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.





Digital Libraries or Digital Objects: Measuring the Impact and Value of Use and Reuse

This invited blog post was contributed by Ali Shiri, Professor at the School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta. 

The emergence of large scale digital libraries and repositories such as HathiTrust, the Internet Archive, the Open Library, the Digital Public Library of America, Europeana and the World Digital Library, provide new opportunities for digital information users to openly and freely interact with a broad range of digital objects. The unprecedented availability of massive digital collections of books, manuscripts, images, photos, and maps offers new, individual and collective ways of making sense of information and of creating digital content.

The implications of using, reusing and repurposing digital content and collections, in this open and information rich environment, are profound and multifaceted, cutting across many different institutional
contexts such as libraries, archives and museums, as well as numerous disciplines and a wide range of user communities and audience types. Access to digital libraries, in particular, has been closely associated with and discussed in regards to such measures of impact, value and usefulness. In fact, a cursory glance at many digital library evaluation models that have been developed in the past two decades, demonstrates the importance of impact assessment and usability of digital libraries. In today’s world, digital information users, academic as well as the general public, are able to make use of digital libraries to read, explore, entertain, write, research, create and contextualize. Users engage in a diverse range of information practices and tasks, including searching, retrieving, using, learning, conceptualizing, synthesizing, presenting and disseminating. The use and reuse of digital objects is at the centre of all these activities. Teachers use digital libraries to support learning and instruction. Researchers make use of digital information and digital research objects to support the production and dissemination of new knowledge. Digital humanists make use of digital objects both as learning and research artifacts.

In line with these developments, the area of digital public scholarship is emerging as many disciplines within the humanities and social sciences promote the creation and use of digital artifacts and objects, not only by researchers and scholars but also by the general public. Community archives and numerous digital humanities projects that generate digital data and artifacts open a new horizon for the general public to develop digital literacy and digital fluency skills. Thanks to the availability of a diverse range of tools for using and modifying digital objects, digital information users are now capable of creative, innovative and novel use of digital objects to support discovery and exploration.

Assessment of the value, impact and usability of digital objects requires a holistic and multidimensional framework that takes into account use, reuse and repurposing of digital objects. While user evaluation studies have contributed significantly to how we measure, assess and evaluate the value of digital libraries as a whole, we need to be able to demonstrate the value of digital libraries at the digital object level as well. There are quantitative measures associated with the use and reuse of digital objects such as the number of clicks, downloads, bookmarks, views, likes, and items shared and saved. However, these measures only provide a general indication of impact and value. We need measures that document and demonstrate the quality, extent and nature of the use and reuse of digital objects in relation to such facets as the context, discipline, collection that the object belongs to, geographic origin, time period and the nature of task or the information-bearing object that contains the used or reused item. This will call for a holistic assessment framework that addresses various aspects and components of use and reuse as well as techniques, tools and technologies that support digital object use and reuse. Development of such a framework should be evidence-based, empirically-supported and should be based on qualitative and quantitative data, use cases, and user evaluation studies that involve diverse user groups and target audiences. A typology of reuse cases may, for instance, include digital object reuse in the context of educational, cultural, linguistic, artistic, historical, chronological, geographical, and genealogical research and exploration. The value and impact of digital objects and their reuse should be conceptualized not only as part of the scholarly communication lifecycle but also as part of lifelong learning and recreational experiences and activities of digital information users and searchers. It is timely for the digital library community to ensure and promote the relevance and usefulness of digital libraries by providing new frameworks and measures that evaluate and assess the impact of use and reuse of digital objects in relation to intellectual and artistic creativity as well as to informed citizenry, social responsibility and democracy.

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