NSDL, Karon, and Kaye

A program looks ahead as two leaders retire

December 19, 2013 | It’s been a season of change for UCP programs oriented around digital educational resources. Two of the leaders in those efforts—Kaye Howe, director of the National Science Digital Library (NSDL), and Karon Kelly, associate director of Digital Learning Sciences (DLS)—are retiring this month after illustrious careers at UCAR.

At the same time, NSDL is transitioning from its longtime NSF support and looking for new partnerships and opportunities.

“Our priority is maintaining access to the open educational resources of NSDL and the vibrancy of its community of resource developers,” says Mary Marlino, director of Integrated Information Services (which includes DLS and the NCAR Library).

NSDL was created as an NSF initiative when the burgeoning Internet was a Wild West of sorts for K–12 educators. The management office was established at UCP in 2001, with a focus on producing and maintaining high-quality metadata about relevant websites that can be accessed freely by all (known as open educational resources, or OER). The ultimate goal is to help teachers and others find the resources of most value to them. That’s especially important on the Web, where information can be fragmented and not necessarily well vetted.

Kaye Howe
Kaye Howe. (©UCAR, Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

“The glory of the textbook and any traditionally published work is how highly it’s been curated,” says Kaye. But websites may come and go, and teachers run the risk of calling on a resource that turns out to be less than robust. “Not only does the content need to be kept up to date, but there’s also a need for constant monitoring to make sure the resources are persistent and the technology is updated frequently.”

Among its other services, NSDL has managed a portal on iTunes U and produced Science Literacy Maps, which help teachers leverage resources available through NSDL to meet state and national science education standards.

Most of NSDL’s staff have departed over the last few months, as the program’s NSF support has drawn to a close. However, the library’s metadata catalog remains up and running. DLS, which developed the technical infrastructure for NSDL, will maintain the website through this fiscal year, while Mary and colleagues seek potential new partners, including foundations.

“We’re committed to continuing to provide open resources from STEM education to the community,” says Mary.

A pair of education pioneers

Kaye joined NSDL as deputy director in 2001 after serving as an adviser to DLESE (Digital Library for Earth System Education) in the late 1990s. She became NSDL’s executive director in 2004. Her roots in teaching and learning are deep: among her many pre-UCAR roles, Kaye served as a vice chancellor and professor of English literature at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“I believe in education as the core value of a democracy,” says Kaye.

“If you’re someone who teaches, as I did for many years, you have to understand your audience,” she adds. “It’s one of Aristotle’s first rules: as a speaker, who are you talking to? That concentration on the user, the sensitivity to users and their evolving needs—that’s still critical to education, even in the digital world.”

Not only has Kaye enjoyed working with “a wonderful group of people” on the NSDL team, but she’s also savored being on the front lines of transformative technology. “I’m not a techie myself, but to be involved in the emergence of the Internet, with its constant access to content and the democratization of knowledge, is to have been involved in one of the great revolutions that’s ever happened on this planet, and that’s very exciting.”

Karon’s career has also spanned enormous shifts in how students and educators in and beyond the UCAR community access information. Karon joined NCAR in 1985 to manage the library and archives, where she led the development of the library’s first online catalog and digital services. Her role soon encompassed management of the organization’s communications, media relations, imaging, and education and outreach functions.

Tasked by new NCAR director Bob Serafin in 1989 to map out the center’s role in K–12 education, Karon led the creation of the first such NCAR initiative: Project LEARN. In 2000, Karon moved to UCP to serve as associate director of DLESE.

Karon Kelly
Karon Kelly. (Photo courtesy Mara Additon.)

“Karon’s great gift is clarity of purpose,” says Mary. “She’s had an unwavering focus on the mission and the job at hand.” For the past three years, Karon has been working with graduate students in library and information science who’ve been on site to collaborate with NCAR data specialists through a project called Data Curation Education in Research Centers (based at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).

“I think Karon’s work as a mentor is one of the outstanding highlights of her career,” says Mary.

As Karon puts it, “When I came to NCAR as the director of the library and archives, I never imagined I'd have so many opportunities to expand my professional career.

"I'm especially proud to have been a part of so many of NCAR and UCAR's educational initiatives, to leverage our rich resources to benefit K–12 education."

A retirement party for Karon will take place on Thursday, January 16, at 3:00 p.m. in the FL Library. All staff are invited.