Get to know Leighton Christiansen (MS '12), transportation librarian

Posted: April 23, 2014

leighton1_0.jpgLeighton Christiansen’s experience in transportation and the information professions prepared him for work as the single librarian serving the Iowa Department of Transportation. Combined with the skills he learned via the iSchool's Specialization in Data Curation, Christiansen has found himself uniquely positioned to tackle the challenges facing the transportation information industry today. 

Where do you work and what is your role?

I am the librarian at the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) Library. While Iowa State University's (ISU) Institute for Transportation is my actual employer, my services are contracted to the Iowa DOT, and my main work site is the DOT Library. I also assist engineering faculty and students at ISU. As a solo librarian I undertake all aspects of librarianship, including collection development, cataloging, reference, etc. My main role is to provide search assistance to Iowa DOT engineers and researchers.

What do you like best about your job?

As the Iowa DOT librarian, I have been able to merge a number of past and current skills and interests: I have been an over-the-road truck driver and a journalist, I am interested in history and science, and I studied English, computer science, data curation, digital preservation, and general librarianship. I have been serving on the Iowa DOT 100th Anniversary Committee and lecturing on transportation history throughout Iowa. I also serve on nine state, regional, national, and international committees, allowing me to offer new insights and energy to long-established bodies and take a lead in the efforts of transportation librarians to understand issues posed by long-term data stewardship, data management, and open access to data sets and publications. As a solo librarian, conference travel is actually a joy: I relish the chance to discuss, brainstorm, and plot in a room full of dynamic, knowledgeable people.

How did GSLIS, and specifically the Specialization in Data Curation, help you get to where you are today?

The Specialization in Data Curation meant that, when the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced in 2013 that all agencies receiving research funding from United States governmental bodies must have in place, going forward, data management plans for data sets and open access plans and policies for publications and data sets, I was well suited to understand the challenges and opportunities agencies would face. Since September I have been leading the efforts of the Midwest Transportation Knowledge Network and the Transportation Library Connectivity & Development Pooled Fund TPF5-(237) (i.e., committees of transportation librarians) to educate and re-tool transportation librarians on issues of data curation, with the aim that these librarians will then aid their agencies in the move to compliance with these new federal requirements, and earning a place at the data curation/data management table for these librarians.

What advice would you like to share with GSLIS students?

When you are seeking a specialization, do not overlook general skills. You might be planning to go into curation or preservation, but you may still need to know how to catalog and answer reference questions skillfully. I still have not yet curated a single data set, but through my current advocacy efforts, hope to be doing so in the future.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I'm a librarian: I have books and cats. Iowa also has more than 1,700 miles of bike trails which I am slowly exploring.

What’s next for you?

A cookie.

Filed Under: alumni news, data curation, Get to know, alumni profile, careers in data curation