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 ten 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!

Susan Braxton is Prairie Research Institute Librarian at the University of Illinois Library. She was interviewed by Liza Coburn in April 2021.

How did you come to your current position?

When we moved to Urbana-Champaign I wasn’t a librarian yet, but I’d done a lot of library-type work (ex. I’d worked at the USDA in the Biological Control Documentation Unit developing a database). I didn’t really know that library school was a thing, but there was one right here, so I applied. Once I graduated with my MLIS I worked at Illinois State University until a position opened in the Natural History Survey Library I applied. That library and the other State Scientific Survey Libraries  merged into the Prairie Research Institute Library. Once we got everything all organized and merged into the UIUC Library system to make resources more accessible, the Institute decided to close the Library down, but I was able to remain the Prairie Research Institute Librarian, within the University Library.

What do you do?

I help Institute staff with library-related things (finding articles) but I’ve also been active in other parts of the organization – on their web team, and on the committee working to develop a data management strategy for the various surveys at the Institute. I help manage the archiving of project reports and I also work with the Illinois Research Data Service to curate datasets within my areas of expertise.

How much of your job involves data curation?

I’m not sure, that’s a good question.  Based on our Illinois Data Bank tracking sheet, I curate or assist with about 10 datasets per year. 

Why is data curation important to you?

Going back to when I was working at USDA, and before that as a Research Assistant on a project where we were trying to document the history of biological control in Maryland, I guess I came at it first as a user wanting to have access to information and data that had been collected that wasn’t readily available. So helping to make data available for the long-term, and helping to ensure that people without special project knowledge can actually understand and use data is really important.

Why is the Data Curation Network important?

When I was serving on the Prairie Research Institute’s data stewardship advisory committee I attended one of the specialized data curation workshops and the CURATE protocol was something I was able to bring back to the committee and say “look we don’t have to do this from scratch, other people are doing it, and they’re doing it this way”. The committee was thinking about developing a repository or way of archiving datasets, but they weren’t thinking about curation and access and how to ensure the data would be useful going forward. Being involved in the DCN and coming back from the workshop and being able to point to recommendations was really useful. I wasn’t a DCN curator right away after the workshop, but it helped my local curation work at Illinois. Being involved in the DCN has been really useful to me and to my work and it’s been great to be involved in some of the projects the Network has been working on.

If you weren’t doing data curation, what would you be doing?

I’m also on the staff at the Biodiversity Heritage Library and as part of my work I get to upload and tag images from some of the books to their Flickr account. If I had more time (and I will when I retire) I’d do more of that work. I’m also working on registering species described in the Illinois Natural History Survey Bulletin in ZooBank. The things I’m into are all pretty data curation adjacent.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I like to crochet coin pouches, felt them in my washing machine, and then I sew vintage buttons on them. I do this while watching TV and it’s kept me sane through many Illinois winters. I also like to teach my dog (a kelpie mix rescue) silly tricks. When there is not a pandemic on, I enjoy a good road trip.

An example of one of Susan’s felt coin pouches.

To learn more about Susan and some of the datasets she’s curated for the DCN see her curator page!

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