Thomas Padilla | Movers & Shakers 2020–Digital Developers

"I was surrounded by data, the product of a decade of digitization" at Michigan State University, says Thomas Padilla, who was digital scholarship librarian there from 2014–16. He began to wonder how cultural heritage institutions could start to ethically engage with the data they generate and use it to begin to think about their collections as data. 

Sidsel Bech-Petersen

CURRENT POSITION

Interim Head, Knowledge Production, University of Nevada, Las Vegas 

DEGREE

MLS, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2013

AWARDS

“Collections as Data: Part to Whole,” 2018 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant, $750,000; “Always Already Computational: Collections as Data,” 2016 Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership Grant, $100,000

FAST FACT

Padilla led a rapid response digital collecting initiative in the aftermath of the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that exemplifies how born-digital collections should function as part of libraries’ response to community crises

FOLLOW

@thomasgpadilla; oc.lc/responsibleoperations
collectionsasdata.github.io/part2whole; osf.io/mx6uk/wiki/home

Photo by UNLV Creative Services

 

Cultural Collections

"I was surrounded by data, the product of a decade of digitization" at Michigan State University, says Thomas Padilla, who was digital scholarship librarian there from 2014–16. He began to wonder how cultural heritage institutions could start to ethically engage with the data they generate and use it to begin to think about their collections as data. What would it take to provide support and promote access to these computational collections? Padilla took his curiosity to University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and, along with a network of colleagues across the country, successfully applied for an Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership Grant in 2016.

"Through his ‘Collections as Data’ [grant], Thomas has been leading the national dialogue of librarians and humanities scholars around the future use of cultural heritage collections as computational sources," says Trevor Owens, head of digital content management at the Library of Congress and a 2018 Mover & Shaker.

Bringing inclusive voices into collections has been a priority of Padilla’s throughout his career. By workshopping the Santa Barbara Statement on Collections as Data for over two years, professionals across the country co-created a statement that can be universally applied and locally interpreted. The statement provides high-level principles to guide communities in collections as data work. It acknowledges where cultural institutions have fallen short of ethical engagement with their collections, and where they can use their collections to support diverse perspectives, particularly of historically underserved communities.

The work Padilla and his colleagues began continues to evolve and grow. "As a result of the quality of this work, [Padilla] was awarded a major Mellon Foundation grant [in 2018], the first…to an organization in the state of Nevada," says Owens.

"The Mellon support allows us to further explore what it takes to develop and provide access to collections as data but also what it takes to sustainably and ethically support [their] use," Padilla explains.

Collaborating with 12 institutions across the country, the effort builds on the perspectives and local contexts of a variety of organizations. Participating libraries are engaging in information literacy and GIS projects; art museums and archives are developing pedagogy. By working with a variety of institutions, Padilla believes collections as data will be more directly applicable to heritage institutions both large and small. 

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