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The Challenges and Rewards of a Virtual Preservation Science Internship

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The following is a guest blog post by Arnold Bhebhe, a 2021 HBCU Library Alliance intern with the Preservation Research and Testing Division at the Library of Congress. He is a rising sophomore at Alabama State University, pursuing a major in Biomedical Engineering and a minor in Computer Science.

portrait of ArnoldAs a preservation science intern at the Preservation Research and Testing Division (PRTD) at the Library of Congress, I worked with the preservation science team on a project focused on background research on the role of environment for assessing risk to paper-based collections. The impact of the environment is one of three major factors identified to affect the collections used in  the Assessing the Physical Condition of the National Collection (ANC) Mellon-funded project. My research project was focused on the impact of the environment, more specifically, on capturing the historical environmental data from the five partner institutions and the Library of Congress, which entailed active collaboration with the library representatives of all five participating institutions: Arizona State University, University of Colorado Boulder, Cornell University, University of Miami, and University of Washington. The goals of my project can be broken down into two objectives: a) Weather Data Collection – capturing the historical weather data (min/max/avg temperature, relative humidity, and precipitation, including snow) for the partner institutions’ locations; and b) Institutional Data Collection – capturing the internal institutional data for each partner institution.

I am an experiential learner, and I take every opportunity or challenge that comes my way to develop and reinforce my skills. I am compelled by the idea of learning new skills and figuring out how they relate to my future goals. When Dr. Fenella France and Dr. Andrew Davis introduced me to the goals and the objectives of this project, I felt challenged and excited about the tasks that awaited me.  I was challenged because some of the tools that I was using were somewhat new to me. For example, I had never used Postman to make API (Application Programming Interface) calls before.

screen shot of dashboard on Postman
Arnold’s Postman dashboard.

Also, I was excited by the adventure that I had to take to fulfil the objectives of the project. Perhaps what excited me the most was the fact that I felt positive and confident that the skills and knowledge I was going to get through this project were going to be applicable in my area of interest as well – Engineering and Computer Science. Data is an important aspect of the current tech landscape, and I believe that engineers and scientists work with data everyday to find and discover patterns that can help us solve pressing problems in our societies. Thus, the idea of working with NOAA weather data, and institutional environmental data gave me inspiration and strength to focus on the project.

screen shot of NOAA's climate data online
Accessing weather data using NOAA’s Web Services v2.

As I had expected, working on the project was a truly rewarding experience for me in many ways. I learned new skills – how to make API requests using Postman, how to use GitHub, how to use Spyder, how to query data from NOAA Web Services. I learned great leadership skills – how to communicate effectively with team members Fenella, Andrew, and representatives of the five partner institutions), how to be proactive, and how to be responsible in my work. And most importantly, through the numerous iterations that I had trying to gather data for the project, I learned the importance of keeping an open mind and flexibility in learning, and making decisions. I enjoyed working with Fenella, and Andrew – even though we were virtual, they were readily available through email and zoom meetings to catch up with me and provide clarification on any challenges that I was having working on the project. I also enjoyed working with the representatives of the five partner institutions because they were nice and willing to work with me in capturing the required data, and they were also flexible enough to schedule some time in their busy schedules to chat with me.

As with any other challenge, I faced some hurdles working on this project. The main challenges that I faced were: the lack of a clear-cut way to gather the environmental data – initially, I was not aware of all the APIs offered by NOAA and when and how to use each API to fetch data. The continuous back and forth with the partner institutions trying to fix interview times and getting them to send raw data in the correct readable format. The gross inconsistencies, for example, different sources could provide different measurements for the same dataset.  Lastly, the fact that the project was virtual, and I didn’t have another student working with me was a challenge in the sense that I did not have a chance to collaborate and discuss with a peer.

Despite the challenges outlined in the preceding paragraph, I found the project really interesting and worth investing my time in. I think that I was swamped on time in this project mainly because of the new turns and twists which I had not anticipated starting on the project. This taught me a great lesson that it’s wise to anticipate challenges when working on a project and develop a plan to handle those turns.

Overall, I had a great time doing my virtual internship with the Library of Congress Preservation Research and Testing Division, and also attending cohort sessions with the HBCU Library Alliance. The experience could have been different if it was in person – I would have loved that as well – but I am grateful to the Library of Congress and the HBCU Library Alliance for making this virtual experience challenging and exciting!

Special thanks to Dr. Fenella France, Dr. Andrew Davis, representatives of the five partner institutions in the ANC project, The Library of Congress, and The HBCU Library Alliance!

If you are interested in learning about internships with the Preservation Directorate, you can find more information our website or on the HBCU Library Alliance website.

Comments (2)

  1. could use your talent both now and future. Good luck

  2. I appreciate the honesty in this post/blog. Arnold has an unique background that proved beneficial in this project. Great job and I hope this connection proves that library work can reach all professions and interests.

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