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Connecting Communities Digital Initiative: An Interview with Cheryl Ingraham

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Cheryl Ingraham
Cheryl Ingraham, program specialist at the Library of Congress. Cheryl is working on the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative (CCDI).

We are delighted to introduce Cheryl Ingraham, a Library of Congress program specialist who has joined us temporarily to help launch the Of the People initiative. Cheryl has helped us build and communicate about the new Connecting Communities Digital Initiative. For a sample of Cheryl’s writing about Of the People’s digital component, you can read her posts about Discovery in Digitized Collections and Celebrating Joan Baez in honor of Women’s History Month.

I interviewed Cheryl about how her experience and interests support her work with Of the People to harness technological innovation to amplify the histories of racial and ethnic minorities and connect all Americans with the Library of Congress.

Leah: Welcome, Cheryl! We are so excited that you’ve joined the Of the People team. Could you tell us a little bit about your professional background?

Cheryl: My degree is in communications and I’ve completed graduate courses in public relations. Much of my experience is in marketing, communications, public affairs and social media. I’ve worked in public affairs for the Department of Agriculture, U.S. Coast Guard, Library of Congress and other private and nonprofit companies. Currently, I’m a public affairs specialist with Congressional Research Service where I’m the lead media coordinator and the social media manager.

Leah: What is your role with the Of the People project?

Cheryl: I’m a program specialist detailed to support the establishment of the CCDI program. I am creating communications that document and describe the program for external and internal audiences. This will involve targeted communications across many platforms. With the help of OCIO communicators, we’ll market the CCDI program to individuals and institutions using standard communication vehicles such as blog posts and press releases along with some creative outreach approaches. I also collaborate with Library divisions for insight on special collections that will of interest to our program’s participants.

Leah: What did you find interesting about this initiative?

Cheryl: It’s the phrase after the colon that interested me: widening the path. The Library’s collections document so much of American history in a way that is inclusive and shows the richness of the American landscape. The opportunity to expose diverse audiences to images, manuscripts, recordings, art and documentation is exciting. I want all those who make up the American panorama to see themselves as part of the picture.

Leah: What sorts of opportunities does technology afford that you’re most excited about in this context?

Cheryl: Gone are the days where we have to overly consider file sizes and storage capacities. Advances in cloud technology, media, shareable files, social media and other website building technology mean that the Library’s digitized collections have the capacity to be shared across multiple platforms where established audiences already exist. Consider this example of a CCDI artist or scholar in residence with a project focused on political cartoons. The resident can share various file types on one platform where they’ve already established a following in their community. Political cartoons, related manuscripts or documentation, audio and video recordings of the cartoonist and their work could be found, in part or total, in multiple Library collections and brought together on one website or exhibit space.

Leah: What is one challenge for libraries and cultural heritage organizations that you think this work can help to overcome?

Cheryl: Ease of access is the challenge I think CCDI program will help to overcome. Google has normalized an online search experience that involves simple keyword searches and prompts; anything more faceted than that can be daunting for an average end user. When CCDI program participants access our digitized collections and represent them to their audiences, I think more people from diverse backgrounds will see Library collections as easy to access.

Leah: What is your approach to communications and reaching audiences?

Cheryl: Listen first. Listen to the community with whom you want to communicate and then compose messaging. Understand that communications across various platforms requires that the same message be communicated appropriately for each platform. Read the background data on your audiences and learn what types of communications they prefer. And most of all, keep your communications a two-way street. There should always be a way for the audience to reach the messenger regarding the message.

Leah: Is there anything in the Library’s collections that you’re particularly excited about working with?

Cheryl: There isn’t one particular thing; there’s too much here! I’m excited about finding the things I had no idea about and working with those items.

Leah: What are you hoping to learn, or what skills are you hoping to develop, in your work here?

Cheryl: I will have the knowledge to better manage and support programs after this experience. I’ve managed projects that had defined goals, outcomes and end dates. Establishing a program involves more planning, components and documentation. I’m bringing my experience and gaining more each week. And although I’ve worked for the Library for years, I’m eager to learn about the collections through the lens of CCDI program participants and see how they express these stories on their digital platforms. There will inevitably be discovery of stories throughout our digital collections that will be shared with new audiences. Very cool.

Leah: What else are you passionate about? Do you have any hobbies or interests you’d be willing to share?

Cheryl: I’m now receiving my first bird watching magazines so I’m amped about becoming a backyard bird watcher. I love tea time, tea pots/sets and tea accessories. I held my first low tea party this year via Zoom. While most people embrace the “foodie” title, I do not. I am of the generation that ate whatever was brought to the table, so I was a foodie before foodies were cool. In my leisure, I enjoy travel (Lima, Peru, was my last trip prior to the pandemic), blogging and exploring parks.

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