Carlson honored with 2018 Shapiro Award

Even as cancer came to claim Beth Shapiro’s life in 1995, the former Rice University librarian was focused on leaving a legacy that would honor one of her great loves. At a May 7 reception in Fondren Library’s historic Kyle Morrow Room, metadata coordinator Scott Carlson shared in that legacy as he was honored with the 2018 Shapiro Award.

Metadata coordinator Scott Carlson and Vice Provost and University Librarian Sara Lowman (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Metadata coordinator Scott Carlson and Vice Provost and University Librarian Sara Lowman (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Carlson is the 17th Rice librarian to receive the award, which recognizes staff members who have developed an innovative program to provide library services or shown exemplary service to the community.

Shapiro’s husband, Russell Barnes, Rice’s director of equal employment opportunity programs and affirmative action, attended the award presentation along with their daughter, Gabbi, and recalled that Beth “had the same love of studying and research and libraries as I have.” Together, Shapiro and Barnes wrote the guidelines for the Shapiro Award, which includes a monetary stipend and a plaque, in the hospital just before she died.

“Professional development was very important to Beth,” said Vice Provost and University Librarian Sara Lowman. “She would have been very proud of Scott’s impact on the library and the effect he’s had on moving us forward with technology, the use of metadata resources for our students, faculty and community and his communication through his blog,” said Lowman.

That blog, which he co-authors with Fondren colleague and frequent collaborator Norie Guthrie, an archivist and special collections librarian in the Woodson Research Center, is just one of many projects in which Carlson is able to share his passion for preservation and metadata — data that provides information about other data. On Indie Preserves, Carlson and Guthrie share tips for successful physical and digital preservation of music, a topic also covered in their new book, “Music Preservation and Archiving Today,” published in April.

Outside of the library, Carlson runs his own record reissue label in addition to designing and selling metadata-related merchandise such as stickers, buttons and T-shirts. “My favorite is ‘No Metadata No Future,’ said Melinda Flannery, assistant university librarian for technical services, who held the sticker up for the crowd to see as she explained why Carlson was chosen for this year’s Shapiro Award.

“Even before Scott Carlson joined the Fondren staff in August 2014, he had impressed many of us with his expertise and adventurous spirit,” Flannery said. Within a month, the man who “is genuinely interested in how you are doing” seemed to know the entire library staff, Flannery said, and was soon immersed in a number of collaborative projects. Bringing both a commitment to access and technical expertise to the table, Carlson has worked with others both inside the library and outside of it to enrich access to Fondren’s collections.

Carlson created both a local thesaurus of subject headings and a workflow for using the OpenRefine tool to clean up headings used in Rice’s institutional repository, the Rice Digital Scholarship Archive. He taught staff and the broader Rice community how to use OpenRefine. He helped the Woodson Research Center staff set up a Twitter bot, making it easier to maintain a steady stream of tweets spotlighting collections, activities and events. He worked to overcome challenges in getting usable reports from ArchivesSpace software and created an Excel archival information package template that streamlines creation of these packages for archival collections. He led the Linked Data Research Committee through a rigorous and groundbreaking pilot program to address the question, “Why can’t we just make library collections available through Google searching?”

From left: Shannon Kipphut-Smith, Sara Lowman, 2018 Shapiro Award winner Scott Carlson, Russell Barnes and Gabbi Barnes (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

From left: Shannon Kipphut-Smith, Sara Lowman, 2018 Shapiro Award winner Scott Carlson, Russell Barnes and Gabbi Barnes (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Through his work, Carlson has also been able to indulge his love for music preservation. He was instrumental in embedding audio metadata into KTRU .wav and MP3 recordings and recently spoke alongside Guthrie at the South by Southwest conference in Austin about their archiving advice for record labels and bands alike. Currently, he is working with colleagues to explore using Wikidata to bring attention to the primary sources of the Woodson’s Houston Folk Music Archive.

“Scott’s collaborative spirit is demonstrated through the creative ways he looks for solutions to problems,” wrote Mira Greene, head of cataloging and metadata services, in her nomination. “When he sees a need, he analyzes the problem in terms of a technical challenge. He creates innovative approaches by thinking of ways to utilize computer applications to solve problems. Innovation involves taking a risk, learning new skills and thinking outside the box — all qualities Scott has and employs as he collaborates with others.”

Flannery seconded this assessment of Carlson, adding: “He will learn anything he needs to in order to make something work. He understands the value, the limitations and the intimate details of historical library practices. While pushing boundaries, he respects administrative process and works with others to keep things moving forward.” Citing a recent interaction in which Carlson had offered to help her de-duplicate the mailing list for the library newsletter, a necessary if stultifying task, Flannery commended him for his tireless efforts. “He is not bored by the boring,” she said.

“We’re incredibly lucky to have you at Fondren,” Flannery told Carlson, who took the podium after prolonged applause from the audience. Fittingly for someone described by his colleagues as “awesome and humble at the same time,” Carlson gave an acceptance speech that was brief and droll.

“I crave validation but I intensely fear the pageantry that usually comes along with it,” he said to laughter from the room. “I have no prepared remarks except to say thank you to my nominators, thank you to the committee, thank you to Fondren, thank you to everyone who is here today; I truly do appreciate it.” Gesturing to a spread of desserts and coffee just outside the door, Carlson finished with a grin: “I have no interest in being the first person to make it to the food table, so please jump in.”

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.