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Intern Spotlight: Accessibility and Communication

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The following is a blog post written by Mo Mathers, a remote Fall 2022 Washington Center intern with the Preservation Directorate. Mo is in their final year at San Jose State University pursuing a master’s in library and Information Science with an emphasis on instructional design.

The Preservation Directorate is a unique facet of the Library of Congress. The projects we do can vary so wildly that every day is a new adventure. From preserving collection items through conservation projects, to using visual tools to preserve sound, the Preservation team implements a treasure trove of knowledge daily. However, with unique experiences comes unique challenges. The technical base knowledge that is needed for preservation purposes can be daunting to those who have never been part of the world before. To learn about a new preservation topic can take up a lot more time and mental energy than someone outside of the field is willing to expend. During my time with the Library, it was my goal to explore new ways the Preservation Directorate can bring their knowledge and expertise to you in a way that anyone could enjoy.

CD staff apply mending strips after third blotter wash
Conservation staff treating an 1896 drawing by G.R. Barse. Just one example of our many preservation projects.

As someone new to librarianship in general, I began this internship with very little knowledge of what Preservation is and the scope of what it can do. However, what I did bring to the table is a background in instructional design and user experience. What this means is that I am positioned in the perfect way to examine how accessible the Library’s website is to our audience (you!) and in what ways we can do better. I was able to pair my prior knowledge with this amazing opportunity to talk to wonderful people throughout the library about their experiences and thoughts on improving Preservation’s communication. And, I would like to share some of those thoughts with you!

The primary solution I see to this problem is through plain language. Plain   language is a concept developed so that online spaces can meet their audience anywhere regardless of their reading level or interest. How this would apply to preservation is through being mindful of when the conversation being presented is too technical. You can learn about the cool projects and history we are uncovering without having to get a PHD of your own! The Library stands for free access to information and knowledge for everyone and we want to support that by ensuring that our language is accessible and not needlessly complicated.

Another aspect of plain language that I found instrumental is making sure there are enough visuals. We get to see and handle so many important aspects of history. What good does it do us, or you, by not showing you exactly the outcome of our work? No one wants to read pages and pages of text if they are only slightly interested in what we are talking about. Showing you images not only documents our progress, but may also serve as inspiration to someone who wants to learn more about the niche topics we get to explore every single day. Images open the gateway for learning and may even inspire a new generation of Preservation Scientists!

slides showing cover pages of style guides for LC communication platforms
Slide from Mo Mather’s presentation on their internship project.

The final key aspect I focused on during my time here is standardizing how the Preservation Directorate communicates with you, dear reader. We are one unified voice, and regardless of if you are reading a blog post, looking at resources on our website, or tuning in to our next Instagram reel, we want to make sure that your experience with us is positive and educational. We are at the forefront of learning and history and we believe that knowledge should never be gate kept. If that means being more aware of the language we use and how we present that information visually, then we are going to do it. My time here has taught me that an institution as large as the Library of Congress is dependent on the people who work here. They are people like you, eager to learn and impart that knowledge. Keep an eye out for upcoming changes to our website and please let us know in the comments below if there is anything you think that could help us in our mission.

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