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!

Wanda Marsolek is an Engineering Liaison and Data Curation Librarian at the University of Minnesota. Wanda was interviewed by Renata Curty in May 2022.

(image to left: Wanda Marsolek)

I’d like to start learning a little bit about your professional trajectory. How did you come to your current position at the University of Minnesota Libraries?

At the end of 2013, I applied for a position at the University of Minnesota Libraries, and prior to that, I had been working in a public library. I worked in a public library for about five years. But at that time, many of the public library positions, at least in the area, were only part-time. And so I had another job here at the University of Minnesota, but not in the library. Back then, I was working like 20 hours in a library and 30 hours on campus. Because if you worked 30 hours, you could get full-time benefits. And then, when I saw this user experience position open on campus, I applied for that. And that’s how I got started here. 

That was really exciting for me, actually, because before that I’d always been working two jobs. Anyway, I did that [user experience] for about four or five years working with our chat functionality and doing usability testing for various things, but my intention was to always become a librarian. Even though I had my library degree, I thought of myself and everyone around me thought of me as a librarian, I didn’t have it as the job title and that, for some reason, was very important to me. And so when I was hired here at Minnesota Libraries the first time,  I wanted everyone to know I’m really happy to be here, but I have a plan. So I did a couple of interim positions, I did one for about nine months with the Bioproducts & Biosystems Engineering Department. And then, the current position that I’m in, Engineering Liaison and Data Curation Librarian, came open, but they needed someone to fill it quickly. 

I’d been telling my director and people around me that this is the direction that I wanted to be moving. I was interested, and being kind of my own advocate and looking for avenues to participate and get this experience because I’ve been at the University now for almost 20 years, so I understand how those hiring practices work. I knew that I needed to have some real experience to put on my CV. I talked to Lisa Johnston to help me [to get some curation experience] because when I got my MLS in 2008 I don’t think that data curation was covered. So I’ve learned all of this on the go and I’ve been so grateful to the community. So that’s how I’m here.

Can you tell us more about your current role and what kinds of activities are you particularly involved in your current position?

I support Electrical Engineering & Computer science, as well as Computer science & Engineering. And then we have a couple of more professional programs, there’s the Technological Leadership Institute and Management of Technology Program that I also support. So that is a dual professional degree between the Carlson School of Management, which is a Business School, and then the Computer Science & Engineering School. I also am responsible for the standards collection, as well as the patent resources. When somebody is looking for something, I help them figure out what they need, and if they really need it. And I do outreach, I do orientations and things like that. I’ve helped the Computer Science & Engineering folks get all of their technical reports into the repository. In that way, everyone can access them there and it helped clean up their website because they just linked to the University Digital Conservancy (UDC). And then I have the data curation, where I focus primarily on scientific data in the departments that I work with, typically from Chemistry and Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, and then some things all over the place, you know, as they come in. And I really like getting to hear about new things, new topics, and getting to use the DCN primers sometimes to help me make the decisions that I need to make things that I’m not familiar with and learning about what’s important in research. What people are getting funded for what they’re putting their energy into, and things like that.

Does your role involve instruction and data literacy as well?

We don’t have a department, but we have a committee for Research Data Services here in Minnesota, and we’re responsible for educating. We coordinate and host a data management boot camp, about twice a year and we’re in our 15th year of that. It’s gone through many iterations. Last year I helped plan and facilitate three boot camps, two for the campus at large, and one for just the science and engineering graduate students because we’d always talked about maybe doing more discipline-specific events. And I think that they all have been successful. More early career researchers have been attending, which is super exciting. It’s geared towards graduate students, but we think everyone can get something out of it. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in attendance. I don’t know if that’s because it’s online, but in this last one we had over 200 people attending, and it was pretty exciting. And because staff and researchers are attending, I was invited to talk to another lab about the ethics of data management and things like that. We do go to specific classes too, and it seems like once you have a relationship, you can nurture it and continue it, but it’s like, how do you get those? How do you foster that relationship? So I think that sometimes through these boot camps, we can do that, especially if we let other people in.

I also am a certified carpentry instructor and so I do a lot of library carpentry and software carpentry. I like to think of the carpentries, the data management, and the curation as a way to like, be able to speak to my departments. [In this way], I’m getting the jargon and language that they use and kind of seeing what’s important to them. And I just think that it all is very cyclical, almost like it all helps each other. And I grow from it all!

As a follow-up, do you engage with researchers prior to these data submissions?

Currently, after it’s submitted, I would really like to see us be able to work with folks beforehand. There’s a lot of change going on [here at the university]. We’re getting a new Vice President for Research here in Minnesota. And so I hope that we can work with them. It would be really great to kind of do the outreach [together]. Ideally, I would like to know when somebody gets a grant, or when somebody’s applying for a grant, that would be awesome! And then we can make those connections. I wish there was some kind of workflow. We have all of these systems to notify us of things, so why can’t [we get these notifications]?

Why is data curation important?

Well, there are several different aspects. There’s the librarian part of me that wants our things to be findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable, I want our data to be FAIR. That reusable part is super important to me. You know, so much of the data collection part is so time-consuming and it can really prevent folks from moving along. And so if there’s anything from someone else that can be reused, I think that is really important and really helpful. And then helping those original data creators get cited, you know, get credit and things like that. [Curation] is really my favorite part of my job, I absolutely enjoy it. I enjoy always learning about new things. I’d like to see how people work, and what their workflows are. It’s super fascinating to see like, the humaneness behind data management. You know, there’s this weird myth that everyone knows how to do it. And we’re all just kind of learning as we go, but we don’t talk about that. So this is another example of curation coming, like engaging with the researcher coming back and making these recommendations that hopefully, they will incorporate into their future projects.

“It’s super fascinating to see like, the humaneness behind data management. You know, there’s this weird myth that everyone knows how to do it. And we’re all just kind of learning as we go, but we don’t talk about that.”

A lot of times, when people are sharing their data, it’s an afterthought and I want people to be thinking about data sharing throughout the research lifecycle, thinking about this before you get started, it’s far easier. And while it’s an investment, it’s an investment that can really save you time down the road. You know, [we can pitch the importance of data management to researchers] using these cute little phrases like: “in 10 years you will thank you or your future lab mates will thank you!”. But I also like that with data curation, the researcher can do so much, they are in the forest, right? And you can’t see the forest for the trees! So I really like how data curation can kind of be a form of peer review. If I as a curator am struggling to get through this data workflow, then how will someone else [without the expertise will know how to do it]? I always like to tell the researcher that this was one of the main reasons for the repository, besides giving you your DOI and sharing, it’s for other people to be reusing it.

Why is the Data Curation Network important to you?

I owe a lot of my opportunities to the DCN. I get to look at things and work with data. I work there with special interest groups, help with planning things, and am more involved with that. And as I become more involved, I continue to be more involved. It’s a cycle! So while I’m getting opportunities, the DCN also can help alleviate some of the stress and workload that I have. Because I sometimes get involved in too much. And so, you know, with a big group, like the DCN, people, we can sometimes negotiate timelines, whether it’s in the curating portion or in the special interest groups. Everybody’s very welcoming, very friendly. I feel super supported and I think a lot of my growth is due to the DCN.

If you weren’t dIf you weren’t in your current position, doing data curation, what do you envision you would be working with?

I would probably be doing a lot more outreach to my departments. I do a lot of committee work already. And so I’d probably be doing more committee work. But I think I would still be in the library. I don’t know, maybe I would be trying to get a repository or data curation system going on our campus if we weren’t already doing it. I think it’s important for a research institution to have that. And I think a library is a logical place for that to live.

Moving to questions to get to know you more at a personal level. Could you tell us what is your favorite cuisine?

I have been enjoying Thai a lot lately. I’ve also been enjoying street tacos. So I have been going to different kinds of taco joints around the city. And then, I really dig ramen! I grew up on those little orange packets of ramen from the grocery store that you can get for 25 cents. And now the ramen I’m eating is like $20, but whatever (laughs). Sometimes I think that those 25 cents packets are just as good! I love the atmosphere of having a Japanese beer or aJapanese whiskey with a bowl of ramen. It’s fascinating to me how different noodles are from restaurant to restaurant and the broths, they can really make or break the dish. I don’t necessarily care about the other stuff, sometimes I’ll just get the child’s menu item because it’s just broth and noodles, which is what I’m really after.

What do you like to do outside of work? Could you tell us a little bit about your hobbies?

I love music. I love listening to music. I collect vinyl. I even have a spreadsheet of the records that I have to make sure that I know what I have so that I don’t buy the same one twice. I keep the spreadsheet also because sometimes when I get into the record store, I draw a blank. So I have a list of what I want. And that list seems to like never shrink. It only gets bigger! But that’s fine. So I’m a big music fan. 

I love going to music festivals. I would build trips around music festivals and museums. Oh, I’m also a big museum person. So I’ve been to Pitchfork in Paris and in Chicago. I’ve been to Primavera in Barcelona, and these other places. And then art museums, I’m a big art museum fan. For a bit, I worked at the Walker Art Center here in Minneapolis. And so I’m a big fan of contemporary art and street art. I love to go on adventures looking for street art, murals, and weird stuff like that. Another thing I love is going to secondhand stores. I love seeing what people don’t want anymore, especially when it’s stuff that I want too.

What is your favorite city?

I Love Amsterdam. I love the bikes. I love the museums. I love the coffee. I’m a coffee person. And then, you know, growing up in Wisconsin and Minnesota, I was always having pickled herring. And so when I went to Amsterdam I had the famous herring sandwich, but I was like, What is this? It’s not pickled? (laughs). So I’m glad I got to try it. So yeah, I am a big fan of Amsterdam.

Where would you most like to travel to next? It can be a state, a country, a continent or a specific city.

I’m going to say New York City. New York City is where I’d like to go next. There are two museum shows I’m hoping to go to this summer. And so like I said, I build trips around museums or music. There’s a Basquiat show that his family put together as well as the Virgil Abloh [exhibition]. First show since his passing in New York, and they’re both in Brooklyn. And so I’m hoping to make it to New York City.

Anything else you’d like to share, any closing statements?

Well, I just have a lot of appreciation for the DCN. I feel like the DCN has really helped me grow and become more confident in what I’m doing. And is helping me find ways to like to show others the value of our work. I really appreciate that. Everybody’s been so kind and welcoming. I think that’s really important because there are some organizations that are not and so I’ve only had positive experiences with the DCN and I’m grateful for that.

To learn more about Wanda, and the datasets they have curated for the DCN, see their curator page!

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