Libraries and cooking

By reeset / On / In Digital Libraries

With my move to The Ohio State University Libraries, one of the things that I’ve been thinking a lot about is how to tie together a lot of seemingly desperate systems to start creating a coherent digital initiatives infrastructure.  It’s a fun problem to be working though…something I was trying to explain to a friend the other day when they had asked me about my recent career change.  Either I haven’t found a way to make my work sound particularly interesting, or I have a widely different idea of what is fun, but after discussing some of the challenges and opportunities that I see available for Libraries, I got contemplative silence, followed by a comment that they’d worry they might screw everything up.

The funny thing is, I don’t think I really worry about that anymore.  Don’t get me wrong, I can see where they are coming from.  It seems like every day, new projects, new initiatives, new wiz-bang solutions are popping up everyday.  How is a library to decide where to invest their time and money – and what happens if you are wrong (because invariably you will be on occasion).  Between concerns related to changing workflows, migrating legacy data, and just building up capacity within your staff – how do you go about making changes confidently. 

Obviously, there are a lot of things that go into making a decision like this…but as I was working on dinner this evening, I think I found a better way to think about this type of work.  I enjoy cooking, and I enjoy taking recipes or meals that I’m familiar with, and start mixing an matching different flavor profiles together.  Today, for example, I was looking for a way to spice up a pasta dish, and decided that it might be fun to make a thai flavored chili sauce to cook the chicken in and coat the pasta noodles with (rather than a traditional alfredo sauce).  It sounded good, and happily, it tasted good.  But, the point is, I have absolutely no problem messing up dinner (and if you ask my kids, it happens).  The way I look at, is that is, if I screw it up, it’s only one meal and I can always make folks peanut butter and apple butter sandwiches.  I think I like to look at system building the same way.  Invariably, you are going to start down a path and realize that a new tool or component doesn’t match within your environment.  It might have looked like it would fit, but the end result just doesn’t “taste” right.  That’s ok – just try a new recipe and start again. 

I think my favorite thing about cooking is I love making new things.  Sure, there are recipes, but I see those more like loose guidelines, rather than hard and fast rules (this is probably why I don’t do desserts – I find they tend to be a bit less forgiving).  I look at the work I do in libraries the same way.  There are a lot of recipes for building digital infrastructure, but they are really more like loose guidelines.  The trick is to take those recipes and come up with a flavor that meets the needs of your local environment.