When Walt Cressler, Reference Librarian and Associate Professor at West Chester University, took over management of Digital Commons @ West Chester last year, he knew there were some big needs on campus that the repository could meet. As a science librarian with an interest in the environment, Cressler thought of one need in particular. For over forty years, students and faculty at WCU had been conducting research and collecting data from the Robert B. Gordon Natural Area for Environmental Studies, but despite having its own website, the data from the area had never been collected and shared on one permanent digital home.
Walt reached out to his friend and colleague, Adjunct Professor and longtime Steward of the Gordon Natural Area Gerry Hertel, and proposed the IR as a home for the area’s years of scattered data. Hertel was thrilled at the idea, and together the pair began tracking down information. Though Hertel had been storing much of the data and images on his own website, valuable bits and pieces were also spread across various Facebook pages and in the offices of other faculty members. With the help of Hertel and by “haranguing” faculty members, Walt has begun populating the repository with a rich collection of resources from the area.
“I’m hoping that [having the data in the repository] will enable people to see the extent of what goes on in the Gordon Natural Area in terms of it being an educational resource and environmental resource,” Walt says. “That would serve a variety of things. It would reinforce people’s notions of how valuable the area is, so the pressure to build a road through it would be eliminated. For students and prospective students it shows them what’s done there and gets them excited about the educational aspect and the stewardship aspect of studying at WCU. The accessibility and the visibility wouldn’t be possible if the data wasn’t open access.”
For other librarians who are considering taking on a similar data collection project, Walt suggests finding a faculty member who can serve as a champion and a partner in the process if possible. “It’s very helpful to have a point person that you can collaborate with. This project was mainly between me and Gerry, and he’s been really motivated to keep sending me emails and share information that I can then upload into the repository.”