Data Services Environmental Scan: First Steps

Author: Shannon Smith, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Source: WikiMedia Commons

As a library, taking on an increased support role for data management is a long-term project that involves coordinating with groups institution-wide. Environmental scan interviews are a vital first step. They can help you find advocates in other departments, and find trouble on the horizon. We’ll be discussing how to perform an environmental scan in our webinar series this summer, but there are steps you can take within your library to begin the process. The first task at hand is to identify your own library’s existing services.

The library self-assessment is a critical first step to developing an environmental scan. Before speaking with the other technical or research support groups at your institution, you should have a written list of the services, initiatives, and plans that your library has undertaken.

What are you looking for?

The purpose of assembling this written list is to inform your later interviews and to help you focus on you institution’s priorities. In an ideal world, a thorough survey of library patrons and the services they need from the library would not only give you insight into how you focus your activities, but also give you ammunition when speaking to other departments about the importance of library data services. In the short term, speaking to your fellow librarians (especially reference, research, or subject specialists) about their interactions with researchers can give you a quick-and-dirty overview of where to focus your efforts. Looking at other university libguides on data services can also give you an idea of things researchers find useful.

Interviewing your Library’s Director

The other half of the internal review is the top-down approach. Taking what you’ve learned about the current state of affairs, meeting with your library director can give you broader, long term goals. Other, more detailed guides on how to conduct informative interviews exist, but broadly it’s useful to approach the interview with a pre-established set of goals for information you want to leave with, an understanding of how formal/detailed the interview will be, and a list of questions to ask. This should give you a wider-scale view of your Library’s data services work, and how it fits in with the campus’ larger scale priorities. You may also walk away with a better understanding of other groups on campus with a stake in data management for later use, as well as the internal organization of your own library.

Review, Recycle, Remix

While a self-assessment is the first step to developing an environmental scan of the whole institution, it also stands alone as a short-term thing librarians can do to start working on their own data practices. Before rushing off to coordinate with researchers, grant writing offices, or IT make sure you take the time to review the information you’re getting from your patrons, fellow librarians, and other staff. Giving yourself some weeks to digest this information will give you a better idea of what you can do in-house, what tasks require outside collaboration, and what might be out-of-scope for now.

For more on environmental scanning and other important aspects of data services at your library, keep an eye on our webinar page over the coming months.

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