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  • Kristin Antelman, university librarian
    Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech Office of Strategic Communications
08/25/2014 09:48:16

Improving Access to Data Across the Board: An Interview with Kristin Antelman

Kristin Antelman has only been at Caltech a short while, but she's already looking forward to making her mark as the new university librarian.

The past year has featured several big milestones for the library. In January, Caltech's new open-access policy took effect, allowing researchers to make their work openly available through the Institute's online repository, CaltechAUTHORS. Shortly before Antelman arrived this month, the library also announced that the repository had reached a collection of 40,000 papers. In her new role, she says she is excited to further expand the amount and breadth of materials available through the library.

Antelman worked as the associate director of libraries at North Carolina State University before coming to Caltech. Originally from Chicago, she received a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan and a master's degree from Columbia University, both in political science, before returning to Chicago to complete her master's degree in library science at the University of Chicago.

Antelman sat down with us to talk about her new position at Caltech, the changing needs of a library in the 21st century, and her past life as a competitive chess player.

What brought you to Caltech?

I really was attracted by the opportunity to address the full range of challenges faced by the research library today. Caltech itself and the culture of the institution and its clear identity and focus were also attractive to me. I believe libraries have a lot to contribute to supporting researchers going forward, and I saw an opportunity here to really focus on that.

Not so long ago, the word "library" evoked an image of book stacks and card catalogs—but things are obviously very different now. How would you describe the library of the 21st century?

I think the library of the 21st century is increasingly about services and about meeting users where they are, rather than requiring users to physically come into the library building to find what they need. Students can also benefit from the assistance of the expert library staff in helping them understand what the scholarly communication landscape looks like in their discipline and in related disciplines.

For researchers who are, of course, already familiar with the context of their information environment, the library plays an important role in getting them what they need when they need it. Because there is so much information available—published, unpublished, research data, etc.—no one library could ever possibly collect it all in anticipation of a need, so we help get what is needed quickly once that need is known.

Right before you came to Caltech, the digital repository, CaltechAUTHORS, celebrated the 40,000-records mark. Are repositories like this another important part of today's libraries?

Caltech is at the leading edge of this trend. Close to 5 million articles have been downloaded from the CaltechAUTHORS repository. The Institute encourages researchers to put their articles into the CaltechAUTHORS repository through policies such as the open-access policy, and the library supports that process through outreach and facilitating deposits. I think the Caltech faculty is also on the leading edge in terms of embracing the importance of the repository.

I think an increasing role for the future will be to provide an infrastructure for researchers to add other research materials such as data to this repository as well as publications. The library is always looking out for the long-term preservation and accessibility of research and scholarship—and so that core aspect of our mission does not change as we move from physical to digital material.

When you're preserving all of these publications and data sets, there must be a multitude of different file formats. How do you know which ones will still be useable in the future?

It's collectively a very large problem in the digital age, not just for libraries but also for society. It is much more challenging than in the print era, when books really were pretty stable and secure sitting on a shelf and didn't require a lot of maintenance to still be useable 10 or 100 years later. That's not the case with digital.

But I think this is another strength of libraries and librarians; we collaborate well with each other across the field and across institutions. A lot of collaborative work is being done in the field of digital preservation, and Caltech is a part of this network that is working on the problem collectively. By being a part of this network, we're, in essence, buying into the development and management of a shared solution and shared services related to migrating digital data forward through different formats.

Last year's open-access policy was one big step to expanding the materials that researchers can make available in the repository. Is there a next step?

One future direction involves strengthening the identifier infrastructure in the repository. All articles have a standard identifier assigned by the publisher that is called a DOI—a digital object identifier—but you can also assign DOIs to data sets and other digital objects. And when you make those identifiers available and associated with data, it enables citation, which kind of supports the researchers getting credit for their work—and it also supports the reuse of that work.

The library is also working on integrating unique author identifiers into CaltechAUTHORS. There are international initiatives that enable you to know who a person is through an individual identifier. This is helpful because, as you can imagine, lots of researchers have the same name.

How will your work at Caltech be different than what you've done in the past?

I think the biggest differences that I'm seeing coming from NC State are not so much supporting the researchers but with the number of students. I came from an institution with more than 30,000 students, and that creates certain demands on the library in terms of spaces and services . . . just the volume of people. When demands on the library at scale are not present, you can devote your energies in a more focused way to services for research.

Are there any exciting things happening at the library now?

Well, I think the opening of the space on the ninth floor of Millikan is very exciting. It is available to everyone at the Institute. Students can go up there to study, and we plan to add technology to that space and talk to students to learn what will make that space work better for them.

I also think that the Publish on Demand Service (PODS) is an exciting new initiative. You can basically print your own book—a nice published and bound volume. That service is available to anyone on campus. The machine is on the first floor of Millikan.

Do you have any particular interests or hobbies—either related to work or outside of work?

In terms of professional interests that are related to the mission of the library, I'm active in several projects to advance open-source software and open data.

Outside of work, aside from the typical hobbies that people usually list like reading and travel, I used to be a competitive chess player. I traveled around to play in tournaments. I wasn't particularly good, however. My husband is very good; he teaches chess for a living, and we actually met at a chess tournament.

Written by Jessica Stoller-Conrad