Behind the Scenes: What it takes to make us stage ready

By Caroline Muglia

When this rag tag group of librarians and archivists embarked on a project that would evolve into an IMLS grant-funded endeavor, we knew at least one thing: we’d be learning a lot throughout this year-long process. Early on, we embraced an iterative approach to our conversations, brainstorming sessions as well as deliverables and outputs we set for the grant.

This post will share a few of the areas where we acted, assessed, pivoted, iterated, and tried something new! We’re constantly finding ways to improve our work and learn from past practice. We hope this behind the scenes insight can be helpful to those readers pursuing similar goals in a collaborative environment, or highlight areas worth interrogating further in your ongoing work.

Get grounded in Grounded Theory

When we first began this grant, we knew we’d generate a lot of data. What we didn’t anticipate was the breadth of the backend process necessary to do something valuable with the data. We embarked on qualitative coding projects to organize what our experts are telling us and take actionable steps that will drive our re-use toolkit criteria. Since none of the six of us came aboard this project with secret coding experience, we had to learn together.

After an environmental scan and a few demos, we decided to utilize Dedoose qualitative coding software for the notes we generated during the in-person and virtual focus group sessions (our grant specifies that any recording or transcription be permanently deleted within 48-hours). As a group, we discussed advantages and scrutinized challenges to different qualitative models together until we agreed to use a Grounded Theory. In the coming month, we’ll complete the initial and final coding. We referenced our sources on Grounded Theory and regularly iterated and improved our output in service of our grant deliverables.[1] In this instance, we started with an idea that our data would be valuable and ended with knowledge of new software and conversational literacy of grounded theory and a darn good qualitative analysis.

Sending surveys far and wide

In addition to the tailored focus groups, we also developed a survey instrument to capture experiences with and perspectives on re-use in a digital library environment. Distributed via email lists, we gathered 302 responses. Our first thought was, How great, this small group of people churned out so much interest in this topic! Our second thought was, Yikes, how do we make sense of it all? Again, we iterated: we gathered the data using Qualtrics and assigned a few folks to dig through the results and propose a plan. We poked holes in the plan, that strengthened the goals and methodology, which we ultimately applied to the analysis of the insightful responses.

Befriend people smarter than you

We surrounded ourselves with a lot of smart people! This included the development of an engaged advisory board , and a focus on professionally active participants for those tapped to participate in both the in-person and virtual focus groups. The focus group participants discussed concepts of “use” and “re-use” of digital objects in their cultural heritage institutions, and the advisory board has helped us to shape, and think through, these community conversations. To date, we have hosted one series of in-person focus groups, and one series of virtual focus groups (with another round of each to come). We used a facilitation guide in the first round of in-person meetings, which allowed the different groups to stick to an agreed-upon script and promote discussion around the same topics.

After the first meeting, we assessed the discussions and made some changes to the facilitation guide for the virtual focus group meeting. We cut down the conversation on “use” and ramped up the one on “re-use” since that’s the focus of our grant. We also shortened the virtual focus group with the expectation of wavering attention spans for a phone conversation. In our next round of focus group meetings, we’re also making some adjustments that we hope will benefit the development of the toolkit criteria.

Indeed, in some areas of our organization and collaboration, we have strengthened what we’ve been doing well all along!

Meet regularly and do stuff

Since the group is scattered across the USA, it is imperative for us to stick to a regular meeting schedule and to maximize our time in those meetings. Our ever-organized PI, Santi Thompson,  distributes an agenda before the meeting including any links or materials needed to have an informed conversation. By the end of the meeting, we aim to have clear action items, deadlines, and benchmarks, and try to distribute the work evenly among the six of us.

Sub-groups are great

Within our group, we use sub-groups (of 1-3 people) to tackle mid-term length issues or examine larger concepts related to the project. This allows us to keep moving forward at an aggressive pace, while also learning as much as possible from our collaborators.

Phone a friend

When we need advice, guidance, or support, we ask for help from DLF or our Advisory Board. We didn’t get involved in this grant because we know everything! We got involved because we wanted to learn from each other and from experts already working in the field.

Know your capacity

This sounds a bit self-help, but what allows us to succeed is knowing our own capacity. With a large group, so many deliverables, and a lot of unknowns, we’ve succeeded in taking on more work when we have the capacity, and voicing our need to take on a supporting role when our capacity or attention shifts. Since we all have day jobs, personal lives, and other responsibilities, it’s up to us to say, Nope, I can’t present at that conference because I have a work deadline, or I enjoy writing blog posts, I can take on this assignment! This also gives us more confidence that we aren’t burdening each other with projects and deadlines.


Like, belly laugh. Guffaw, even. It helps. It always helps.

[1] Charmez, K. (1983). The grounded theory method: An explication and interpretation. RM Emerson, Contemporary Field Research: A Collection of Readings, 109-126; Holton, J. A. (2007). The coding process and its challenges. The Sage handbook of grounded theory, (Part III), 265-89.





Let the (early) data analysis begin!

The project team is fresh off its first successful presentation at the 2017 DLF Forum in Pittsburgh. Genya O’Gara formally introduced our team and project during a session of the DLF Assessment Interest Group’s yearly accomplishments. Following the forum the project team convened our first in-person focus group. Eight individuals kindly shared their thoughts and perspectives on the complexities and challenges of understanding content reuse and the promising possibilities that reuse brings to digital cultural heritage assessment. On the heels of this first focus group was also the completion of our survey. We were delighted to receive over 200 responses (and were equally excited to provide $25 Amazon gift cards to the first 50 respondents). As the team continues to plan future focus groups, we will also be combing through the data and, with guiding insights from our Advisory Board, formulating initial results. This work will ultimately lead to a series of use cases and functional requirements for a future assessment toolkit.

The results of all of this analysis will be shared widely with the community. The earliest reveal of our analysis will be discussed at several upcoming conferences, including ALA Midwinter in Denver. The team will update you all on other presentations as they are confirmed.

Call for Survey Participation

Our first step in our needs gathering process is to release a survey that seeks to identify how cultural heritage organizations currently assess digital library reuse, any barriers to assessing reuse of digital objects, and to begin pulling community priorities for potential solutions and next steps together.

If you are a cultural heritage or research data professional interested in methods of evaluating reuse of your institution’s digital object collections, consider taking our survey:

Please see the survey itself for full eligibility criteria and informed consent. The survey ends at 5:00pm EDT on Wednesday, October 11, 2017.

Please do share on your social media networks! It would be very much appreciated.


We’re growing!: Welcoming 6 Advisory Board Members

We are delighted to announce the formation of our new Advisory Board, comprised of expert stakeholders from cultural heritage organizations throughout the United States of America and Canada.  The Board will provide critical feedback on methods used for data collection analysis and guidance in drafting final recommendations. The Board will also provide direction in identifying digital libraries and other institutions that could benefit from a “reuse toolkit.” (The functional requirements and use cases for a toolkit is the primary output of this grant.)

The project team identified Advisory Board members based on their experience in building and administering digital collections as well as in researching and teaching on digital library issues, and their ability for a granular understanding of the functions of digital libraries as well as a broad vision to shape this toolkit.

Advisory board members will serve for one year. During that year, the project team will host three virtual advisory board meetings, with the remainder of the feedback gathered through email and conference calls.

You can read more about the interests and professional accomplishments of each board member on the Advisory Board page.

Please join us in welcoming the Advisory Board!

Advisory Board members:


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