Alum Martin Kelly Helps College Share Digital Collection with Worldwide Audience
Martin Kelly

Alum Martin Kelly’s expertise in digital images and metadata made moving into a leadership role in digital collections a natural career progression.

As the assistant director for digital collections at the Colby College Libraries in Waterville, Maine, since 2012, Kelly oversees the digitization program in the libraries’ Digital & Special Collections, including Colby's institutional repository, Digital Commons @ Colby.

Kelly is also involved with several of the college’s initiatives with ARTstor, a digital library available by subscription to nonprofit organizations worldwide. He manages Colby’s ARTstor image and digital media-related services.

He also serves as a liaison to the Colby College Museum of Art's digital image collections, helping with digital asset management, imaging, metadata and the museum’s presence in ARTstor. In addition, Kelly served as an institutional liaison to ARTstor as it developed Shared Shelf, a collaborative Web-based image and media management tool.

Kelly serves on the libraries’ leadership team, made up of representatives from each of the libraries’ working groups -- Collection Management, Customer Service & Administration, Digital & Special Collections, Scholarly Resources & Services and Systems, and Web & Emerging Technologies. The team advises and assists the libraries’ director with strategic planning, large-scale projects, and intergroup communication and initiatives.

A 2004 graduate of SJSU’s Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program, Kelly said moving into a leadership role sometimes required him to stretch a bit outside his comfort zone. Though some aspects of leadership come naturally to him, Kelly said he’s generally most comfortable in “more solitary” roles. But having great colleagues makes it easier to “get out” more, he added. “So while it has been a challenge to incorporate more interaction and delegation into my approach, I see that as ultimately a healthy change for me,” he said.

As far as developing new competencies, Kelly said his “Holy Grail” is project/time management. “It is an ongoing quest,” he said. “With limited staff resources and growing interest in digital collections, it has been quite a challenge to balance project follow-through with the allure of new initiatives.”

After earning his bachelor’s in humanities from the New College of Florida in Sarasota, Kelly worked in the book industry, starting as a “retail book slave” and eventually becoming an operations director for a small literary book distributor. Although he enjoyed the work environment, he felt he’d reached a dead end professionally and sought the help of a career counselor, whose suggestions included librarianship.

“The more I learned about the profession, the more I felt I had found my niche,” Kelly said. “I’ve always prized the lifelong learning model, and had been looking for an excuse to go to graduate school and so the decision was made.”

Kelly, who began his information career as a metadata librarian and cataloguer, was drawn to cataloguing while in the MLIS program. “Organization and description are fun tasks for me,” he said, “and I seem to have been blessed/cursed with a ridiculous level of attention to detail.”

Staying current with information technology after finishing his MLIS degree was initially challenging. “Oddly enough given my job description, I sometimes feel I straddle the fence between Luddite and Early Adopter in a way,” Kelly said. He prefers the sound of cassette tapes or LPs over digital music formats, and chooses “old-fashioned” books when reading for pleasure. “Luckily, I am surrounded by a forward-thinking bunch at the Colby Libraries, and together we do a pretty good job of keeping each other up to date. Our director is known for keeping up with the bleeding edge of technology and innovation, and that has helped as well.”

Looking ahead, Kelly feels that with a new president recently taking the helm at Colby College, it will soon enter “a dramatic period of growth and innovation.”

“I hope to see the Colby Libraries become a true partner in this, and look forward to contributing,” he said. “My first sabbatical is coming up next year, and I plan on focusing on the state of preservation of born-digital content in terms of current thought and practices as well as our needs across the college.”

Favorite Things about the MLIS Program

“Geography played a big part [in choosing SJSU], because at the time I lived in Oakland, California. But the program had a great reputation, and I sensed it was ahead of the curve in terms of incorporating advanced information technology into the curriculum – without devaluing the importance of traditional librarianship. At the time, distance learning was a fairly new concept and that was also a draw -- even more so when I moved to Maine in the middle of the program.”

Career Tip

“As you accrue profession-specific work experience and technical know-how, don’t underestimate the importance of the broader, transferrable qualities -- ‘people skills,’ communication, time management, service ethic, etc.”

Tech Tip

“Higher-end programming skills and working familiarity with XML seem to be at a premium. Otherwise, I’d advocate for openness to trying new technologies and being able to fairly quickly determine what is worth incorporating and what is going to be a waste of time.”

Professional Affiliations

American Library Association; Beta Phi Mu; The Librarian Avengers

Best Conference

“I recommend the Visual Resources Association (VRA) annual conference for those who work with images or digital asset management in general. The conferences are invariably well-programmed, run like clockwork, and set in very interesting cities in both the U.S. and Canada.”