This post is part of our Curators’ Corner series. Every so often we’ll feature a different DCN Curator. The series grew out of a community-building activity wherein curators at our partner organizations interview each other “chain-letter style” in order to get to know each other and their work outside of the DCN better. We hope you enjoy these posts!
Andrew Battista is the Librarian for Geospatial Information Systems at New York University. He was interviewed by Jen Darragh in May 2020.
How did you come to your current position?
I completed a Ph.D. in English Literature and took a library job as an Information Literacy and Reference Librarian at a small liberal arts school. In that position I did a lot of instruction and became involved in supporting social science disciplines like social work and geography. I also attended a THATCamp at Vanderbilt, which is where I first learned about GIS. I thought it was cool how GIS invites students to think about studying society and place in terms of empirically measurable questions. Something clicked, and I was able to integrate GIS assignments into teaching. After some time in my position, I decided that I would like to live in a larger city and work at a bigger university library. I started applying to different data and GIS librarian positions and ultimately ended up at NYU.
What do you do?
I provide patron consultations, a lot involving GIS (naturally). I also answer data reference/finding questions, as a previous NYU colleague built up a robust service portfolio there (a shout out to Samantha Guss). I also became a liaison to the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, which hosts public policy, urban planning, and politics disciplines. These are primarily master’s level programs. I also work on acquiring data for our Geoblacklight collection, which I and colleagues built from the ground up, and I curate the data that goes into it (including metadata creation and augmentation) to ensure it is more easily findable and usable. I also do a lot of teaching and instruction for our Data Services program. And now I also engage in more data curation thanks to the DCN.
How much of your job involves data curation?
It fluctuates, but at least 25 percent and maybe up to 35 percent of my time is spent curating data. A lot of the work I do is to make the data we purchase or otherwise acquire decipherable and discoverable is part of our curation efforts. I would like the NYU data curation team to grow and to encourage more researchers to deposit their data and connect to more repository communities.
Why is data curation important to you?
Data are a form of evidence/information that is particularly difficult in that it isn’t immediately usable or meaningful in the same way as other forms of information like books or articles. You can’t just open it unless you have a basic level of experience. Furthermore, data holds a very privileged, pivotal place in our cultural ethos; it is seen as authoritative, highly desirable evidence, and it and seeps into many forms of learning. The work that we can do to curate data and help people practice better curation themselves is an important literacy.
Why is the Data Curation Network important?
First and foremost it is a community of practice that joins together like-minded institutions. The way I heard about the DCN was a call for the advanced curation training program in Las Vegas in 2018. The workshop sounded exactly like what I needed as a data professional. I met Lisa Johnston a few weeks later at a conference, and after telling her about my job she said I should apply to the DCN training program. I told her I already had!
I do feel that as more time passes, the DCN will leave a better body of data across all the repositories it touches. The literacies that will ripple out from it in terms of individual, institutional and cultural practices and will have a big impact. What I’ve really gotten out of the DCN is that the process of curating data is communal and cultural; it doesn’t have to be a solo enterprise. The more I can have ongoing conversations with my colleagues in my department, other researchers at NYU and elsewhere, the more we can all share in the inductive decision making process behind curating data and making it available to others. This is still a work in progress for us at NYU. When curation is done well, curators are talking with each other and other people about the data they are encountering and workshopping decisions. Having that cultural model is important.
If you weren’t doing data curation, what would you be doing?
In the literal sense, probably something still in libraries but more related to teaching/instruction. But in a more fantastical sense, especially during the time of COVID, I entertain thoughts of opening a restaurant, becoming a chef, or serving pastries at a coffee bar. This is not realistic for me, but it seems like a good way to spend my time.
To learn more about Andrew and some of the datasets he’s curated for the DCN see his curator page!