Snapshot: Peter Botticelli by Jennifer Moyer

Thumbnail image for Botticelli 1.JPGSimmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) welcomes Peter Botticelli, the new director of the digital stewardship certificate program. Having traded the arid climate of Arizona for the icy winters of Boston, Botticelli brings a wealth of digital archiving expertise as the former director of the University of Arizona's Digital Information Management (DigIn) and Archival Studies graduate certificate programs. As a historian specializing in capitalism and technology, Botticelli has also conducted research at Ivy League institutions, such as Cornell and Harvard.

What made you decide to move across the country to take the position at Simmons GSLIS?

Simmons GSLIS has a nationally recognized reputation as a leading institution in library, information science, and archives. In the past, I had collaborated with key archive players at GSLIS, such as Ross Harvey. I realized we had been working on parallel projects while I was at the University of Arizona.

When I completed research about promoting diversity in the digital curation discipline as part of an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant this past June, I had achieved my initial goals at the university and recognized it was time for a new role. Simmons GSLIS offers terrific opportunities for the next stage in my professional growth and development.

After having directed the University of Arizona's Digital Information Management (DigIn) and Archival Studies graduate certificate program, what types of course offerings do you plan to introduce at Simmons GSLIS?

Whether or not I introduce new courses into Simmons GSLIS's well established curriculum, I expect a need for regular iteration in my courses. The profession is changing dramatically and I do expect that the programs we have now will look different in the next five to ten years. We'll also need to refine our teaching methods as student needs continue to evolve.

As the Program Director for the Digital Stewardship Certificate, I believe new collaborative grant projects will create opportunities to enhance the program. Interest has been generated about a new round of virtual labs development, which is designed to allow students to experiment with digital curation tools and content management systems. The new developments build on the work Simmons, Arizona, and other LIS schools have done in recent years. By giving students access to emerging tools in the field, I hope to maintain a close alignment between what we teach at Simmons and the technologies used by practitioners. The digital stewardship program aims to provide realistic learning experiences that overlap with the daily activities associated with professionally working with digital collections.

In addition, I am interested in expanding Simmons GSLIS' digital curation and archive continuing education offerings. After learning how we can make the courses financially sustainable, I am interested in grant writing and collaborating with professionals in local repositories to develop innovative programs around digital asset management in the cultural heritage sector.

What is your vision for the digital archive on-site and online programs?

Having worked exclusively online for the past 6 years, I would like the program to move toward the hybrid model, which involves blending a few face-to-face class meetings with online instruction. Research has demonstrated that students can learn effectively, as well as develop new types of skills in online settings. At the same time, we had great success expanding our geographical reach at the University of Arizona with hybrid instruction. Most of our students were from Phoenix, which is about a 100 miles away from the university. I believe the same model can be applied to Simmons GSLIS to draw many students to the program from throughout New England.

I'm interested in ways to move online education away from the traditional model of "distance" education, in which interaction is generally asynchronous and limited to textual communication, toward a hybrid model that blends more face-to-face engagement with practitioners and students with individualized activities. Local engagement can take place on a much wider scale with online learning than on campus alone, which enhances class discussion by enabling students to draw on a diverse range of experiences.

After spending almost a decade as a historian studying capitalism and technology, what made you decide to obtain a master's degree in library and information science?

As most college graduates can relate, the job market was bleak after I completed my doctoral studies. In the mid-1990s, I had a great learning experience working on a number of research and curriculum development projects at Harvard Business School. While there, I became increasingly interested in the emerging digital culture on the Web, and its implications for archives and cultural heritage. These interests led me to pursue a master's degree in Archives and Records Management at the University of Michigan School of Information, where I conducted research with Professor Margaret Hedstrom, a pioneer in electronic resource management. Through these experiences, my scholarly interests became focused on the rapidly evolving world of digital culture and its implications for society.

As featured in your published International Journal of Digital Curation paper, "Educating Digital Curators: Challenges and Opportunities" and conference presentations about innovative library careers in the digital age, please describe the opportunities and challenges that exist today for those pursuing digital curation careers.

I'm currently working with Johns Hopkins faculty members to develop a report that explores career challenges faced by information professionals working with digital resources. We recently organized a series of meetings in Washington, D.C., with members of the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Archives to discuss these issues. We still don't have a well defined idea of how to manage digital versus physical objects. As a result, we can't point to straightforward career paths for this type of work. If you review job listings, there's a "kitchen sink" approach to describing requirements of the positions and qualifications. Most graduates today will not know exactly what kind of work they will be doing in 5 years, and generally, it is a complicated task for graduates to establish themselves in the information professions today. Today, students need a lot of flexibility and to continually work on their problem-solving, communication, technology, and project management skills to succeed in today's marketplace.

While knowing about metadata, web development, and XML is important, LIS students need to be informed users and consumers of technology. Students will be power users, not developers of the systems. Yet, they need to know how to engage in productive dialogue with software engineers and ask the right questions to understand and solve the problems that arise with content management systems, which are not intuitive in many cases. LIS students must understand how to manage digital content, as well as the technology platforms that house the content.

Despite the resource constraints institutions are facing today, the good news is that there is no shortage of demand for digital collections and services in libraries, archives, and museums. Digital preservation can only grow over time. Plenty of opportunities exist for students to volunteer at institutions that do not have the resources to manage the workload. As a result, students can create opportunities for themselves by demonstrating how they can solve problems and fill unmet user needs.

I understand that you once managed a soup kitchen. How did you get involved?

While I was working as a Digital Projects Librarian at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, I became involved in volunteering every week at a local soup kitchen. Since we were helped by all of the local farmers and supermarkets, we created a "three-star soup kitchen," which became somewhat famous for its elaborate dishes and strong community support.

What hobbies and interests do you have outside of teaching and archiving digital assets?

I'm looking forward to avoiding rattlesnakes and hiking in Massachusetts' less dangerous terrain. I am also an amateur artist and I have no claim to any artistic talent. Luckily, no schoolchildren will ever be obliged to look at my work hanging in galleries, unlike that other famous Botticelli.

Since most of my time is dedicated to professional pursuits, I am looking forward to the enormous learning opportunities presented by GSLIS faculty and students, as well as collaborating with Boston's world-class information organizations, cultural heritage institutions, and repositories.


Faculty Profile | Infolink Newsletter | News | September 2013