dream of. Though it may not have seemed important at the time, looking back, eliminating the backlog we’d learned to live with is what made room for a project we took on in the summer of 2020.

About the Author

Enter: The Harvesting Tool

That summer, Bepress, the vendor for the Digital Commons platform, put out a call for alpha testers for a citation harvesting tool that was under development. I leapt at the opportunity to be part of this select group of repository admins, hoping I could increase automation and save significant time locating, evaluating and deduping citations. I also wanted to decrease opportunities for human error, which were unavoidable in the manual process that Kari and I worked with. After getting the green light, I spent the remainder of that summer elbow-deep in spreadsheets and conversations with Bepress about what was working for us at Michigan Tech and what I thought could be improved.

Through the early tests of the tool, I was able to eliminate many time-consuming steps in our process and double the size of the repository by adding over 11,500 records for Michigan Tech works. Now, Digital Commons @ Michigan Tech quickly and easily adds the University’s newest research available from the Scopus database every month. And these efforts didn’t go unnoticed by the community of professionals working with institutional repositories. In the spring of 2021, I was invited to present my early experiences with the harvesting tool in a webinar by Elsevier, Bepress’s parent company. (The cats, happily, dozed.)

More recently, this past October I was presented as one of four repository All-Stars at the Digital Commons North American Conference. There, I was able to share my tips and tricks for repository development. These included the harvesting tool and a number of other projects I had time to work on once that tool was fully implemented.

I’m fortunate that my circumstances allowed me to explore and enhance an important library service so successfully over the course of the pandemic. In some ways, having such an exciting project to work on is what made the isolation bearable. And I doubt I would have been able to focus so singularly on hashing out workflow details with Kari and providing earnest feedback to Bepress, all in an effort to better show the world who we are at Michigan Tech, if I hadn’t been sitting at my dining room table next to a cat demanding lap space.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.