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!

Seydisfjordur, Iceland June 2019

Melinda Kernik is the Spatial Data Analyst and Curator for the University of Minnesota Libraries and U-spatial. She was interviewed by Susan Braxton in June, 2021.

How did you come to your current position?

I was a graduate student at University of Minnesota in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Society. In my first year, I had a summer job at the Map Library – georeferencing scanned maps and digitizing historical building footprints for a website showing changes to the U of MN campus over time.  When my current position came open several years later, I was excited to apply for it!  

What do you do?

I provide classroom support for digital mapping and virtual exhibits.  A lot of it is story maps, but also sometimes involves helping folks collect data or find existing data.  I help researchers document and organize their data for the University of Minnesota data repository (DRUM), the Data Curation Network, and our state clearinghouse, the Minnesota Geospatial Commons.  I am also part of the Big Ten Academic Alliance Geoportal project, which is a collaboration across 13 universities, trying to have one place where all of our scanned maps and geospatial open data can be accessible.  

How much of your job involves data curation?

According to my job description, about 25%, with that part of my job also including some advocacy work around data management.  

Why is data curation important to you?

Unless you have enough context for a data set, it’s pretty much meaningless.  But also, when you spend a lot of time with a data set and maybe you’re embedded in a narrow subfield, it can be really hard to figure out what information needs to be documented. I love being able to kind of be like a peer reviewer for the data and to help people think through how to make their stuff reusable.  

Why is the Data Curation Network important?

The DCN expands expertise beyond the staff of a single institution, which is great because then you can provide a more thorough and more thoughtful review for the researchers. I primarily curate spatial data, but since our repository gets a lot of general scientific data, I used to sometimes help with those submissions if we didn’t have expertise.  But now, a lot of that data is sent to the Network!  The DCN also creates a community for sharing methods and tools. I’ve really appreciated being able to compare practices with curators who have similar expertise to mine. For instance, checking with other spatial data curators to see if they’ve seen a file format that maybe I’m not familiar with. Also the data curation primers are amazing!

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

In another position, I’d probably be making maps or maintaining spatial data for a state agency or a municipality. In my current position, I would be doing more projects around the map library, like improving access to digital resources that we have – but that haven’t been catalogued.

What do you like to do outside of work? 

I love to go hiking and camping! The North Shore and Boundary Waters Canoe Area are close to my heart, but I am also a big fan of mountains.   And then, if it’s not the season for hiking and camping, if it’s too cold for that, I enjoy knitting while listening to podcasts (Rabbit Hole, RadioLab, and Nancy are recent favorites).  I just learned how to knit, so right now I’m limited to scarves and other very square things. I did manage to make myself a pair of fingerless gloves! It was really nice to have an activity this past winter that wasn’t on a screen. 

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

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